Dolls from China

What can these dolls from China tell us about Chinese culture?

In ancient China, married women were expected to wear their hair up, believing that it was unnecessary for them to show their hair to strangers. It was common for them to pin it up into a bun and, depending on the social status, decorate their hair with ribbons or accessories. Unmarried women would wear their hair down and keep the length of it very long, for it was frowned upon to cut it.

Pale skin was a quality that was admired in ancient Chinese women since the Shang Dynasty. Many women would color their face white because it was believed to make them more beautiful and delicate. This was also a way for women belonging to the upper-class and royal family to distinguish themselves from the lower class. Having tanned skin was associated with the lower class who would spend most of their days under the sun farming. Covering their face with white powder was a way for women to make themselves more attractive and indicate their social status. 

Along with the white powder, wearing red lipstick was a common practice in ancient Chinese makeup traditions. The vibrant color of the lipstick was believed to make women look more youthful and energetic. When applying the lipstick, women would outline their lips smaller than they actual were. The style in which they would paint their lips varied with each dynasty, but across all dynasties it was believed that smaller lips were most attractive, as well as thin black eyebrows, as depicted in the doll.

 Loose fitting tunics are what mainly characterize clothing from ancient China.

Women would usually wear tunics that reached their feet.

Female doll from China

Photo: Temple Anthropology Museum

Check out this video of cosmetician Li Zi doing a traditional ancient Chinese makeup look.

Just as it was frowned upon for women to cut their hair, the same was true for men as well. Hair was highly valued and it was 

believed that long hair made men more valiant. Men would pin up their hair in a bun and at times, just like the doll, wear a hat.

The traditional clothing for men in ancient China were loose fitted tunics that reached their knees.

Male doll from China

Photo: Temple Anthropology Museum

How can children or individuals who are not familiar with ancient Chinese culture learn from these dolls?

The female doll portrays what a married upper-class woman would have been expected to look like. Her white painted face, small red lips, and thin black eyebrows are all characteristics of how a woman belonging to the upper-class would have done her makeup and her pinned-up hair suggests that she was married. The intricate details and designs of her tunic further support the idea that this doll represents a woman from the upper-class. The male doll represents what a man may have looked like in ancient China. He is wearing a black tunic that reaches his knees and his hair pinned up under his hat. Children could have been gifted these dolls and through them learn what they were expected to wear and what their physical appearance symbolized. 


“Ancient Chinese Hairstyles Through the Years.” Bringing You Truth, Inspiration, Hope., 1 Apr. 2020, 

“What Is Traditional Chinese Makeup? (1) - 2020.” 2020 Chinese Tradition Clothing, Hanfu Dress, Qipao Cheongsam, 15 Nov. 2020, 

Zhan, Jade. “Traditional Asian Hairstyles - Haute Coiffure from Ancient China - Shen Yun Performing Arts.” Traditional Asian Hairstyles - Haute Coiffure from Ancient China (English) | Shen Yun Performing Arts, 

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

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