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A Toy Story


For many, toys win prominent positions in childhood memories, but those memories gradually fade as the years pass. For most adults, worries related to work and family life consume the carefree innocence of the childhood years. But some long to better preserve the past through collecting vintage toys. For them, just glancing at a historic toy can make treasured childhood memories rise from the dead. Zhang Yang, owner of a private tin toy museum, is one such collector.

Tin Toy Museum

I met Zhang Yang and his wife at 8 p.m. at the entrance of Xidi Hutong, where their tin toy museum is located. After passing rows and rows of traditional residences with black-tiled roofs, we finally reached the eye-catching orange facade of their small compound, featuring two Chinese characters meaning “tin toy” followed by a red character molded after a seal carving that means “collection.” Red lanterns hung under the eaves to further complement the archaic aura of the tin toy museum.

A 10-square-meter room serves as the exhibition hall, packed with a plethora of toys ranging from vehicles to animals. A row of tin airplanes hung from the ceiling, banking back and forth with each gust of wind. Dozens of tin toy guns were fixed to the beams. According to Zhang, the room is home to more than 1,500 tin toys in total, but his most valuable pieces are kept at home. 

Collecting Fun

Each of Zhang’s toys is the fruit of a bittersweet process. To find some discontinued tin toys, Zhang scours second-hand markets in every corner of the city. For this reason, many dealers at the markets know him. Once he finds something he wants, he will pay almost any price. He often spends all of his monthly salary on old tin toys. He also frequents the recycling station near his home. His neighbors often watch him chase carts, hoping to find some old tin treasures. “I found those in a recycling station,” Zhang remarks, pointing to three tin cars in the corner of the room. “I offered the recycler 10 yuan, and he seemed more than happy to accept. Actually, though, I was happier than him. For me, these toys are priceless treasures. My greatest thrill is finding a long-desired tin toy.”

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