So-called blind box toys -- collectible figures in mystery packaging -- are China’s latest speculative craze. Reveal the right toy, and a few dollars can turn into hundreds on the resale market.

Now the fever has spread to the plush toys and other prizes won out of claw-crane arcade games, as well as the gashopan toys sold out of vending machines in grocery stores and shopping malls.

The boom in the secondary toy market has attracted the attention of China’s regulators. The municipal watchdog in the southern tech hub of Shenzhen is intensifying its scrutiny of the trade in the toys, according to the official Shenzhen Special Zone Daily.

Collectible toys like those from Bearbrick (pictured) and Pop Mart have been taking off in China. (Picture: Matt Haldane/Abacus)

Government officials are concerned the toys are the next big thing, part of a long national history of speculation in unusual categories, including liquor, garlic and fermented tea. There’s currently a crackdown on the buying and selling of limited edition sneakers.

“Now that Shenzhen has started to scrutinize the emerging sub-culture, the rest of the country, at least major cities, should follow suit,” Li Shangze, a Shenzhen-based lawyer specializing in financial crimes, said in a telephone interview. The bureau didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s requests for further information.

Mystery toys aren’t as big as sneakers – not yet. Some 300,000 people bought and sold blind box toys last year on Xianyu, a major domestic online resale site, pushing trade volume to more than 10 million yuan, according to a recent report in the People’s Daily. One popular blind box figurine saw its price rise almost forty-fold to 2,350 yuan ($330).

On Tmall, an online shopping site owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., there are maybe 200,000 consumers trading toys on the site, according to a recent report from the retailer. The biggest trader spent about 1 million yuan within a year.

Toy fads and speculation pop up around the world from time to time – Beanie Babies, Tamagotchi – and blind box toys have become particularly popular among China’s young adults. The chance to make a quick return may look especially attractive compared with a volatile domestic stock market and the official crackdown on peer-to-peer lending sites.

Fonzie Guo, a 21-year-old senior media major at Fudan University in Shanghai, has spent hundreds of yuan on blind box toys since he started collecting this summer. Recently he got a special-edition flying dragon doll through an online lottery. It cost him about 15 yuan to enter. The toy now sells for about 20 times as much on the resale market.

“A small amount of gambling is entertaining,” Guo said in a telephone interview. But he said he has no intention to sell. “It is a purely personal hobby,” he said. “I will buy when I see dolls I really like.”

One of Guo’s favorite blind box providers is Beijing Pop Mart Cultural & Creative Corp., which sells online and in stores in 52 Chinese cities. During last month’s Singles Day sales event, Pop Mart sold its entire stock of 55,000 Labubu mini blind box dolls in nine seconds, China Daily reported.