Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chinese Factory Workers And The Toys They Make

China is the biggest toy exporter in the world - nearly 75% of all the world's toys are made in the country – but the retail price of one high-quality toy in the western market is often more than six months' salary for a Chinese toy factory worker. In order to depict the drudgery of mass toy production, photographer Michael Wolf made a large-scale installation where he attached 20,000 used plastic toys all made in China surrounding large sized photos of the workers who make them. Wolf called the project “The Real Toy Story”. The work portrays the human presence behind mass-produced goods and provides viewers with a visceral, immersive experience that evokes the sensation of density endemic to urban areas of the region.

The installation was first produced in Hong Kong in 2004. Wolf worked with three assistants for ten hours daily for three days to mount the photographs and toys in a dense, overlapping arrangement across every inch of available wall space. It has been since recreated at a number of locations around the world.


Also see: Portraits of Squashed Commuters in Japan, another peculiar photo project by Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf has lived and worked in Hong Kong for over ten years. In the spring of 2004, he made a trip to California, searching flea markets and thrift stores for figurative toys that were Made in China, collecting thousands of toys over a period of thirty days. Wolf sanded the back of each of the thousands of toys by hand so that they were flat enough to attach a magnet. When The Real Toy Story is installed, the walls of its exhibition space are lined with thin black metal sheets, to which the toys are affixed magnetically.

Simultaneous to the process of preparing the toys, Wolf produced a series of photographs of workers in toy factories in Southern China. These photographs capture the idiosyncratic environment of the factories. In one image, two women take a break from their labor, napping under a table piled high with plastic dolls. In another image, three women in matching white hair-covers sit stooped over innumerable tiny soccer balls, painting each ball by hand. While the images engage the concept of working conditions in China, they do not indict those conditions. Instead, they serve as a reminder of the people that drive the industry and expose the significant extent to which hand-crafted elements play a role in the process.


















The Installation - The Real Toy Story






Source: Koch Gallery

via Reddit


  1. Thanks so much for this great information.

  2. They get fed at work and they get to have an income comparable to their society. Wonder what all these people would be doing if they didn't have any toy companies. Maybe living in the streets instead begging for anyone to have mercy and give them sustenance so they could go on living. Not sure they would thank us for taking up the torch and trying to take their only means of living away.

    1. Every time throughout US history that the question of terrible labor conditions comes up, somebody makes this argument: It's better than what they would have otherwise. Slavery? "Better than Africa". Sharecropping? "At least they have their own land". Company towns with company stores gouging workers with credit? "They could be beggars instead." Child laborers in industrial cities? "They get to help their families". Now it's cheap Asian labor: "At least they have jobs".

      If you think this is good enough for these laborers, ask yourself why it's not good enough for you. Huge swaths of the US economy depend on labor working in conditions that would be illegal in the USA. We refuse to accept this lifestyle for ourselves, but we demand it of others.

    2. We don't demand it of them - we have nothing to do with it - how is ANY of this our fault? You think all those crap toys come to the US? No - they don't. You think by addressing this issue with the American public will have ANY affect on these poor people in China? have you ever been to China? How are we to blame for something that is done in China. Just like global warming - you think places like China or India give a royal rats ass about global warming? Do you think they care about their own people, let alone the rest of the world? Evidently not - So quit with the guilt trips please, there is NOTHING we Americans can do about stuff that happens in other countries. Please STFU.

    3. .....we can stop buying the shit.

    4. stop buying means the toy company have to close down sooner or later... and the worker will become jobless, sleeping beside the road instead under the roof of the factory, how does that help?

    5. Hello? McFly? Your buying power is the only way to stop companies that clearly don't care about anything other than making money, no matter what the human or environmental cost. So step out of your SUV, put down your new iPhone and iPad, turn off your 60-inch plasma TV and take a badly needed WALK to Wally-world to return that $1 sweater you bought last week that is too tight. I know it's hard to see beyond your bag of Cheetos, but life as you know it depends almost entirely on the cheap labor of China. So yes, we are to blame, but I don't imagine you are the type that cares. How about you help 'us Americans' by buying only American from locally owned mom/pop stores? Tell me you don't care about that either?!?! Just want your cheap, plastic crap no matter what?

  3. I wish i got a nap at work!

    1. When our debt catches up to us in the not so distant future, we'll see if the Chinese allow us to nap on the job.

    2. Cracked me up

  4. Work conditions don't look horrible. I don't see anything wrong with this.

  5. ^^ you sound like a toy company CEO^^ how about a better wage, one that does not suck?

  6. Why are they stopping working to get their picture taken, dammit?

  7. damn wish America was like this I would save a fortune if I didn't have to drive to work every day. There are so many benefits to these people & their country. 1) save money on natural resources, 2) A lot more efficient at work (wake up & work never late more hours in the day we can also work) 3) no time being wasted going home to cook You can actually work up until dinner time while they have a full crew cooking for you absolutely no time lost having to go all the way home to and either A go out for dinner and wait an hour or B go home and cook your own dinner for an hour. This is a wake up call that America needs to change so we can be more efficient with our every day lives.

  8. It's not that bad actually. 10 dollars a day seems to us to be worthless, but the yuan is currently at 6.23 to 1. So average day is 62.30 a day to them x just randomly 300 days a year = 18690$. Seems comparable to US minimum wage to me.

    1. You also have to keep in mind we are talking about a communist country. These people never have to spend a single cent to pay tax, mortgage, health care, pension, education, etc. $18690 goes a much much longer way than in the state actually.

  9. It is going to be the other way around soon..

    1. Exactly, Libs sold us out..we're done.

  10. While working in HongKong for financial service I was invited to Chinese textile company(province owned).The managers told me that they provided their employee with better condition.Workers came there from countryside. Girls live in company apartments,Their rooms, 16 square meter on average has 12 residents and fed with 3 meals a day.They were happy to live on concrete floor.In the country side they live on the earth.Girls didn't change cloths after in her room.They didn't make up and take shower once a day.They didn't put bra on but large pants.They didn't speak Mandarin but various dialect.From our(Japanese) standard the police might arrest its management in the allegation of forced labor.I think we should not allow Chinese government. Because we can pay extra cents to their labor and allow their goods to be competitive in the world market.We are impotent in China and failed a lot there.Girls in China love everything American and have no opportunity to see consumers for their goods.

  11. From now on every time I look at something mad in China I will be reminded of these photos...


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