Across China: Lego-like toy factory rises on Yunnan farmland
KUNMING, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Amid a large area of vegetable fields in southwest China's Yunnan Province, you will also find a factory for manufacturing Lego-like construction toys. This factory produces standardized pieces made of stainless steel instead of plastic, which are drawing buyers from home and abroad.
Yang Haocheng, the owner of the factory, was born and raised Tonghai County, Yunnan. Now, his factory hires dozens of nearby villagers, and over 70 percent of his products are sold to overseas buyers.
"The rise of cross-border e-commerce allowed our products to be seen and purchased by people in Europe and America on platforms such as Amazon," said Yang.
Yang has so far developed over 80 types of models, but a decade ago, he never expected he would build a toy factory in the rural area.
After graduating from a vocational school in 2001, Yang tried to start businesses in the realms of pharmaceuticals and tutoring, but hit multiple snags.
In 2013, after failing to cover operational costs, Yang sold off the tutorial school and returned to Tonghai County.
Having no idea about his future, Yang hid in his room and assembled construction sets as a way to cope with his upset, and it was then when he realized that many of the construction sets were not suitable for his age.
"When I was a child, we always made our own toys, so I started to use online pictures as the reference and used the metal-cutting machine at my father's old noodle factory to cut out pieces," said Yang.
"However, to produce functional building sets, I had to teach myself how to use design tools such as 3D computer-aided design, and I ended up falling in love with it," he recalled.
Instead of using plastic, Yang chose stainless steel to give the construction set a strong sense of sturdiness.
It usually takes months to design a product, and Yang also had to learn graphic design skills in order to develop manuals for customers.
After multiple attempts, Yang finally produced his first product: a 6-cm-tall unicorn.
Yang's invention drew the interest of other investors, who established a company with Yang, and in June 2014, Yang named his line of products Gonmoso, which sounds like "steel monsters" in Chinese, as most of Yang's models derive from mythical creatures.
The products Yang designed gained much popularity, but the company failed due to management problems and Yang left the company in 2017.
Still pursuing his dream, Yang registered a new company in Shanghai in 2019. Two years later, Yang's wife, Zhang Xiting, also a construction set enthusiast, encouraged her husband to move back to Tonghai.
"I think we made the right choice. We moved back to the rural area at a time when many of our neighbors also came back from cities and had plenty of time on their hands," said Yang. "So we hired many of them to help us."
In the first half of 2022, Yang's company earned nearly 2 million yuan (about 278,000 U.S. dollars).
To expand his business, Yang has capitalized on short-video platforms such as Douyin.
"We will hire more people to strengthen our marketing branch, and I am developing new sets and thinking of adding colors to our toys," Yang said.
Apart from mythical monsters, dinosaurs, insects and Chinese Zodiac animals, Yang also created a model based on a historic building in Tonghai to preserve cultural heritage. He is also planning to develop similar construction model sets for buildings in other parts of Yunnan.
"I believe that people should always pursue what they love, and take responsibility for their own choices," said Yang.
"One day, I hope the factory will be comparable to that of Lego," he said.