Toy Story

ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME BY DAVE WHEELER

Toys with a Made-in-China provenance aren't always cheap, mass-produced bits of plastic. In Beijing, a smattering of artisans is keeping the age-old traditions of handcrafted toys alive, and their intricately painted kites, colorful cloth animals and hand-painted clay figures are more than mere objects for children's entertainment—they also showcase delightful aspects of China's enduring folk culture.

Four years ago, a friend showed Liang Daxing a photograph of a traditional cloth pillow fashioned into a toy tiger. The image stirred Liang's memories of his time in China's barren, dirt-poor Northeast, where he was packed off for re-education during the...

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