The Humble Origins Of The Door Of Hope Mission Dolls In China

The beginnings of the Door of Hope Mission Dolls date back in the 1900s when missionaries in China were outraged and appalled by the use of women as slaves and prostitutes, the binding of their feet, and even the killing of unwanted female babies. The missionaries in China suffered a setback during the “Boxer Rebellion” when Chinese authorities started a war against foreign entities trying to gain access to its resources. Because of this, missionaries in the area where killed along with Chinese who were converted as Christians.

Unfazed by these events, a group of women missionaries from various Christian backgrounds established a home for these young girls in Shanghai. In 1901, the Door of Hope Mission was opened and the group was largely funded by charitable institutions like the American Women’s Club and donations from supportive people of Shanghai. In this new home, the young girls who took refuge were taught to read, write, and sew. They were taught to create tradition Chinese clothing as well as shoes made of cloth. The young women were then paid for creating dresses for carved wooden dolls that were sculpted by local craftsmen. These dolls’ heads were made of pear wood and are attached to doll bodies made of cloth. It did not have hands and shoes until around 1915.

The dolls measure around 6 inches to 12 inches depending on the type of character that was depicted. Most of the dolls represented Chinese people dressed in elaborate garments according to their gender, age, and status in the society. There were also doll collections which have the complete characters of people in a traditional Chinese wedding. They also wear colorful dresses that symbolized luck, wealth, and happiness. The older characters measure around 12 inches while the younger characters like the children measures around 8 inches.

Other characters seen in the Door of Hope Mission dolls are the Amah (also known as the nursemaid) which is a working class woman with a baby on her back, a farmer working in rice fields, Buddhist priests or monks, mourner, widow, policemen, and elaborately dressed Manchurian women. These dolls are dressed with silk cloth with intricate embroideries. Their faces are smoothly carved and painted with eyes and lips. There were a total of 25 characters made for the collection and these were distributed in America by returning missionaries, Elsie Clark Krug, and Kimport Imports.

Yet the production of these dolls ended around 1937 when the Japanese occupied Shanghai. Historians believe that there were around 30,000-50,000 dolls made from 1902 to 1937. The dolls were made for export to raise funds and some were sent to different parts of the world such as Australia, Europe, South Africa, and to America. These dolls are hard to find nowadays and a single doll can even cost $400 in some auction sites.

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