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News & Insight

‘The Real Toy Story’ – A Look Inside the Chinese Factories That Make Christmas Toys

By Hanssie on December 23rd 2014

We are two days out until Christmas. Santa hopefully has already checked his list twice and his little elves are busy loading up the sleigh, because in my world, Santa doesn’t do these things last minute. When I was a child, I always wondered when the elves began making the toys, because surely, making toys for all the “nice” kids in the whole world would take a good, long time, right?

Now, that I am older and understand that Santa’s elves are largely factory workers in China who make about 50+% of the toys in the US (some say that number is upwards of 75%), I still wonder how much time it takes for these mere mortals to assemble, stuff, paint, and package the millions of toys that get shipped to America. German photographer Michael Wolf has given a face to the countless number of factory workers that work tirelessly, under terrible conditions and according to a report on Business Insider, get paid around $240 a month so that you can buy that toy this Christmas.



Who are the people that do these jobs that many of us would probably turn our noses up at? And to earn a monthly wage that is equivalent to someone’s monthly Starbucks bill? In “The Real Toy Story,” Wolf gained access to 5 toy factories in China to show us what daily life is like for a factory worker.

This series gives a new perspective to the work that goes behind those toys you buy with the ‘Made in China’ label attached. The tedious and mundane work of people slaving away in a factory that we never, ever think about is brought up close and personal to us in this series. We are faced with the actual hands that assemble that plastic action figure your child will forget about in 30 minutes.


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For the art installation of this series, Michael Wolf attached 16,000 toys made in such factories on the walls surrounding his images, giving us a powerful look at the products made by these anonymous elves.


I came back from a visit to Mainland China just a few weeks ago, where the poverty is extreme and the people are many. Getting jostled by the some of the millions of people that work for pennies doing tasks that no one really thinks twice about really made me appreciate everything I have and the opportunities afforded to me here in the US. So, as you finish up those purchasing last few gifts this year, perhaps think of this series and the people behind that toy you just paid $8.98 for.

To see more of Michael Wolf’s photos from this project, check out his website here. Wolf also has other fascinating series’ all about life in cities and they can be viewed here.

CREDITS : Photographs by Michael Wolf have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

[Via So Bad So Good]


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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jason Boa

    Awesome opportunity very jealous

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  2. Imants Ozolins

    It’s sad, but even in Europe there are still countries where you get paid only a little bit more than in China, but cost of living is much higher. Sure, it’s not as bad as in 90-ties, but still.

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  3. Carel Cramer

    beautifull pictures of sad faces, that work for our pleasure.
    respect for the photographer, who’s eyes are seeing this.
    How can we help this people? ( writing this I know it cannot resolved this moment… but think before you buy, may be help) please, do not comment om my thoughts, only the article an pictures of the subject.

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  4. robert s

    cool! I want in!

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  5. Rui Pinto

    A huge economy…but at what cost? =\

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  6. robert s

    reminds me of many suicides there?

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  7. Rafael Steffen

    Great portraits, but not that many smiles.

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    • Greg Silver

      I was going to say the same thing – very little emotion comes through.

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    • Hanssie

      I think part of that is cultural and part of it is the fact that they have crappy jobs that doesn’t inspire or add life…

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