What are Chinese rice dough figurines?

There is no easy way to say ‘捏面 nie mian’ in English!  It literally means ‘pinch flour’ but in fact this folk-craft, which dates back to the Han dynasty, involves a lot more than just pinching!

The ‘clay’, actually dough, was traditionally made of glutinous rice and colourings made from different foods. The final product, beautiful though it was, could be eaten. Today, certain additives such as honey and paraffin might be added to improve the longevity of the final product, and they definitely can’t be eaten!

Many different techniques such as pinching, rolling, and cutting are used to make the figurines. The artist also uses a thin bamboo tool to dexterously place, cut, engrave, and shape the body parts of the figurine. 

Different figurines can be made, with cartoon characters being popular with children today. The most famous however is Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King! 

The Monkey King is one of the most famous figures in Chinese folklore, and appears in many stories, operas and modern TV shows, video games and advertisements. He is a central character in Journey to the West, a Ming-dynasty novel which tells of the legendary journey of a monk and his four companions (the Monkey King, a part-human-part-pig, a former demon and his horse) to collect Buddhist texts from Central Asia and India. He is extremely strong, can travel over 20,000km in one leap and is able to transform into many different creatures. He’s a skilled fighter and can do many spells! 

Nowadays, craftspeople skilled in nie mian are usually only seen at Temple Fairs at Chinese New Year. However, you and your kids can learn to make a Sun Wu Kong figurine using traditional techniques in our two-hour workshop at Culture Yard on Sunday 28th July!

For more information about this family-friendly cultural event, or to sign up yourself or your children, add AJDonnelly on WeChat, or email us at [email protected] We are always happy to hear from you!

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– Cultural Keys

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Are you interested in learning more about the traditional culture of China, and perhaps experiencing it for yourself?  Since 2013, Cultural Keys Chinese Culture Centre has been helping people doing exactly that.

Through our provision of content, classes, information and services, Cultural Keys helps people access, understand and experience the traditional culture of China, from kung fu to calligraphy, feng shui to painting. Click here to read more about Cultural Keys and what we can do for you, your school, company or organisation to help you get more out of your time in China.

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