Man finds career in building model trains

(People's Daily Online) 09:18, August 28, 2023

The classic 8K electric locomotive model was imported by China in the 1980s. Of the many model trains produced by Zhong Yan's team over the years, the 8K has remained one of the most popular.

The 1:87 scale model of the 18-meter-long 8K locomotive contains over 800 parts. The cab knobs and headlight bulbs match the actual locomotive’s, with many tiny components showing exceptional precision.

Photo shows a model train built by Zhong Yan's team. (Photo/Huang Nanfei)

Zhong, born in Liuzhou city in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, grew up immersed in mechanical engineering through his ancestry and father’s professions.

Zhong's lifelong passion for trains persisted even after he grew up and went abroad. After earning his master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S. in 2010, he worked as a mechanical engineer at a local company.

Through this experience, he came to realize that model trains were not just children's toys, but rather a niche industry with an extensive community of enthusiasts spanning all ages, and model trains constituted a far-reaching cultural market with impressive revenue across a mature, established supply chain.

In 2012, Zhong returned to China. Initially, he was the domestic sales agent for foreign model train brands.

"As I was doing this, I saw clear discrepancies between Chinese-made models and European, American, Japanese brands. But I remained undeterred, believing that domestic products could eventually win favor, too," he said.

Photo shows Zhong Yan at work. (Photo courtesy of the interviewee)

Zhong shared his ideas with his business partner, and they immediately came to an agreement, later starting a company called "Changming," meaning "long whistling sound of a train."

To launch his business, Zhong sold his house, while his maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother emptied their savings. His whole family pitched in to propel his venture.

When tackling the 8K locomotive, Zhong independently handled the entire design and production process. He relentlessly pursued the retiring 8K trains, visiting museums and rail authorities in Beijing, Datong and Tianjin to photograph the locomotives over 5,000 times.

To recreate the intricate undercarriage components, he obtained permission to take photos under the chassis. When he came out, he was covered in grime. Zhong’s tireless efforts proved worthwhile. In over a year, Zhong's 6K and 8K models debuted to immediate acclaim from enthusiasts, selling out within a week.

Zhong's entrepreneurial journey has spanned 11 years. In 2020, he introduced an investment project to Liuzhou, his hometown.

The upcoming HXN5B model is a flagship release from Zhong's company. This China-Europe freight train edition comes outfitted with customized embellishments, including nameplates and exterior paint schemes.

Photo shows a model train built by Zhong Yan's team. (Photo/Huang Nanfei)

To accurately reflect the real locomotive, the main components are built separately. Refined lighting, electronics, and functional details evoke the vivid sensations of a working train.

Zhong's company has launched over 100 model train products, covering representative locomotives in China's railway history such as the Dongfeng diesel locomotive series and Hexie electric locomotive series, as well as famous Chinese high-speed train models like Fuxing and Hexie bullet trains.

In the first half of this year, the company's model train sales reached nearly 20 million yuan ($2.75 million), with overseas sales accounting for 10 percent, with models being sold in Japan, Europe, the U.S. and other markets.

With the rapid development of China's railways, model trains have become an important medium for promoting Chinese railway culture. Zhong and his team hope their model trains can help more people understand China's railway development and culture.

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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