Yiwu a "sea of small commodities"
Yiwu was once an obscure small county in the Jinhua-Quzhou Basin. More than twenty years ago its per-capita income was only 88 yuan and its 280,000-strong labor force showed a surplus of 150,000 people. Around 1978, the year when China launched its reform program, local itinerant peddlers ventured to set up stands at street corners, selling needles, thread, brushes and other odds and ends. Such stands first appeared in a small mountain village in the eastern part of Yiwu called Niansanli.
As the peddlers moved about, they soon converged on the county seat. Some government offices tried to dissuade them in an attempt to stop the steady flow of peddlers from the villages to the county seat, but they only saw more joining in. One day in 1982, in a government office, the county leader was arguing vehemently with a woman peddler over whether farmers should be allowed to engage in trade. As they argued he flew into a rage and banged the desk, obviously failing to prevail over the woman. Nobody had the slightest inkling at the time that this argument would eventually lead to the creation of a small commodities market that would grow into the largest one in China. On August 25th of that year, the county government, now seeing the matter in a new light, announced that farmers would be allowed to engage in trading and transporting goods for sale over a long distance, a policy that had been banned nationwide under the previous Leftist policies. The county government also lifted bans on urban and rural markets and allowed competition with state commerce from other sectors.
Today, Yiwu reports an annual turnover of trading in small commodities that exceeds 20 billion yuan. Its annual China Yiwu International Small Commodities Expo has become a barometer for trading in small commodities in China.
Sidewalk sheds at the beginning stage have now given way to modern exchange buildings. Younger people perhaps have no idea that there once was an argument between a county secretary of the Communist Party named Xie Gaohua and a woman named Feng Aiqian. But history will remember the event and bear witness tothe courage and perseverance of the contemporary Zhejiang people in its own way. At present, there are nearly 5,000 such markets specializing in various commodities across the land of Zhejiang covering 100,000-plus square kilometers: Shaoxing in central Zhejiang, Luqiao in southern Zhejiang, Puyuan in northern Zhejiang, just to name a few. They report a combined business volume exceeding 300 billion yuan. Among China's top 100 specialized markets, Zhejiang has 24, including the top three.
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