Walt Disney began as a cartoonist in 1923 by producing a series known as the Alice Comedies (remakes of Alice in Wonderland). The company he founded would go on to become one of the world’s biggest merchandisers of toy products. In Guangdong a toymaker is now striving to become China’s answer to Disney.
Cai Dongqing was born in 1969 in Guangdong’s Shantou, a city that has also produced some of the richest Hong Kong tycoons (including Li Ka-shing). As the eldest son of a farmer, Cai didn’t even have the chance to enter high school. He worked as an apprentice at a local factory, and in 1986 he set up a plant making small plastic instruments for kids. His first startup was a disaster and Cai was soon forced to work in a factory. Before long he came up with a new venture: making bigger toy trumpets. This time Cai was able to accumulate enough money for his next big idea.
In 1992, a trip to Hong Kong inspired him to make mini 4WD (four-wheel drive) toy vehicles. He founded Alpha Toy and co-hosted a mini 4WD tournament for kids with a Guangdong broadcaster. In 1995 he duplicated the formula. This time he organised a national tournament and more than 600,000 youngsters from 28 cities took part. It greatly popularised his firm’s toy products and the company was able to build up a nationwide network.
In 1996 Cai’s Alpha brought to China a Japanese cartoon series about 4WD racing. The programme was well received by young audiences. Cai began to incorporate cartoon entertainment and bring over more animation series as well as branded toys from Japan.
In 2004, Cai renamed his company Alpha Entertainment. Two years later it produced its first TV franchise, a cartoon series about the adventures of yoyo-playing youngsters (he used it to help sales of a yoyo product he’d imported from Japan). Alpha’s animation business began to take off just as Beijing began to encourage Chinese firms to develop their own cultural businesses. Alpha Entertainment went public in 2009 on Shenzhen’s small- and medium-sized enterprise board. The company was valued at less than Rmb5 billion ($803 million) at the time. As of this week, its market value had exceeded Rmb47 billion. Wealth ranker Hurun estimates that Cai and his family had a net worth of Rmb13.5 billion by the end of 2014, making him the 100th richest person in China.
Need to know
“I want every kid in the world to be able to see Alpha’s cartoons, and spread the Chinese culture to every corner of the world,” Cai once said of his goals.
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