Christmas comes early to China

September 14, 2012

By Carlos Barria

He Heping, who runs a factory that makes plastic Christmas trees in Yiwu, talks with one of his employees as they finish up a massive order destined for the Netherlands.

He started this business more than ten years ago after an uncle encouraged him to produce plastic Christmas trees. His company had been making knives, but the uncle had visited Serbia at the end of the Balkan War, and came home convinced that a product related to seasonal good cheer represented a better business prospect.

SLIDESHOW: CHINA’S CHRISTMAS FACTORIES

Christmas comes but once a year, but for Christmas decoration factories and retailers in China, it starts as early as July and ends in late September, when massive orders from around the world arrive in Yiwu, located 300 km (185 miles) south of Shanghai in the prosperous Zhejiang province. Yiwu is considered a bellwether for China’s low-cost exports, especially exports destined for emerging markets. Orders come from places as far away as Europe, the United States and South America.

This year, European demand for Christmas goods has dropped sharply, local vendors said. He estimated European orders were down 20 percent from last year, while Shi Kuan Hua, another vendor, said that his European orders had fallen by 40 percent.

At one shop, Peter Nazodze and his wife Natalia rushed to order the latest Christmas decorations for their clients back home in Georgia. “I will buy two containers,” he says. “We live in a little country with just 4 million people.” For Nazodze, Christmas is a good time for business. In Georgia, he says, tradition dictates that people buy new decorations every year, rather than unpack old ones.

At He’s factory, workers take a break for lunch. They work hard to complete their European orders in time to ship them. Markets that are closer by– like India, Japan and Korea– will be next on the roster.

Workers here don’t celebrate Christmas. China’s most important holiday is the Chinese New Year, which comes a little later. But they will have some time off at the end of the year since He will travel to the United States to look for new clients, just as Santa Claus is climbing back up the chimney.

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