Over the past three years, Kang Jian has created more than 400 dough sculptures and become a city-level inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage in Mohe, Heilongjiang province.
Since childhood, Kang, who was born in 1990 in Mohe, showed great interest in fine arts, especially sculpture.
"When I was a little boy, every time my parents made dumplings, they would give me a small piece of dough," he said. "I tried to make various animals — a rabbit, a fish or a snail. The small, simple objects brought me lots of good childhood memories."
Because of their financial condition, Kang's parents were not able to support him in learning fine arts during his school years. He spent his spare time after school studying drawing by himself, and he bought some art materials, such as moldable rubber, to make some easy creations.
After graduating from a vocational technical college in 2016, Kang returned to his hometown and became a staff member at the Mohe Forestry Bureau.
Then, in December 2018, during a visit to a museum in Beijing, Kang for the first time got information about the intangible cultural heritage of dough sculpting, which attracted him greatly. After returning home, he began to search for more information, finding that dough sculpture was listed as a national-level intangible cultural heritage.
He contacted Bai Chunyu, a provincial-level inheritor of dough sculpture in Jilin province and spent 20 days learning skills from him. He soon mastered the skills of facial sculpting.
In 2019, Kang got the chance to learn with Xiao Zhanhang, a national-level inheritor.
"To save money and learn more skills during 40 days in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, I practiced every day from 6 am to late at night," he said. "When I went to sleep, I had to put my hands into hot water to relieve the pain in my joints."
In April, Kang finished the dough sculptures of 108 characters from Outlaws of the Marsh after 16 months of work.
"I could only make the sculptures in my spare time after work," he said. "It took me around three days to finish each one."
Most of Kang's dough sculptures are traditional Chinese characters.
"Compared with expensive materials such as jade, dough sculptures are relatively cheap," he said. "In my mind, its real value as a national intangible cultural heritage lies in its connection with traditional Chinese culture. That's the charm and significance of the art.
"I also felt happy when I had a chance to give lectures to primary school students, telling them about dough sculpture and stories about Chinese folk heroes."