Xuan La village is located in Phuong Duc commune, Phu Xuyen district, Hanoi. Xuan La village has three thousand people and around 200 people are earning their living by making To he (toy figurine). Everywhere there is To he – that place has Xuan La villagers. Take a day cycling tour to discover Xuan La village as well as Hanoi rural villages.
Xuan La village map
The toy figurines which have brought a small joy to many generations of Vietnamese have experienced many ups and downs, but Xuan La people are faithful to this job, though this job can’t make them rich.
For children, To he can open a colourful world where they can see characters from history, movies and cartoons, from the famous monkey named Ton Ngo Khong in “The Journey to the West” Chinese novel to Picachu and Pokemon, characters from famous Japanese cartoons to princesses in fairy tales, etc.
Today, when children are flooded in the world of modern games, toys, etc. To he craftsmen have to be very creative to make their characters lively.
To make To he, craftsmen must be very patient, but most To he craftsmen are men. Xuan La families have one oral rule: secrets in making To he are only transmitted to sons and daughters-in-law, not daughters. According to old craftsmen, this job appeared around 300 years ago.
To he is a traditional toy that is closely tied to the lives of farmers. To make To he, craftsmen only need glutinous rice powder, which is dyed with seven basic colours (green, sea blue, red, purple, yellow, white and black), and bamboo sticks.
In the past, Xuan La villages used trees, ash, etc. to make colours for rice powder but now they use food dyes, to still ensure that children can eat their toys.
The tools to make To he are very simple, comprising a bamboo stick, a small comb, a bee wax piece and a small knife. With a small box containing the above things, a To he craftsman can go everywhere for several days or even a month.
Like other traditional crafts, To he has experienced many ups and down. Sometimes To he makers seemed to have lost their job because they couldn’t compete with Chinese toys, which are eye-catching and cheap.
Thanks to the efforts of Xuan La villagers, this craft is surviving. Now children can see To he at every park or at the gates of schools.
This folk toy has confirmed its position and is considered a cultural ambassador of Vietnam.
From sticky rice flour and pigment, the artisan can shape the dough into a doctor’s figure, dragons, a phoenix, birds and trees. Though To he is not a particularly difficult job, artisans should know well how to combine different colours in order to produce a lively effect.