Chinese Dolls Turn into New Cultural Icon

December 28, 2017
Editor: Yang Yang

Slightly slanted eyes, gently curved forehand, delicately embroidered silk tunic, these once neglected Chinese elements are now being applied to dolls made in China, challenging the traditional aesthetics of the global doll industry.

A glimpse into China's largest children store, the New China Children's Store, will definitely change your understanding of what a doll looks like. Occupying most shelves of the toy shop, dolls wearing traditional Chinese costumes have become the center of Barbie land, with many little young enjoying their unique beauty, gasping in admiration.

"Dolls featuring traditional Chinese elements have been prevailing in the toy market in recent years, taking up the largest toy shop in our store," a salesperson from New China Children's Store told Beijing Morning Post.

"I bought two Chinese dolls for my 3-year-old. Compared to their blonde counterparts, Chinese dolls may covey more cultural connotation, providing my daughter more knowledge about her own country and culture," said Chen Yuxin, a 36-year-old mother.

Chinese dolls' dilemma

Dolls with Chinese facial features and cultural elements are quite rare compared to their blonde and blue-eyed counterparts. According to statistics from the official website of Barbie, the most renowned doll company in the word, very few Barbie are clearly labeled as Chinese.

Despite the fact that some famous doll brands have attempted to create dolls with Chinese features, their lack of knowledge of Chinese culture and aesthetics has led to barely satisfactory results.

In 2014, Ivy Ling doll, which was first released in 2007 by famous doll brand American Girl, was discontinued. Ling's retirement was met by fans and costumers with sadness and anger, with Olivia Oguma, co-founder of the Broadway Diversity Project, tweeting that "we should not underestimate the power of seeing ourselves represented."

"I had always dreamed about having a doll with dark eyes and yellow skin, or to be more accurate, a miniature me, but it's really hard to find dolls with Asian features, let alone well-designed ones," said Alex Wong, a 21-year-old Chinese American based in New York.

Even more ironically, though Ling was recognized by the public as a representation of Chinese beauty, Chinese girls actually liked the blonde Barbie better than the localized one, according to a Forbes' report in 2012.

"Clearly those foreign companies have failed to understand what Ling would represent in order to appeal to Chinese girls. Their perpetuating stereotypes of China and Chinese people have molded their Chinese dolls into petite and lifeless figures, without any cultural connotation," said Wong.

"Dolls play an important role in cultivating children's aesthetics, while well-designed Chinese dolls can raise kids' sense of identity and acceptance of good traditional culture," Zong Chunshan, a child educator, told Beijing Morning Post.

New cultural icon

"The demand for authentic Chinese dolls has pushed Chinese companies to produce more well-designed products, which now occupy the market," said Hu Binchang, a 36-year-old online toy retailer.

According to statistics from Kurhn Toys Company, a doll manufacturer located in Guangdong province that features dolls with traditional Chinese elements, the company's products are exported to more than 50 countries worldwide, covering Europe, America, and Africa.

"By using Chinese legendaries as our inspiration, we've designed over 1,000 Chinese dolls, with authentic Chinese elements such as traditional embroidery, Chinese painting, and calligraphy," read an announcement on the company's website.

"I bought a white snake lady doll for my little cousin as a New Year gift, hoping that it will help him understand the relevant stories. From my perspective, Chinese dolls can serve as a new cultural icon, and can introduce our traditional culture to the world," Wong said.

(Source: People's Daily Online)

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