The Little Sticker in the Corner: The Truth about Early-1990’s Chinese G1 Transformers Toys

“The Little Sticker in the Corner: The Truth about Early-1990’s Chinese G1 Transformers Toys”
Article: Might Gaine
I. Summary
These are the major points of the article:

  • Transformers with the Chinese name sticker in the corner are completely different from the recent Transformers bootlegs sold by Spirit-Of-Cybertron on Ebay.
  • These early-1990’s Chinese Transformers were made by Hasbro.  They are NOT bootlegs.  On the other hand, the toys sold by Spirit-Of-Cybertron ARE bootlegs.
  • Many G1 Transformers were produced in China from 1989 to 1995–somewhere around 100 different characters.
  • Early-1990’s Chinese Transformers were also sold with different box stickers in Korea and Taiwan.

II. Introduction
Over the past few years there has been a lot of concern and confusion in the Transformers community about G1 Transformers coming out of China.  Although it is true that recently many realistic-looking Transformers bootlegs have been made (Optimus Prime, Swoop, Beachcomber, etc.), many of the Chinese Transformers toys that people presume to be knockoffs–those with the Chinese sticker in the corner–are in fact the real, licensed Transformers that were by Hasbro themselves from 1989 to 1995.
For example, remember this guy?
In May of 2005, BigBadToyStore identified these Cyclonuses as Chinese knockoffs.  (source:  It is true that these Cycloni have a little Chinese sticker in the corner.  That sticker says Cyclonus’s name in Chinese.  It is also true that the manufacturing location on the back has a black bar over it, leaving only “(C)1986 Hasbro Inc., Pawtucket, R.I. 02862 USA All Rights Reserved” on the box.  (The missing information used to say “Made and Printed in Taiwan R.D.C. Under License From Takara Co. Ltd. Japan.” on the U.S. Poster Box version.  I’m not sure what it said on the non-Poster Box version.)
However, this is not a knockoff.  These toys that came with the little Chinese name sticker in the corner and the omitted/changed manufacturing location are in fact real Hasbro-made Transformers toys!  Most Transformers fans think these are knockoffs, which I guess  just goes to show you how misinformation can become so widespread on the internet.  This article will first identify the two different types of G1 Transformers people usually call “Chinese Transformers” and distinguish them from one another–the one series, real Hasbro-made toys and the other series, knockoffs.  Then it will give a brief overview of early-1990’s Chinese Transformers–when they were made, the box differences, and the toy differences.  Finally, the article will show the voluminous evidence supporting these being real toys made by Hasbro.

III. Early-1990’s Real Chinese Transformers versus 2005-2007 Bootleg Transformers
To begin with, I need to correct a basic misunderstanding that people have about early-1990’s real Chinese Transformers and the bootlegs that have appeared in the last couple years.  Many Transformers fans think they are the same thing.  They are not the same thing.  To demonstrate, I’ll use Optimus Prime.  This is a 1985 U.S. release Optimus Prime:
Now, compare it to the bootleg version that started appearing around 2005:

There are some differences, including the placement of words in the logo, and the presense/lack of a gray border above the trailer.  Also, this version originally comes with no factory-applied trailer stripe, and often no factory-applied cab stripe.  You’ve probably seen both the original 1984 U.S. release and the 2005 bootleg version before.  But have you seen the Optimus Prime pictured below?
Actually, you probably have seen it before on Ebay, but with the Chinese sticker removed–you probably had no idea this was actually the early-1990’s Chinese release of Optimus Prime from Hasbro.  Note the high window cut that goes above the gray area and the black boxes around the toy photos as opposed to white boxes.  And, of course, the Chinese name sticker in the upper-right corner.  As you can see, the early-1990’s Chinese release of Optimus is a totally seperate entity from the recent bootleg Optimuses. The Chinese-sticker toys and the bootlegs are two completely different series of toys made over a decade apart from one another.
Most people are only familiar with a very small number of early-1990’s Chinese releases–the Triggerbots/cons, the infamous Cyclonus mentioned above, Ironhide, and probably a few others.  But in fact, almost all of the first 5 years of G1 was released in China, including Optimus, Megatron, Autobot cars and jets, Minibots, Soundwave, cassettes, Dinobots, Triplechangers, most individual combiner bots (this includes the Constructions), Headmasters, Targetmasters, Fort Max, Scorponok, Sixshot, Punch/Counterpunch, the Autobot and Decepticon clones, small Headmasters, Triggerbots/cons, and Powermaster cars and jets.  (This is not an exaustive list, so there were probably more than just the ones I’ve listed.)  Also, China’s final year of G1 Transformers in 1995 included Transformers from Japan’s Transformers Victory series: individual Road Caesar, Landcross, and Liokaiser bots.  Again, these early-1990’s Chinese Transformers are real Transformers made by Hasbro.

In contrast, the recent 2005+ bootleg Transformers only include a relatively small selection of toys.  They started with Beachcomber, Optimus Prime, and Frenzy and Laserbeak and have expanded to include Swoop, Rumble and Ravage, Frenzy and Ratbat, Mirage, Red Cliffjumper, Yellow Cliffjumper, and Hubcap.  Spirit-Of-Cybertron, an Ebay seller who appears to play a significant role in the illegal operation has also posted pictures of upcoming bootlegs including Devastator, Wheeljack, Slag, Sludge, and Sunstreaker.  Spencer of Ages Three And Up, a store that sells these bootlegs, has said publicly that they are new molds made by the bootlegers, not the original molds, and prototype pictures that Spirit-Of-Cybertron has posted of upcoming bootlegs seems to support that assertion.  Furthermore, Spirit-Of-Cybertron has never claimed these bootlegs are licensed by Hasbro.  Thus, there is no question that the 2005+ toys were produced without permission from Hasbro, despite the fraudulent Hasbro markings on the packaging and toys.
IV. Overview of Real Chinese Transformers
From 1984 to 1988, the Transformers toyline was experiencing great success in Japan and countries in Europe and America.  But despite this success, Hasbro did not release Transformers in China during this period.  Perhaps it was fear of competing in a market of cheaper knockoffs or in an economy that at the time may not have had extra money to spend on expensive foreign toys.
But whatever the reason for this delay, in 1989 Hasbro must have finally felt the time was right, and they began selling G1 Transformers toys in China.  The boxes looked nearly identical to those sold several years prior in the United States.  According to one account, the initial release of the toys included characters not just from the United States’ first year of Transformers toys, but U.S. Transformers toys from 1985 and 1986 as well, including even movie characters such as Springer.  Toys were released in an odd order, including some 1984 characters like Wheeljack and Prowl being released in late-1990, long after the initial waves.
The boxed of these initial waves of Chinese Transformers toys had very slight differences compared to those of the original U.S. toys.  On the front of each box or card of a Chinese Transformer from this period, in the upper-right corner is a small sticker with several Chinese characters on them.  This text actually states the character’s name in Chinese.
Under the tech spec, where the manufacturing location is supposed to be (e.g. “Made in Japan under license from Takara” or “Made in Taiwan”, etc.), that information was either (a) blacked out or (b) cleanly removed such that no black bar was present and the battle scene image there is visible.  Either way, only Hasbro’s Copyright information was left below the tech spec.  Also, a Chinese sticker that probably contained the new manufacturing location information was usually placed near the tech specs.
After these initial G1 Transformers (probably around 1993), Hasbro released fourth year toys such as Headmasters.

From what I’ve seen of the Chinese fourth year toys, there is no obvious black bar over the manufacturing location on the fourth year toys, because that area was black on the original U.S. boxes.  But the manufacturing location is still absent on these boxes.

For some reason, the Horrorcons came in Canadian packaging.
In 1994 Hasbro released fifth year toys such as Powermasters in China.  The small Headmasters and the Powermasters had the name sticker placed in a different position, in the bottom left, on top of the Nebulon partner’s name, rather than in the upper right corner.  Other fifth year toys such as Triggerbots still had the normal name sticker in the upper right corner.  Another difference present on some of the fifth year toys is that some of them had a large round “Hasbro International” logo sticker on the front of their packaging.  Lastly, instead of a missing manufacturing location, the manufacturing location has actually been changed to China.  For some reason, Nightbeat came in a Dutch box.
Finally, in 1995, Hasbro released toys from Takara’s Transformers Victory toyline in China.  Instead of using stickers for the Chinese text, the Chinese text was printed on the box.  Except for the sparse Chinese text, “TAKARA” written in English instead of Japanese, and the large round “Hasbro International” logo, the boxes looks identical to the original Japanese boxes.
Overall, the early-1990’s Chinese toys themselves stayed pretty much identical to their mid-1980’s U.S. counterparts.  There are some noticible differences for certain toys, though.  For example, cassettes that had sticker details in their U.S. release all have painted details instead.

Also, Chinese Triggerbots and Triggercons have rub-signs, whereas their U.S. counterparts did not.  And Punch/Counterpunch and the Autobot and Decepticon clones have normal insignia stickers where they should have their specialized rubsigns.  (This list of differences is, of course, not comprehensive.  There are probably other differences out there waiting to be discovered.)
V. Proof That the 1990’s Chinese Transformers Are Not Bootlegs
A. The Smoking Gun: The Early-1990’s Chinese Aerialbots were offered as mail-away items in Japan in 1991

In Japan in 1991, Takara offered the Aerialbots as a mail-away offer.  What kids actually received from this campaign looked like the U.S. release of the Aerialbots, but they were in fact the early-1990’s Chinese release!  The giveaway is the blacked out manufacturing location on the back of the packaging.  Source:  Japanese web page  (Use an online translator like babelfish to read the content of the page in English.)  This confirms that Takara was well aware of the early-1990’s Chinese G1 Transformers at the time that they were being made.  After all, they were selling them in Japan themselves!
(In 1992, Takara offered the Dinobots as a mail-away offer as well.  These too came in American-style packaging, but the evidence I’ve come across so far as to whether they are exactly the same as the Chinese versions isn’t rock solid.  So perhaps in the future I will be able to confirm or deny that the Dinobots were also the Chinese versions.)
B.  Every box has “(C) Hasbro” written on it.
In an age where even the bootlegs have “(C) Hasbro” written on them, I know this doesn’t mean much.  But I thought I’d mention this anyway because there’s a myth that the 1990’s Chinese Transformers have blacked out Copyright information.  The truth is that they do NOT have blacked out Copyright information.  Although it’s true that the manufacturing location is usually removed and often the “under license from Takara” part is removed as well, the “(C) Hasbro” part was NEVER removed on any of these early-1990’s Chinese Transformers (see the example images above).
C.  Hasbro International are known to have increased their activity in Asia in the early-1990’s.
An except from The International Directory of Company Histories notes Hasbro International’s increased activity in the early-1990’s, specifically in Asia: Article.  This corresponds perfectly with Hasbro’s production of G1 Transformers toys during this period.
D.  G.I. Joe from the 1980’s were reproduced in the early-1990’s for China as well.
It’s well known that 1980’s G.I. Joe toys were also manufactured by Hasbro for China during this period.  For example, here’s a link that shows a few:
This activity confirms evidence (B) above.  Hasbro increased their activity in Asia during this period by reproducing old toys that they had sold in the U.S. a decade earlier.
E.  Everyone agrees that the Victory toys are real, therefore why shouldn’t the other 1990’s Chinese TFs be real?
In the Transformers community, it’s generally accepted that the 1995 Chinese Transformers Victory toys (individual Road Caesar, Landcross, and Liokaiser bots) are real Hasbro-made Chinese Transformers.  If that’s the case, why shouldn’t the other 1990’s Chinese Transformers be real Hasbro-made Transformers?  The Chinese Victory toys are obviously part of the same series of toys as the other Chinese G1 toys.  After all, both the Chinese fifth-year Transformers like Powermasters and the Chinese Victory toys have the big round “Hasbro International” logo.  And the Victory toys were made in 1995, one year after the fifth-year toys released in 1994.  It fits perfectly.
F.  My Ugly Korean Motormaster
This is the final piece of evidence, a Korean Motormaster that I recently acquired.  However, the explanation is a little complicated, so bear with me.
First, take a look at the manufacturing date on the import sticker of this toy, and then take a look at the area below the tech spec on the back of the box.
The import sticker says it was made in 1989, which is the same year that the Chinese G1 Transformers were initially released.
The manufacturing location below the tech spec has a black bar over it just like many Pre-Headmasters Chinese G1 Transformers.  The only explanation is that this IS a 1990’s Chinese G1 Transformer, except without the Chinese stickers and with a Korean sticker instead.  It is the same toy but intended to be sold in Korea instead of China.
Now, look at the two logos on the import sticker.  The blue logo belongs to Hasbro.  The elephant logo belongs to Young Toys, a prominent Korean toy company.  And, indeed, the text of the import sticker confirms that this is a Transformer made by Hasbro and imported into Korea by Young Toys.
The fact that Young Toys imported this toy is extremely significant.  In Korea around 1990, Young Toys was one of the very, very few Korean toy companies that actually entered into licensing agreements with foreign toy companies.  For example, they licensed from Bandai the rights to produce toys from series like Jetman, Liveman, Fiveman, and Machine Robo.  Pretty much all other Korean toy companies at the time produced knockoffs.  (It was not until many years later, in the mid-1990’s, that companies like Sonokong and Academy stopped making knockoffs and began entering into licensing agreements with U.S. and Japanese toy companies.)  Therefore, since Young Toys made and imported only licensed goods around 1990, these 1990’s G1 Transformers must have been made by Hasbro.
(And apparently Young Toys’ relationship with Hasbro, bringing Transformers to Korea, has continued to this day.  In the 1990’s, Young Toy was the company in Korea that officially imported U.S. Beast Wars toys.  And Young Toys are the company currently making Transformers Alternators in Korea.)
VI. Loose Ends: Taiwanese TFs
Transformers with the large Chinese sticker over the Transformers logo, like the Cyclonus above, are from Taiwan.  There used to be some confusion about whether these were sold i n China and not Taiwan, but if you look at auctions for these on Ebay, 95% of thetime the seller is located in Taiwan.  Plus, these almost never appear on Chinese auction sites like Taobao, but do they often appear on Yahoo Taiwan’s auction site.  But what exactly are these Taiwanese Transformers?  Where do they come from?
Take a look at the back of the box, below the tech specs.  There is a black bar over the manufacturing location.  This too is just an early-1990’s Chinese toy with different stickers and intended for a different target country, just like the Korean Motormaster.  This again seems to confirm the information from the article I mentioned in Part IV(C), that Hasbro International was increasing its activity in Asia at this time.
One thing that I haven’t yet found the answer to is what exactly are the Taiwanese Transformers such as the Monster Pretenders and the Ultra Pretenders.  Are they also Chinese TFs with a new sticker slapped on them?  Are they just the U.S. TFs?  If anyone lived in Taiwan when these we being released, send me a PM on the board and let me know your impressions of these.  They are the last piece in the puzzle that is Chinese (and Korean and Taiwanese) Transformers.
VII. Summary
If you’ve made it this far in the article, then several things should now be clear to you:

  • Transformers with the Chinese name sticker in the corner are completely different from the recent Transformers bootlegs sold by Spirit-Of-Cybertron on Ebay.
  • These early-1990’s Chinese Transformers were made by Hasbro.  They are NOT bootlegs.  On the other hand, the toys sold by Spirit-Of-Cybertron ARE bootlegs.
  • Many G1 Transformers were produced in China from 1989 to 1995–somewhere around 100 different characters, if not more.
  • Early-1990’s Chinese Transformers were also sold with different box stickers in Korea and Taiwan.

If you got that much from the article, then I’ve done my job. 😉
VIII. Gallery
I didn’t have room for all the images I originally wanted to include in the body of the article, so here are a few more images of real early-1990’s Chinese Transformers.

IX. Credits
These are the people that contributed to the article and the sources that I used:

  • Engledogg for digging up the infamous Cyclonus image for me.
  • The Autocon guys for giving me feedback on an unfinished version of the article.
  • Fighbird for offering photos of TFs in his collection to use in the article.
  • J.J., the author of the Chinese Transformers article on the old TF Pulp for various tidbits from his article that I’ve plugged into my article here and there.
  • Fred’s Variation page and Fracus for Fracus’s first-hand account.
  • TwoKingMick and Vaporware for translating the import sticker on my Korean Motormaster.

Most of my images come from Taobao, a Chinese auction site.  I didn’t think anyone over there would mind my using their images for an informative article.  I also took some images from Ebay and some U.S. web sites.  I was kind of rushing along to get this done, though, so I didn’t pay very good attention to where I got particular pictures from, so if you see a picture that you took, let me know and I’ll add you to the credits list.  Sorry about that!
If you feel that any of the information is half-correct or incorrect or you have information on the Taiwanese 1989 Pretender stuff, send me a PM.  I’m very open to feedback, so feel free to PM me with your reaction to this article.