Text by Ai Youdi Photographs by Shepherd C. Zhou
Some of the over 100 “giant pandas” rest, stand, or eat bamboo, while others play, seem to laugh, or sleep. This is not a zoo, but the home of Liang Guanjun in Wuhan City. First-time visitors often mistake it for a giant panda center.
A Bold Undertaking
The now 93-year-old Liang retired in 1982. With a comfortable pension, he could afford a life of ease and leisure, yet he remains quite handy. In the 1980s, he was keen on making figurines. In the 90s, he spent a lot of time researching three-wheel electric automobiles. Often, retirement defines the man, and this one still keeps busy, avoiding simple comforts. He is always thinking of what to do next.
Not far from Liang’s home is a stationery shop. The window facing the street is loaded with Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, and China’s Pleasant Goat toys. Every time Liang saw kids hugging the plush toys and taking them home, his mind would turn to giant pandas – his childhood favorite. He decided to begin making panda toys, in hopes of making this national treasure popular with kids.
Passionate about the idea, Liang started right away. He found many picture albums of giant pandas and bought plush cloth, stuffing, and other materials for making toys. The body of the giant panda was quite simple. It did not take very long before Liang could successfully construct it. Difficulty came with head and facial features. In order to make the toy realistic, Liang visited the local zoo many times and downloaded panda images and video from internet. Using a mould made of silica gel, he tried numerous times. After patiently working for a year, Liang finally finished his first successful panda, which was remarkably true to life.
After creating his first toy, he expertly began sample research and development. For a long time, Liang spent his time in Wuhan’s streets, searching for suitable stuffing and shell fabric. “Stuffing should be soft and odorless,” he remarks. “Seams should be secure, and the stuffing shouldn’t be revealed. The panda’s eyes, nose, and mouth should be stitched tightly and without sharp edges.” He is especially talkative when it comes to his giant pandas.