Ten Amazing Tianmen Sugar Sculptures That Turn Sugar Into Art

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture started during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and has a history of more than 400 years in the art world and is still very much one of China’s intangible cultural heritages. Using malt sugar as the base material these talented artists carve the sugar into all sorts of amazing sculptures. Those of you with a good memory will remember them from my post “The World’s Top 10 Things People do With Sugar” but for those of you that don’t I hope you still enjoy them…

BONUS CONTENT: Top 10 Facts About Tianmen Sugar Sculptures


Top 10 Amazing Tianmen Sugar Sculptures
Tianmen Sugar Sculpture Fully Detailed

10 – Even the hair on its chin is made from nothing but sugar!

FACT: Three kinds of themes are commonly seen in all Tianmen sugar sculptures: Loyalty, luck and protection against evil.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture up-close

9 – The detail up close is amazing.

FACT: In the early 1980s, it only costs several fen (very cheap) to make one of these sculptures so they were often the favourite toys for children from families who did not have a lot of money.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture Being Made

8 – Seeing them being made is often said to be a pure joy to watch.

FACT: Malt sugar is the main raw materials used on these sculptures, the artists heat the malt sugar until it becomes soft, and make it into four colours – red, green, black and yellow to use.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture of a Mouse

7 – Up close they look quite tasty!

FACT: Tianmem Sugar Sculpture is very popular in the rural areas of Hubei Province as it is used as a kind of sacrificial offering and as special gifts for weddings and birthday celebrations.

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Tianmen Sugar Sculpture of 2 Dragons

6 – The sticks used to make them are often part of the art work.

FACT: Sugar sculptures have been in existence since ancient times, but have always been passed down from one generation to another and never taught to an outsider.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture of the 3 gifts of life

5 – The 3 gifts of loyalty, luck and protection

FACT: It is thought that Liu Bowen who was the military counsellor to Zhu Yuanzhang (a emperor in Ming Dynasty) used giant Tianmem Sugar scarecrows to lure away venomous bees to win battles.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture of War Horses

4 – Warhorse and indeed characters are a common theme.

FACT: It was said that sugar sculpture figures were used as offerings during sacrifices in both the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and Song Dynasty (960 – 1279).

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture of two lions playing with a ball

3 – The playful scene is often very childlike in nature, making them very magical in appearance.

FACT: Lu Yu who was the sage of tea, Zhong Xing and Tan Yuanchun who were founders of Jingling literature branch, and Jiang Liyong who was the number one scholar during Qing Dynasty, were all from Tianmen and some of the very first people to do this type of sculpture.

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Tianmen Sugar Sculpture Being Made

2 – The work of art being made

FACT: Tianmen Sugar Sculptures where first made by Tianmen people, the Provence of Tianmen is located in beautiful Jianghan Plain in Hubei Province.

Tianmen Sugar Sculpture

1 – Animals in these sculptures can mean just about anything, all depends on who looks at them!

FACT: Depending on the workmanship, sugar sculptures can be divided into three categories: blowing sugar figures, drawing sugar figures and moulding sugar figures.

Author: Gus Barge

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