Last week, Beijing Today introduced some nostalgic snacks of the 1980s. This week we decided to follow up the list with some classic childhood toys of the same era. Although video games were uncommon in China before the 1990s, Chinese kids had access to many of the same analog toys that were popular all over the world.

This week’s nostalgic list might offer ideas for young parents looking to give their children something with a bit of retro cool.


Rubber Ducks

Before the gaudy installation that toured the world last year, yellow rubber ducks were the world’s most popular bath toy of the 1980s. The toys were designed to float in a child¡¯s bath basin and let out a squeak when squeezed.


Plastic Bricks

Childhood photos from the 1980s often feature children surrounded by a sea of plastic bricks. Similar to the now dominant LEGOs, domestically produced plastic bricks were construction toys intended to inspire children and build their intelligence. Many young parents today insist that the plastic bricks they had as children were better shaped, easier to snap together and more durable. There were British-looking toy soldiers in most sets for children who wanted a commander for their tank.


Paper Frogs

Ask anyone from the 1980s about origami and the first thing that will come to mind is a jumping frog. Weekly art classes in elementary school often covered the basics of papercraft by teaching how to make a jumping frog. By pressing down on the back fold with your fingernail and dragging back, it’s possible to make the frog hop a short distance. Students often competed to see whose frog could jump the highest or farthest.


Bamboo Copters

This ancient toy enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1980s thanks to Doraemon’s magical flying stick. Flying copters were first made of bamboo in ancient China, where they were first sighted by European missionaries. The simple design inspired the invention of the first German helicopter in 1930. The copter is usually made from two bamboo or plastic sticks. Rub your hands in opposite direction to make it take off. Just be careful to make sure you rub with the rotor blades – the little copters can wreck your thumbs if you launch them backwards!


Ring Water Toss

Before the advent of electrical games these were one of the most popular toys. The typical machine has either one or two buttons used to pump a jet of air into the water-filled tank. Tanks would usually contain pegs or stands that would be used to catch the rings. The goal was to manipulate the jets of water to hook all the rings on the pegs. The challenging game could take an afternoon or more to complete.



Marbles were one of the most popular toys of the 1980s in China. Although the first balls were actually made of marble, they were soon mass produced using glass or hard acrylic that showcased flowers, moons and colorful ribbons encased in each ball. Firing a marble with your thumb and making it stop at the right place required a lot of skill, but children of the era were experts.



Before boys’ hands were occupied by Xbox controllers and PSPs they were occupied by slingshots. The simplest and cheapest slingshots were made from forked branches of hardwood trees. A rubber band stretched across the fork with a small leather cup in the middle made the perfect device for launching rocks or other small objects at innocent targets.

Diao Jiayi

About Diao Jiayi

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Diao Diao is a tomboy whose head is full of weird ideas. She's a little lazy, but she loves life and her family and is always up for a challenge.

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