Two Chinese dolls

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Saturday, 9 February 2019. TRC volunteer Francesco Montuori writes:

Last week, the Textile Research Centre enriched its collection with two interesting pieces: a couple of wooden Chinese dolls.

Normally the TRC does not take dolls but there was something about them that was intriguing. They came with the information that they dated to about 1900 and were intended to be used for funeral purposes.

One of the dolls is male (TRC 2019.0194) and dressed in Chinese style garments, including an embroidered gown in violet silk decorated with an embroiderd vase of flowers and a typical black silk cap (see for example TRC 2004.0087) on his head.

The second doll is female (TRC 2019.0195) and also has an embroidered gown in tangerine orange silk and decorated with flowers and butterflies. She is also wearing a large collar edged with fur. Her face covered in white make-up and she has prominent red lips. Her headdress is quite elaborate.

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

This type of doll is usually known in the Western world as a ‘Chinese Opera Doll’, although it would seem that they were not related with opera theatre at all. Instead it would appear that such dolls were associated with the many orphanages opened by various Christian missions in China. In fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous missionary associations from Northern America and Europe were active in the country to promulgate Christianity.

Among their initiatives was the establishment of many orphanages, in order to host abandoned or orphaned children in major cities of the country, such as Shanghai. The dolls were given to girls in the orphanages who crafted their dresses and embroidered them, in order to raise money for the maintenance of the orphanage itself.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of information about these two dolls, it is difficult to allocate them to a specific city or missionary activity. What is clear is that more research needs to be carried out to understand the economic and social history of this ‘small’ aspect of Chinese material culture.

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Donations

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Stichting Textile Research Centre. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
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