Yiwu: “That’s Ganesha! Sells the most. How many pieces do you want,” asks Chin, pointing at the miniature idol of Hindu God sitting on the shelf of his shop. “If you want a smaller one, I can give that also. How many” he prods further. The 35-year-old Chinese owner of a gift shop, who claims to be an atheist and may not know anything about Hinduism, makes the most by trading the idols of Hindu Gods from Yiwu to India. It is likely that the idol of Lord Shiva or Hanuman, reverently placed at your home, is from Chinese city Yiwu, the world’s largest small commodity wholesale market.
The capital of Zhejiang province in east China sells 1.8 million goods to about 200 countries through its 75,000 shopping booths spread in an area of 5.5 million square metres. It is said it will take a year to visit all the shops if one walks eight hours every day and does not spend more than three minutes at each shopping booth. Yiwu has it all, ranging from socks to gimcrack toys, and from artificial flowers to fancy wall clocks. Officials in the provincial government told IANS that about 70 percent of the world’s Christmas gifts are from this city which is a three-hour drive from Shanghai. China’s mind-numbing export story would be incomplete without Yiwu.
Ninety-nine percent of its trade is from export. And it is India to which Yiwu exports the most. The ravenous appetite of Indian middle class for consumer products keeps Yiwu’s economy thriving. “India is our largest trading partner. And of the top 10 trading partners, eight are from Asia,” Yiwu’s Vice Mayor Xiong Tao told IANS. In 2015, Yiwu shipped goods worth $33.8 million to the world. Of it, export to India stood at $18 billion — a whopping increase of 69 percent from 2014. Thousands of Indians swarm the city every day to haggle over the price of Chinese goods for which Indian’s pay almost double — sometimes more — at home. Of the 13,000 foreigners, 1,000 are Indians.
Among them, Pradeep Shetty is quite famous among the bureaucratic circle and mandarins of Yiwu.So much so that the local government accepted all the proposals sent by Shetty to make Yiwu’s trade better. “We have a quite famous Indian national, Pradeep Shetty. He took Yiwu as his second home. He has written to the Mayor and Party Secretary, giving very nice suggestions and advice,” said Xiong. “He sent 10 proposals and all of them have been realised.” Xiong said Yiwu should not be mistaken for a manufacturing hub. He stressed that it is the sourcing and exporting capacity which sets this place apart. “We are not that much of a production centre. We buy things from different parts of China and all over the world and sell it to others. We make straws, underwear, poker cards among others,” he added.
The e-commerce in Yiwu is one of the strongest in China. Qingyanliu,a small village of 7,000 families in Yiwu, has 2,800 registered online shops which send thousands of parcels every day. This tells a lot about the entrepreneurial skill of the villagers. Like Qingyanliu, there are 23 villages. “We are sending 1.6 million parcels every day all over the world, including 1.2 million inside China,” Xiong said. Yiwu does not have its own airport — it shares the runway with the military. But the world’s longest cargo railway line — 13,000 km — begins from here and ends in Madrid. The cargo train travels across eight countries: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and Spain.
The million dollar question is how did Yiwu do it? Yiwu people don’t sit and wait,” said Xiong. “We do not wait for others or our superiors to tell us what to do. We think, we try and we succeed,” he added. Xiong narrated how Yiwu became a “pioneer in capitalising the opening up of China’s economy after the Cultural Revolution. “Back in the 1980s, China’s reform and opening-up had just begun. The Cultural Revolution had just ended. Private business was still a taboo and considered capitalism,” Xiong recounted. But, he said, the city government encouraged people to carry out their own private business on the roadside.
Xiong takes pride that a roadside market under the open sky has developed into a roofed market which draws the businessmen from across the world. “Don’t forget that at that time (post-Cultural Revolution) the top government officials were risking their political lives. The risk was worth taking,” said Zhu Ya Xiong, a city government official.
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