Crafty destinations

Xuan La’s unique rice powder toy figurines

About 40km from Hanoi, Xuan La village is known for the unique craft of making to he, a traditional Vietnamese toy made from rice powder. 
Located in Phuong Duc commune, Phu Xuyen district, Xuan La is the only village in Vietnam that makes toy figurines from rice powder.

According to old villagers, the craft, dates back to around 300 years ago. The people originally made rice powder animal-shaped cakes for worshiping. The cakes were made in the shapes of familiar animals such as peacocks, birds, chickens, buffalos, cows, pigs and fish. Each cake had a whistle stuck in it which, when blown, produced a sound like “to te”. The toy was thus called to he after this sound.

Now the figurines serve as children’s toys and thus are created in a greater variety of imaginative forms to meet the demand of customers. The rice powder toys are now shaped like popular cartoon characters such as Aladdin, Doremon, Pokemon, the Monkey King, and Pigsy.

To he is made from rice powder dyed in four basic colors of yellow, red, green and black.
The colors are obtained entirely from natural materials. 

A comb is used to shape hair or beard of the figurine. 

 A Xuan La artisan shows how to make to he

to he. 

The craft draws foreigners' interest. 

To he is a favorite toy for young people.

To he on sale in the Hoan Kiem lake walking area in Hanoi.

On sale on Trinh Cong Son walking street. 

To he making contests are often held as a way to restore the traditional craft.

The craft has been passed down from one generation to another in Xuan La. Every villager in Xuan La knows how to make to he, from children to old people.

To he is made from a powder of rice mixed with glutinous rice at a ratio of 10/1. The ratio of the rice and sticky rice powder may change depending on the weather conditions to ensure the softness of the mixture. The mixed rice powder is boiled and then rolled into balls. After that, the rice balls are dyed in four basic colors of yellow, red, green and black. The dyeing process only uses natural materials such as gac (Momordica cochinchinensis) which produces red. Yellow is obtained from saffron; green, from indigo; and black, from false daisies. Other colors are produced from mixing these four colors.

The colorful rice powder balls can only be turned into toys with the skills, creativeness and rich imaginations of Xuan La artisans. With such simple tools as a comb, a bamboo stick or a piece of beeswax, an artisan can create a vividly looking animal within minutes.


Unique to he figurines made by Xuan La craftsmen. 

Xuan La craftsmen are regarded as artists who perform their toy figurine making on the streets. They also teach the craft as an extracurricular activity at schools as a way to revive and preserve the folk craft.

Xuan La’s unique craft of making rice powder toys which symbolize Vietnamese villages has made a good impression at international cultural exchange events.

Many artisans from Xuan La, including Dang Van To and Nguyen Van Thuan, have been invited to Japan, the US and South Korea to show the unique craft. Younger craftsmen from the village like Nguyen Van Thanh and Dang Van Tan also did the toy figurine making in Thailand and China at the ASEAN people-to-people exchange programs in 2007 and 2012.

Story: Thao Vy - Photos: Tran Thanh Giang

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