When we talk about Yiwu, you may associate it with the shipping address on a delivery box or the place where your coworkers source products for their side hustles. If so, a group of financially savvy young people could have been walking ahead of you.
Instead of hunting for coupons online, they prefer to go to Yiwu and negotiate deals firsthand. So, Yiwu, once overlooked, has become a hotspot for weekend trips for those in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. Even white-collar workers from Beijing fly to Yiwu just to experience the “doubled purchasing power joy” on weekends.
Someone told us, “In other tourist attractions, you convince yourself that it’s inevitable for things to be more expensive. But only in Yiwu can you feel like your money has doubled in value. Even though your monthly salary may not be high, you can still feel as if you were rich.”
Most young people come to Yiwu for two purposes. One is to visit Yiwu International Trade City to experience a real-life version of “Pinduoduo” . While most goods are sold here with a minimum order quantity limit, you have the chance to buy small quantities at discounts. For example, you can learn industry jargon and pretend as a small business trader to buy samples at a wholesale price. In Yiwu, you will further understand the joy to buy stuff without hesitation.
The other purpose for those young is to taste “the cuisine in the Southern Hemisphere” that would otherwise take a 20-hour flight to enjoy. Due to frequent trade interactions with the Middle East, Yiwu has become a hub for international flavors. As you can see on social media, many young people make trips to Yiwu just for food. In the Jiangsu-Zhejiang-Shanghai region, when it comes to the internationalization of cuisine, Shanghai ranks first, and Yiwu ranks second.
Young people frequently provide travel tips for Yiwu on social media, which makes residents in Yiwu confused. These locals are used to buying low-priced goods and have lost their shopping desires. They believe Yiwu is only a place for sourcing products but not traveling.
However, only those who have been seriously affected by consumerism can understand the significance of their trip. After visiting Yiwu, they no longer desire to shop.
Understanding what is a shopping-themed amusement park in Yiwu
For those who have never visited Yiwu, the journey has a significant impact on their opinions. “Scented candles are piled up in a booth, which I wouldn’t usually afford because they’re expensive. Without the brand story, they’re just candles and much cheaper. After returning from Yiwu, the first thing I did was stop online shopping.”
In this small commodities city, it takes around three months for you to explore all corners if you visit for 8 hours every day. Here, natural landscapes and cultural history no longer matter; playing the role of a one-day merchant is the most important thing. Young people who have been to Yiwu all know that the entire city is like a massive theme park centered around shopping. You will find that you only spend less than 100 yuan even if your shopping bag is so full that they’re hard to hold. This significantly shifts the perspective of young people on the value of their money. They even feel like everything is nearly “available for free” in this theme park.
Jessie, an employee from a major internet company in Beijing, was instantly captivated when she came across a post about travelling experience in Yiwu on social media. She said, “A 925 silver necklace for 30 yuan, socks for 20 yuan per kilogram, not only can you shop without looking at prices, but you can also explore a wide range of global cuisines. So, we decided to go and see for ourselves.” She and her husband immediately booked round-trip tickets for over 1000 yuan for the weekend. They planned their entire itinerary according to the work-time schedule of the Yiwu Market. “We heard that many shops close in the afternoon, and goods are only available in the morning, so we left on Saturday at around 5 a.m. and arrived at the Yiwu Market at 9:30 a.m.”
Some experienced buyers have developed a set of “Yiwu language” online. New buyers can make use of it to hold their ground when dealing with sellers. For example, you can say “How much does it cost for a single color and style?” “Can this product be mixed batches?” “What discount can I get on this item?”
After learning some jargon at the airport and visiting booths in two corridors, Jessie and her husband began to negotiate for goods. She said, “We entered a brooch shop, and I pretended to be a clothing retailer looking for items to match with clothing. I was wearing a Chinese-style hoodie that day, and after looking me up and down, the seller felt that I indeed looked like a clothing store owner. Only then did I become confident to enter the shop without hesitation.”
“Every product has a suggested retail price, and the cost per unit for wholesale purchases is a few RMB, with a 40% discount. It makes me feel that I was wealthy.” In the brooch shop, Jessie purchased items in batches at her will. “The seller was very professional, guiding me through selecting, packaging, and checking out. She even told me what sells well, almost teaching me how to run a business.”
In big cities, no matter how renowned young people are for being “savvy shoppers”, what they ultimately gain is always the subtle difference between value and cost. However, when they come to Yiwu with their own experience, they are overwhelmed by the immense volume of transactions in the first place.
“You might think you’re quite adept at purchasing, but the Yiwu vendors may not think so.” Xiaoxue said. She is a post-95s from Hangzhou, and she once believed that her experience as a seasoned shopper in her hometown would make her equally adept in Yiwu. “I thought I could bargain at the stalls in Yiwu Market too, so when I found something I liked, I behaved as a seasoned negotiator and asked the vendor how many pieces I need to purchase for an item.” And the vendor gave her a straightforward answer, “You need to buy at least 3000 pieces at one time.”, The number left them stunned and they walked away.
In the Yiwu international trade city, Jessie discovered ash-gray glass bead bracelets, which are hot-selling at Yonghe Temple in Beijing. “This bracelet costs 380 in Beijing, but it is less than 20 yuan in Yiwu and you can even choose the beads yourself.” She also found the same earrings that she had bought for nearly a thousand yuan in Beijing’s large shopping malls, available for just over ten yuan in Yiwu. This made her very surprised and she felt herself like a complete fool.
In the end, Jessie purchased nearly 100 brooches in Yiwu for less than 1000 yuan and gave them as gifts to her colleagues in Beijing. Her colleagues told her that she had got the price of Pinduoduo but the quality of the mall. Previously, Jessie valued the quality of products, and she was enthusiastic about shopping at malls and never placed orders on Pinduoduo or 1688. “Since returning from Yiwu, I haven’t had the desire to go shopping in malls for the past six months.”
Pretending you are abroad when you are in Yiwu
During her two days in Yiwu, except for shopping, Jessie also had a deep impression of the international atmosphere of Yiwu. “Coming to Yiwu, I saw more foreigners than even in Beijing.” Those familiar with Yiwu have been accustomed to its identity of being both an international and county-level city. In Yiwu’s restaurants, each waiter can speak at least three languages, and menus and signs are all multilingual.
The internationalization of Yiwu has enabled businesses in this city to enjoy more authentic international cuisine at lower prices compared to young people in first-tier cities. “We had five dishes for two people, totaling 120 yuan, and we even had Syrian cuisine that’s hard to find in big cities.” At the time, Jessie went to a Venezuelan restaurant to check in, “There were only two of us Chinese in the restaurant, and everyone else was speaking languages from the Latin American region. The style of the restaurant looked just like something out of an American TV show.”
“There are many freight trucks on the road, giving me a real sense that the Silk Road has moved to Yiwu.” Whether in the night market, shops, stalls, or restaurants, Xiaoxue discovered that most business interactions between Yiwu merchants and foreign traders have few barriers. “I went to a pearl necklace store, and a foreigner tried to bargain for his products. But the shop owner emphasized to him that they were of high quality.”
Walking on the streets, people from different countries often appear around, as if walking at the crossroads of the world. VV said, “Korean cuisine, Chaoshan dishes, Middle Eastern barbecue, Singaporean milk tea… Even ordering delivery at the hotel makes me happy!”
VV, who used to manage a restaurant in Shanghai, always goes to Yiwu to try Turkish cuisine. “After being accustomed to buying luxury goods, I find it hard to shop for small commodities in Yiwu. However, many people don’t know that the best-rated Middle Eastern cuisine in all of China is actually in Yiwu. The spices in that restaurant are imported from Turkey, and the waitress is from the Middle East, speaking very fluent Chinese. Yiwu’s Korean cuisine even has a taste that’s reminiscent of Seoul.”
Engaging in “study tours” in Yiwu
In Yiwu, you can see paradoxes exist in various aspects.
“You often see people driving Porsches to open shops on the street, selling items that might cost only a few cents to produce, and having a simple meal from a local restaurant. It’s really hard to imagine how they managed to accumulate their capital.”
Even if initially coming to Yiwu for tourism, young people find it hard not to be affected by the immersive business atmosphere. “A sense of entrepreneurial confidence seizes you as you see others get rich by selling small items.”
As a result, experiencing this “folk business school” firsthand, and participating in a Yiwu-themed study tour, have become the goal of some people visiting Yiwu. “Having never scrolled through 1688 website, you may gain nothing in Yiwu.”
Over a year ago, after resigning from a major company, Tianyue, a former product manager, had been searching for a way to earn money. So she could relieve herself from a regular job, take care of her family, and get self-fulfillment. “When chatting with friends, it seems like everyone wants to start their own business, and if you’re starting a business, you should go to Yiwu. Thus, I wanted to see what Yiwu is really like.”
She spent over 1000 yuan to enroll in a Yiwu study program. “There were 22 classmates in the same session, mostly around 30 years old, including people from the internet industry, traditional industries, state-owned enterprises, and also those like me who are currently unemployed.”
The study program lasted two days and two nights, covering topics from selecting products in the commercial city, visiting 1688 and source factories, to analyzing viral product recommendation videos. After the study tour, a new batch of “Yiwu gold diggers” had a basic idea of what business they could do in Yiwu.
During her time in Yiwu, Tianyue gained limited inspiration in terms of business, She said, “The cost of goods isn’t as cheap as I imagined, and not everyone can make money here.”
However, this trip to Yiwu let her gain something she didn’t expect. Tianyue is a native of northern China. What she was taught since childhood is to study hard, get into a good university, become a reliable employee in a reputable company, and lead a secure life. Hence, having an impressive resume holds great significance for her.
Yet, during the study tour, many of her classmates were from Southern China. They had been exploring the logic of business more than a decade earlier than her and knew to educate themselves directly through the market at an earlier age. She told us, “ I met a mother who has been doing business in Yiwu. Her expectations for her child are not just focused on studying; as long as they have skills that can be monetized, that’s enough. Because in the end, no matter what you achieve, your financial conditions determine your choices in most cases. So, they choose to take understanding their value, exploring the world, making money, continuously exploring the world, making even more money as their life routine.”
Tianyue even considered bringing her elementary school-aged daughter to Yiwu for a study tour. “I want her to know what kind of life local Zhejiang merchants’ children are living. In our study tour group, there was a freshman in college coming along with his father, who is doing business in Yiwu. They were already consciously participating in social activities at her age. But my daughter is still learning textbook knowledge at school, with no idea of how to spend money or the value of an item.”
Tianyue had been used to engage in “budget evaluation” and “mission vision” before launching projects in a big company. However, in the rapidly evolving Yiwu, she discovered the essence of running a business. “In the past, I spent a long time on preparations so I hesitate to start. But in Yiwu, who you are doesn’t matter much. You just start doing it and you don’t no need to overthink it because the market will give you answers.”
Regardless of what purpose you come to Yiwu with, you’ll get experiences that exceed your expectations.
If you treat Yiwu as an amusement park, you will realize that it is not shopping but that spending money induces guilt. In a big city, fixed prices are the norm, and your bargaining skills don’t work. In Yiwu, you don’t care if you can bargain for something when it is already cheap enough.
If you treat Yiwu as a business school, you can always manage to participate in or observe the simulation process of an e-commerce business. In Yiwu, you can always see numerous people on the streets, in cafes, and in the adjacent rooms of your hotel, all seeking business opportunities. No matter how cheap an item is, teaching you how to sell it for 10x the price is what this folk business school aims to impart.
Just returning to Shanghai from Yiwu, Xiaoxiao found that her desire for shopping had diminished rapidly after this trip. “Before, when enjoying the pleasure of touching physical goods in offline stores, I would feel quite disappointed if someone said ‘These things are available in Yiwu too’. But now, when I think about my favorite boutique pearl necklaces that are piled in plastic bags by the bundle in Yiwu, I recall how the writer Liao Xinzong evaluates Yiwu. He said,
If you’ve been to Yiwu as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, you can remain calm.