Somewhere in southern China, there is a site where people build more than 100 helicopters or warships and dozens of tanks a day.
Is it a hidden military complex, invisible even to state-of-the-art spy satellites? A terrorist base?
The reality is much simpler: It's a plastic toy firm in Guangdong province, owned by a middle-aged couple, and the weapons and tanks are just models.
The wife Zhang Peizhen, talkative and sociable, is responsible for the production, marketing and sales of the company - Chenghai Henglong Plastic Toys Co Ltd - based in the Chenghai district of Shantou, a coastal city.
Her husband, Wang Weiguang, oversees design work and leads a design and mold-making team.
"We make scale models of tanks, helicopters and warships from different eras. Most of them are modeled on those made in Germany, Russia, the United States and China," said Zhang.
She proudly showed off the model of a tank that took part in the military parade in Beijing on Oct 1, 2009, to mark the 60th anniversary of New China's founding.
Operated by remote control and powered by a rechargeable battery, the tiny tank moves nimbly, emitting odorless smoke from time to time.
The cannon swirls and fires, ejecting plastic balls as far as 2 meters. Every time the cannon fires, the tank recoils, just like a real one on a battleground.
Zhang was equally proud of the company's big model helicopter, which can fly higher than the eye can see and can be equipped with a mini-camera.
The largest toys in her factory are made on a scale of 1 to 16, while others have smaller proportions, such as 1 to 24. The range allows her company to offer many choices to clients.
She said that the information about the tanks, helicopters and warships comes mainly from trade magazines and websites, which her husband scans whenever and wherever he can.
"Molds play an important role in the production of the toys," she said. "Fortunately, my husband is very experienced in making molds, and a computer-aided design system makes the process simpler, more accurate and efficient."
Wang learned to make molds in the 1980s, and he improved his skills with more than a decade of self-study.
According to Wang, before the use of computer-aided design, it could take as long as three years to make a mold for a model tank, helicopter or warship. Even a remote control mold could take a year.
"We had to draft design sketches and make molds manually," he said. "Pencils, compasses, rulers and protractors were almost all the equipment we had for the design work, and we had to rely heavily on hammers and chisels for making molds for most of the time."
Computers have made the process much easier, he said, adding that the design sketch can be three-dimensional and more accurate, and the time needed to make a mold can be halved.
In all, the new process "makes our models look nearer to the real thing", he said.
A toy designer with the company, who identified himself by the surname Cai, said that "Master Wang" has a genius for toy design and mold-making.
"He can always pinpoint anything wrong in the sketch made by a computer at the first glance," Cai said.
According to Wang, many clients are military enthusiasts, who are very demanding when it comes to accuracy.
"Not a few brought measuring gadgets and magnifiers, scrutinized every detail of our models, and made comparisons with the parameters they had during several toy trade shows we attended," he said.
"We are confident of the market's prospects. We will strive to enrich the product line and make the models more technology-intensive while keeping a close eye on the quality and safety of the products," his wife said.
The Shanghai Financial News reported in March that at least 84 percent of adults in Japan owned toys, while 40 percent of the toys made in the United States target adults.
In China, 64 percent of adults will consider buying toys for themselves, primarily for relaxation.
"Overseas market demand has been stable and domestic market demand has seen steady growth in recently years," Zhang said.
She noted that higher costs for raw materials and labor, and the rising cost of quality testing needed for exports to Europe and the United States, had affected her company.
The couple started their business in the 1990s. Prior to that, they worked for other toy workshops.
"Many people made toys in Chenghai in the 1980s and it was easier to earn our bread by making toys in that era," she said.
"My husband became better and better at it, so we decided to run a toy workshop ourselves."
Their plant initially made remote-controlled cars for children. The first models could only move back and forth. Then came cars that could move in four directions. Still later, they made models that could move in any direction and automatically turn away from danger.
They did not come upon the idea to make models of tanks, helicopters or warships until the late 1990s, when a friend who was model tank fan advised them of the business potential.
"Such toys target mostly adults, so the styles are not so changeable as those targeting children. Also, there are very few such suppliers in China and even globally," she noted. "The situation was a good fit for a small enterprise like ours then."
The couple soon turned their attention to making model tanks, followed by helicopters and warships.
They registered the trademark "Henglong" (literally, everlasting dragon) around the year 2000 for their product series. They have obtained several patents, some for the outer designs, others for new types of practical applications.
The district of Chenghai actually has a toy-making history of more than three decades and has been dubbed "the national toy and gift base". Workshops in the area make almost all kinds of toys.
"Whatever you can imagine and whatever people want may be available here in Chenghai," noted Chen Xiangguang, secretary of the district Party committee.
Chen attributed the booming industry to the district's well-developed industrial chain for toy making.
"The industrial chain ranging from design, R&D, mold-making, production and processing, to printing and packaging, exhibition and trade to logistics is ready, while its expansion of animation and cartoon integration is taking shape," Chen said.
Chen added that the long history of toy-making has nurtured related component and service providers, and the government's strategy to improve the industrial chain has borne fruit.
According to the district government, Chenghai has 4,490 toy-related firms, with more than 120,000 people involved in the industry. The district's toy-related industrial output was 23.9 billion yuan ($3.79 billion) in 2011, up 15 percent from a year earlier.
By Kang Bing and Zhan Lisheng in Shantou, Guangdong (China Daily)