BBC – In the Chinese city of Yiwu, Christmas comes 365 days a year.
Yiwu could be anywhere in workaday urban China. It is a smoggy, swarming, unremarkable place some 300km south of Shanghai.
Except for one thing – a series of vast halls that constitute what is claimed to be the world’s biggest wholesale market. That’s where Christmas happens every day, even if most Chinese people themselves do not really believe in it.
There’s nothing grand about it – but inside the utilitarian buildings there’s a dazzling cornucopia of festive stuff ready for the world’s consumers. There are hundreds of booths, with thousands of different glittering things to buy by dozen, or the hundreds, or the container load.
There are cascades of plastic flowers, and batteries of singing Santas, there are life-sized reindeers, and twinkling LED garlands in more colours than a rainbow.
There are dozens of cuddly soft toy stalls, with characters bearing a peculiar familiarity to well-known global trademarks.
There are ribbons and baubles, and lights everywhere. Dazzled, the eye does not know where to look, what to take in. You amble on, floor after floor of glittering stuff ready for the export market.
Each of the more than 60,000 booths seems to represent a separate business. Each of them specialises in a very particular product, often from far away factories.
It’s not just toys and baubles. There are hundreds of booths of festive gloves and hats, tools, car accessories, bicycles, and pots and pans. Most of the products are gaudy and low tech. They say that 1,700,000 different things are on show. I gave up counting them.
Effectively this mind-boggling place is the shop window for the great Chinese industrial revolution, the extraordinary rush to turn the country into the global manufacturing powerhouse that has transformed China’s cities over the past 30 years.
It’s one of those statistics which nobody can prove, but they say that more than half of all the world’s Christmas decorations are made in China. A huge proportion of them are on sale to global buyers in the endless booths of the Yiwu wholesale market.