At 5 am on Sept 7, Kong Xiaoyu, together with hundreds of other young people, formed a long line that snaked from the street to an underground exhibition hall－four hours before the Beijing Toy Show was due to open.
When she finally entered the exhibition, the 22-year-old raced to buy designer toys. More than 300 designers from China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe exhibited customized offerings for an increasing group of adult enthusiasts in China.
Kong, a senior student at an art college in the capital, was able to buy a limited edition doll－a wide-eyed girl dressed in an astronaut's suit. Each toy cost 999 yuan (5) and Kong was one of the 300 who were lucky enough to get their hands on them.
The sum Kong paid for the figure, named Molly, was just a fraction of the more than 10,000 yuan she spent at the exhibition.
"I'm not an irrational spender. I only buy what I really like," she said.
Kong has a five-story cabinet at home that houses collectible toys from across the world. She does not allow children to visit her home in case they break the delicate figures, which are for display purposes rather than to play with, she added.
She is typical of the growing number of young fans on the Chinese mainland who have emerged in the past two years as the toy craze has taken off. They enjoy buying and collecting toys made from plastic or vinyl produced by designers or artists. These toys are often associated with pop culture such as hip hop, graffiti and street dance. The style can be cute, chic or quirky.
Wang Ning, founder of Pop Mart, which introduced designer toy shows to the mainland last year, said: "Such toys are like the younger generation's stamp collections. They are also art pieces."
When Wang staged a toy show in Shanghai in April, he was impressed by the number of enthusiasts who turned up.
The three-day exhibition attracted about 30,000 fans from cities nationwide. To buy some rare editions, many set up tents on the street and lined up four days before the show opened. Police were worried about security as people lined up through the night, Wang said.
"Designer toys are still new on the mainland. The market is huge and promising," said Wang, 31, who started in the business just four years ago.
At the Beijing show, the most expensive items sold were a limited edition from the Coarse brand of two life-size figures with giant shark heads by German artist Mark Landwehr, who runs a workshop in Hong Kong. They cost one fan 120,000 yuan.
In the late 1990s, the launch of limited edition chic action figures by Hong Kong designer Michael Lau triggered a craze among the young.
Comic-strip illustrators, graphic designers and advertising agencies joined in, making their own figures. They included designer Eric So, whose chic dolls resembled his hero, the late martial arts star Bruce Lee. The designer toy craze then spread quickly to Japan, South Korea and the West in the 2000s.
Wang said: "The quick development of designer toys in China can be partly attributed to the fact that there are many toy factories in the country. These factories accept small orders from designers who only make limited editions of less than 100 toys at relatively low cost."