Research & Impact
RESEARCHING HONG KONG’S “TOY STORY”
Commissioned by the Hong Kong Museum of History, Prof Lau Chi-pang has recently completed another interesting Knowledge Transfer project on the history of toys “made in Hong Kong”.
Prof Lau’s research output was translated into a special exhibition “The Legend of Hong Kong Toys” initiated by the Hong Kong Museum of History. Thanks to the collaboration of the Hong Kong Toys Council and the Toys Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, around 2,000 kinds of toys familiar to Hong Kong people or made locally were showcased in the three-month exhibition from 2 March to 15 May.
Working with his team at the Hong Kong and South China Historical Research Programme, Prof Lau interviewed with over 20 local senior toy manufacturers who built up their own brands and tapped into overseas markets with their high-quality and low-cost products in the past century. Their creative products include dressup paper dolls, atomic bulldozers, yellow rubber ducks, Barbie dolls, and many other childhood treasures from different generations.
As in other oral history projects Prof Lau carried out in the past, conversations with toy manufacturers were documented and shared with the Hong Kong Museum of History as a important resource for their exhibition. “The legendary manufacturers we interviewed with had a lot of interesting stories to share. Most of them started from scratch when they entered the industry and successfully developed all the technical know-how over the years,” said Prof Lau.
“The toy industry is unique because it encompasses a large spectrum of industrial knowledge. For example, the industrialists had to know how to apply paint and manufacture clothes if they wanted to produce Barbie dolls. Accustomed to very high safety standards, they also helped set the international standard in Mainland China when they relocated their factories there in the 80s,” added Prof Lau.
Apart from giving a chance for Hong Kong people to relive their childhood fantasies, the exhibition on the evolution of toys revealed the changes that have occurred in Hong Kong children’s lives and reflected the development of the city’s social and economic landscape over the years.
Having researched different forms of Hong Kong heritage in the past, Prof Lau sees the toy history project as one of the most meaningful and interesting initiatives, stimulating the collective memories of Hong Kong people. “It’s a joyful and exciting experience. I was amazed by the innovation of local industrialists, who transformed the city into a ‘toy kingdom’,” said Prof Lau.
As the toy industry was once a primary economic artery in Hong Kong, Prof Lau believes that his research will definitely inform his teaching of Hong Kong’s industrial development and help students understand the city’s social-cultural formation.