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Unveiling the 'Dolliverse'

By Meng Wenjie | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-11-22 07:27
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One of the scenes that Lenz (pseudonym) created for her doll.CHINA DAILY

In the universe of doll collecting, young enthusiasts craft unconventional hobbies through creating their own unique and intricate artistry, Meng Wenjie reports.

In the realm of subcultures that captivate the imaginations of young enthusiasts, such as JK uniforms, Lolita fashion, mystery boxes, and hanfu, or traditional Chinese clothing, dolls have emerged as a compelling pastime choice for today's youth.

These seemingly inanimate figures serve as more than mere playthings. They have become a pathway for young people to delve into an exploration of their identities and expressions.

Cao Yuan, 39, has immersed himself in the doll industry for nearly a decade, specializing in remodeling Blythe dolls. He goes by the nickname "Mr Yuan", and the dolls he revamps have garnered a substantial following.

He began his career as a doll designer in 2012, at a time when many found it challenging to comprehend an adult man's daily interaction with dolls. "I've observed that in recent years, people have become more receptive toward toys, gaining a better understanding of the doll industry," he said.

Cao explained that the world of doll enthusiasts revolves around two key pastimes. One is dressing up dolls, including matching their outfits and alternating their hairstyles. "It's just like choosing clothes for yourself in another world," he said.

The other is taking pictures of dolls, which can be done either outside when traveling or indoors, where enthusiasts would create different scenes for their toy figures.

At 29, Li Zunyi is a passionate doll photographer. His journey began over a decade ago when he was still a middle school student. Li discovered the exquisite and highly adaptable ball-jointed dolls, or BJD, through a book. To purchase his first doll, Li diligently saved up for over six months.

"I believe it's worth spending money on my hobby," Li said, referring to the widespread belief that dolls are costly. "Like those young people who like to go to concerts and travel, we are all in pursuit of happiness."

Li often crafts minor props and arranges various scenes for his dolls. For instance, while shooting a fitness theme, he once cut out a tiny piece of an adult-sized yoga mat, perfectly suited for the doll.

He also finds joy in attending doll enthusiasts' gatherings, where discussions on themes like vintage or antique styles lead to collaborative doll photoshoots. In fact, he met many of his friends at these gatherings. "Playing with dolls is a way of socializing for young people with similar hobbies," he said.

Chen Si, 36, exemplifies the enduring friendships fostered through a shared passion for dolls. Recently, she bought her friend a doll wedding dress and a suit as a wedding gift. "We share a deep passion for dolls. It was through this common interest that we first connected, and we have been friends for years."

Chen fell in love with dolls in 2012, and three years later, she launched her own doll clothing line called "Little Dream Girl" under the nickname "Xiao Meng".

When she was pregnant, Chen took a picture with a doll sporting a matching pregnant belly and the same outfit as her own. She also took pictures of dolls next to her newborn baby. "The baby and the dolls were the same size at the time. That image was quite endearing," she said.

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