Generations of children have grown up with toys made in–and by-Hong Kong. If those toys could talk what a tale they would tell of the people, and place that, year after year, made sure Santa delivered.

The story began some 60 years ago with a few entrepreneurs, most of them refugees from upheavals in China, struggling to survive in beleaguered Hong Kong. Through trial and error they learned to make toys from plastics, the wonder material of the post-war era. Conditions were tough but moral remarkable high in the British colony’s first makeshift toy factories. As baby populations boomed, Hong Kong’s canny toy manufactures partnered with Western traders and overseas toy companies to secure export orders. Together, they turned tiny Hong Kong into the world’s largest toy exporter. It became Toy Town.

There are funny stories, sad stories and inspiring stories in this unusual industry biographer, as told – at last – by veteran Hong Kong toymakers and international “toy biz” insiders. They recall Hong Kong’s Herculean efforts to overtake Germany then Japan in toy exporting, to overcome Western prejudice and protectionism against toys from “the Orient” and to achieve a hard-earned reputation for reliability, quality and product safety. They tell the stories behind the stories of iconic toys, from Barbie to her European rival Sindy to G.I Joe, Matchbox cars, Cabbage Patch Kids and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Triumphs, setbacks, market upsets, technology challenges and ambitious rivals – Toy Town has seen them all. Some Hong Kong toymakers have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, acquiring major international toy brands, creating global toy fads of their own or moving on to even bigger fortunes. Others have simply made a modest living for their families while generating much-needed factory jobs, first in Hong Kong then in southern China as pioneers of offshore production there. All are heroes – and heroines – in Hong Kong’s unending toy story.


Sarah Monks

Toys made in Hong Kong were a magic part of an English childhood for Sarah Monks. But the faraway colony with an exotic name beckoned for additional reasons. Her parents were based in Hong Kong in the early 50's, when her father, celebrated Australian war correspondent Noel Monks, was at the front lines covering the deadliest battles of the Korean conflicts.

In 1978 she departed Australia to join the South China Morning Post as a reporter. She left as deputy editor to join the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in 1986, with subsequent postings to London and New York. From 1991, she headed the council's global corporate communications in Hong Kong for nearly 15 years. Since 2007 she had returned to her first love - journalism and writing. She considers herself privileged to be a permanent resident of Hong Kong and to have been invited to help Toy Town tell its story.