Tang Qiliang, one of the last remaining members of the Manchu warrior clan known as the Blue Bannermen still living within the gates of old Beijing, continues to make his toys the way he learned after the Boxer Rebellion. Mr Tang, 83, laughs when his wind-up rat runs across the floor just like a real one. 'Children still like them, although they all prefer new toys these days,' he said. China's toy-making sector is now a main player in a global industry worth US$40 billion (HK$311 billion) a year, but its origins lie in a peculiar twist of historical events. 'My family have been living in Beijing for over 400 years,' Mr Tang said while sitting in his room in a courtyard house on Guozi Jian Hutong, opposite the Temple of Confucius. When the Manchus conquered China in 1644 and settled in Beijing, all Manchus were classified into eight banners. The elite Blue Bannermen were settled in the Huangcheng, or inner city, around the Forbidden City. When allied troops arrived to relieve the siege of the legations during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, the emperor and the empress dowager fled Beijing and, for the first time during the dynasty, the annual grain taxes from the Yangtze Delta failed to arrive. Barges used to bring the grain up the Grand Canal to Jishuitan, near Mr Tang's home, and was stored in imperial granaries. From there, it was distributed free to the families of the bannermen and sold cheaply to the rest of the inhabitants. Half of the warehouses have been knocked down, but a dozen of these buildings - with distinctive sloping walls of grey brick - still stand. They are still being used to store goods, this time electronic goods, but are earmarked for demolition later this year. 'When the emperor ran away, nobody supplied us with grain or clothes, so we had to find another way of making a living,' Mr Tang said. The bannermen started making simple toys out of papier mache, string, wood and rubber bands. Toys for children were still a relatively new concept in China at the time. 'At that time, children behaved very differently to their parents and they played differently. Children would go swimming in the canal, play with marbles or play skipping games on ground marked with chalk,' he said. Toys such as Mr Tang's were sold at the many temple fairs and often given out to mark local festivals. Mr Tang pulled from a shelf a small statue of a foal with a gold coin on its back. Outside Zhangyi Men, the gate now called Guangmen, there was a temple called Wu Xian. On the second day of the Spring Festival, worshippers prayed there for good fortune and bought a golden foal which they placed in the niche of the Kitchen God. Mr Tang was 19 when Japanese troops entered Beijing. He recalls how the toy-maker to whom he was apprenticed fell ill and was buried alive because the Japanese feared he was carrying typhoid. When the Red Army marched into Beijing, his life changed again. 'Chairman Mao didn't allow us to make toys anymore. We were offered jobs in factories and government units - I often fixed up houses and poured cement,' Mr Tang said. Only after 1979, when Mr Tang retired, could he start making toys again at the Beijing Toy Factory. By then, he found that everyone had forgotten the significance of his toys. Mr Tang is now part of an ancient culture that has vanished within the space of a single lifetime, making his toys obsolete. Beijing children no longer remember such traditions as the legend of Lord Hare. A clay model of a white hare with long, painted ears was always bought before the Mid-Autumn Festival, an offering to express gratitude to the Jade Hare on the moon which came down to save the people of the capital from a plague. 'This might be the last time for you to see all these toys,' Mr Tang said slowly. 'In the future, no one will make this kind of toy by hand any more.' When he resumed making toys by hand after 1979, his factory produced 300 different models. Now, demand has dropped and it produces just a few dozen. 'No one buys these hand-made products any more, just a few foreign friends,' he said. There are just 20 toy-makers left in Beijing, all his generation and the last descendants of the original Manchu warriors.