The factory workers in Yiwu, a city of two million people southwest of Shanghai, don’t look as if all their Christmases came at once, but for any Western visitor who loves the seasonal glitter and fantasy of Yuletide, this place would be a dream come true.
Until the 1980s, Yiwu was a dirt-poor rural area best known in Chinese history as the place where peasants once traded sugar for chicken feathers in order to make fertiliser. But as Chinese communism gradually began to ease, a local petition allowing for a farmers market to be established, laid the foundations for a conurbation that, 40 years later, is the world’s biggest producer of small consumer commodities. It is also home to 600 factories making Christmas decorations, Santa costumes, sparkly reindeer, and all manner of other seasonal toot and tat that help contribute to the city’s annual $11 billion business.
The city’s contribution to China’s incredible economic boom of recent decades is not the focus for Merry Christmas, Yiwu, and the global connections behind the hundreds of factories and thousands of small subcontractors – the village women whose job, for example, is to glue the fluffy balls on the tips of Santa’s cheery red hat – barely figure. Instead, this is an intimate …
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