Yiwu, a Chinese city in Zhejiang Province, has been celebrated as the real-life North Pole, manufacturing 60 percent of Christmas decorations and ornaments. Seven years ago, only ten factories were manufacturing Christmas products in Yiwu. Now, more than 600 factories work all year to cater to festive shoppers around the world.
Ironically, six years ago in the same province, Chinese policemen were reported to have attacked a group of Christians celebrating Christmas in a small village in Zhejiang, causing minor injuries to some of them. Home to the largest Christian population in China (2.62 percent of Zhejiang’s population), Zhejiang’s small village of Xintan is composed of almost 1,000 Christians, a few hundred of which were having a Christmas celebration when they were interrupted by Chinese police, cutting off their power supply and overtaking the stage. The police said that the celebration was an “illegal assembly” since the group didn’t ask for permission.
An official in charge of religious affairs in the region clarified that the worshippers were ordered to cancel their event a day prior to it, because regulations forbid worship outdoors and Buddhists in the village were complaining. “We told them that any outdoors event of a religious nature is strictly banned from being organized, and that’s what it states in the government rule on religion,” said Zeng Jianhua, deputy director of religious affairs in Ruian city, which oversees Xintan.
Amid this Buddhist versus Christian struggle, “red factories” are busy dying ornaments, hats and other toys and decorations to celebrate what is probably the most biggest holiday in the world. The factories rely on assembly lines, pumping out a mass production on a daily basis all year, prioritizing labor efficiency over product quality. From plastic ornaments to felt reindeer antlers, the assembly of these trinkets is often labor-intensive and messy.
Yiwu’s 600 factories deliver their products to a bazaar that covers an area of 43 million square feet (3.9 million square meters). According to a pamphlet distributed to visitors at the bazaar, at a pace of three minutes per booth, and for eight hours a day, it would take a visitor one year to stop at each booth. The booths sell nearly two million products from over 60,000 outlets, earning the bazaar billions of dollars every year, thanks to Christmas. Out of China’s 22 provinces, Zhejiang province ranks fourth in terms of GDP, registering RMB 4.6 trillion ($700 billion), with a GDP growth of 7.5 percent in 2016.
The bazaar targets foreign retailers from all over the world, and even laborers report that they don’t know what they’re crafting. “We have no idea where these products will go,” said 52-year-old Shen Youfeng, a factory laborer. “There are no Chinese characters on the packets just some foreign language.”