Once a major production location for the original Barbie doll, a northern township is showcasing celebrity dolls to highlight the contribution women have made to Taiwan’s history.
More than 20 dolls, modeled on important Taiwanese female figures in the past century, such as revolutionary Dharma Master Cheng Yen (證嚴法師), golf player Yani Tseng (曾雅妮) and the late pop diva Fong Fei-fei (鳳飛飛), are on display in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Taishan District (泰山) from Thursday until the end of this year.
The exhibition has three main aims — recognizing the role of women in history, raising cultural awareness and creating job opportunities, said Ku Tsuei-eh (古翠娥), manager of the New Taipei Doll’s Community Cooperative Association.
“Why do women need to depend on men anyway? We have so many outstanding female role models in our history,” she said.
The dolls were all designed by women and handmade by wives who wished to return to the labor force, Ku said.
The Barbie doll display is part of a broader community project called “Mattel girls,” after the toy manufacturing company Mattel Ltd that began manufacturing the famous doll in the town in the late 1960s.
Launched in 2007 by then-Taishan township chief Lee Kuo-shu (李國書), the project is expected to bring about a cultural revival through original “Taiwan-branded dolls.”
“More than half of Taishan’s population used to depend on the production of Barbie dolls under the town’s original manufacturing equipment contracts for Western countries, but now it’s time for us to make our own dolls and to tell our own stories,” Lee said.
Chou Ching-fan, a 58-year-old Taishan resident who has been part of in the “Mattel girls” program for the past five years, said doll making is a fulfillment of her childhood dreams.
“I remember looking desperately at other girls holding dolls with adjustable arms and legs, while mine were rigid and silly,” she said, as she carefully threaded black hair onto a doll.
Chou said she took great pleasure in making a doll of Fong, a woman she hailed as achieving so much in her life.
Fong, who died in January this year of lung cancer, was one of the nation’s most popular pop divas in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Fong was extraordinary,” Chou said. “I sing her songs all the time as I spend weeks trying to interpret her life through my work.”
“When I look at a doll I made of her, I realize that no one makes them better,” she said. “That sense of achievement makes me so very happy.”