While the development of the modem toy industry in China has had affected what children play with, traditional folk toys continue to play a major role in contemporary Chinese culture. Toys represent fundamental ideas, desires, and concerns central to the lives of Chinese people and to Chinese culture.
Playing with History
Colorful glass marbles with flowers or other designs inside of them are popular with children across China. Played in a variety of gameshese might be the oldest toys used by Chinese children.
Among the relics unearthed from the ruins of Banpo Village in Xi'an were small clay and stone balls dating back to the Yangshao culture of the Neolithic Period (4800-4300 B C). Archeologists believe them to be ancient children's toys. The diameters of these balls vary from 1.1 cm to 3 cm, making them too small and light to be used as bullets or other weapons. Some of the clay balls have decorative prints and scratches on them. Small pottery and glazed porcelain balls from a later period (4400-3300 BC) have also been unearthed in the ruins of Wushan Mountain in Sichuan Province. These are the precursors of of today’s popular glass marbles, according to scholars.
Toy with Sounds
Toys with pleasing, rhythmical sounds have always been favorites with children. Small cymbals, bells and little gongs, along with shaking-drums and bird-shaped whistles are some of the most popular toys with children, particularly in rural areas.
Ancient artisans were capable of producing elaborate movable toys. Using ordinary materials and simple tools, they made toys that were also objects of great beauty.
Clay "roly-poly" figurines are often seen for sale at country fairs. Funny and attractive, these figurines revolve on spherical clay pedestals and never fall down even when lightly struck. Cloth puppets of lions and tigers open their mouths and shake their heads or tails when a hand is placed inside of them. Chickens can be made to move their heads up and down as if they were pecking at rice.
Among movable toys, shadow puppets are most popular and enjoy the longest history. Made of colored cardboard, leather, or hardened sheets of plastic, they are used by children and adults in a variety of puppet shows. With wires, strings, or sticks attached to them, the puppeteers can move various parts of their bodies and watch their shadows dance.
Toys of Practical Use
Toys are most often seen in terms of their ability to amuse. However, the Chinese people, known for their thrifty and practical nature, make some toys that also serve practical purposes.
Sugar-molded toys are the favorite in this category. To make these, sugar is melted and poured into wooden or metal molds, usually in the shape of an animal. The most common motifs are chickens, fish, pigs, horses, lions, and tigers. These toys don’t always require a mold. In city parks, candy-making artists create various figures with a few quick strokes of a spatula. Fun to observe and tasty to eat, these figurines often represent figures and designs important in Chinese culture.