Growth of China’s Toy industry
Toy making in China began to take shape with the arrival of tin-can manufacturing around Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Western influences in the area led to the manufacture of Western tin-plate toys that became quite popular. War-related toys, such as fighter planes, tanks,and soldiers, dominated the market around the time of the Japanese invasion of China in the mid- 1930s. After the Communist Revolution of 1949, toys became a vehicle for propaganda, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966– 1976) when dolls in Mao suits and cars painted with political slogans flourished.
By the early 1980s, Hong Kong had become the world’s largest toy exporter, but rising labor and land costs pushed the colony’s toy manufacturers to relocate across the border to China. In 1984, China designated Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, its first special economic zone (SEZ), offering foreign investors a tariff- free environment with low- cost labor and cheap factory space. Hong Kong toy manufacturers moved more and more production into China while leaving in Hong Kong the value- added work, such as product design, production planning, quality control, management, and marketing.
Drawn by the incentives of the SEZs, multinational toy companies began to set up shop in China, especially in the Pearl River delta region of Guangdong. China developed a solid network of supporting industries and services, such as logistics, communications, and component manufacturing, which helped international companies to strengthen productivity, reliability, and delivery.
By 1993, China had become the world’s largest toy manufacturer and leading exporter, reaching an export volume of $8 billion. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 strengthened its domestic industry, and its exports rose sharply. In 2006, China exported 22 billion units of toys worth $7.5 billion. By the end of the year, Chinese toys accounted for 75 percent of world output.
Source: Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (2009), pp. 2305-6.
Critical success factors for new product development in the Hong Kong toy industry
The toy industry is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and largest export industries, and it is generally agreed that Hong Kong is the world’s leader in toy exporting. In 1996, its production output had reached HK$ 2.5 billion (HKTDC, 1999). One of the strengths of Hong Kong’s toy industry lies in its ability to incorporate technology and skills from other industries such as clothing, electronics, and metal industries. Building on their base in plastic moulded toys, Hong Kong’s toys manufacturers have added production skills from such industries. As a result, they have been able to upgrade the quality of their goods and obtain good profits. The second advantage of Hong Kong toy companies has been the movement of their locations of production to Mainland China and other Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, so that product costs can be dramatically reduced. As a result, Hong Kong’s role is shifting towards quality control, management, marketing, and new product design.
As well as their leadership in toy exporting, Hong Kong’s toys manufacturers have also become some of the most efficient toy production managers in the world, particularly when toy production involves components made of different materials. Through their Original Engineering Manufacturing (OEM) contracts, Hong Kong’s toy manufacturers are also well informed about the market trends in the major toy markets of the US, Western Europe, and Japan.
Source: Technovation, Volume 25, Issue 3, March 2005, Pages 293-303, p.293.
To end, here is a good explanation of Deng Xiaoping's open door policy, Economic Reform and Growth in China (Department of Economics, Princeton University, 2004) (pdf).
A good, but basic, overview of how US-China trade developed in early years - U.S.-China Trade, 1971–2012: Insights into the U.S.-China Relationship 米中貿易 1971〜2012年, The Asia-Pacific Journal, June 16, 2013, Volume 11 | Issue 24 | Number 4 (pdf available).
Finally, any mention of toys from Asia (Hong Kong) should always involve Li Ka Shing - for instance, Thoughts Of Li Ka-Shing (Forbes, 2006). This press release by HKDTC might be useful, 2011 - Toy Town.