School of Global Studies

About the project

Yiwu: Trust, Global Traders and Commodities in a Chinese International City

Yiwu is home to the International Trade City or Yiwu Market, founded in 1982 and currently under the administration of the Zhejiang China Commodities City Group Co., Ltd. Yiwu Market is a complex of two markets: Futian Market and Huangyuan Garment Market (the latter opened in 2011). Futian market is divided into five ‘districts’ that hold a total of 70,000 shops selling 1,700,000 different types of Chinese-made ‘small commodities’ for the wholesale market. Huangyuan Market hosts another 5,700 shops selling jeans, sportswear, and other types of garments: these goods are exported to more than 200 countries across the world, and approximately 1,500 containers leave the city each day. The majority of the shops in the International Trade City either purchase the goods from factories located elsewhere in China and store them in Yiwu warehouses or are outlets for factories. Trade does not only take place exclusively within the boundaries of the International Market: there are several other commercial areas in Yiwu with shops that specialise in the trade of particular commodity types (from supermarket trolleys to Christmas trees and decorations, and reproductions of well-known works of art).

YiwuYiwu is considered a trade hub by merchants and shopkeepers involved in the sale of low-grade commodities from across the world: the Zhejiang China Commodities City Group estimates that 14,000 foreign traders from 100 countries reside and conduct business in Yiwu. Traders also visit the city to purchase commodities, and to arrange their shipment to the countries in which they work. When Yiwu markets close for the day at 16:30, traders disperse to the hundreds of hotels and restaurants in the city: there are several Syrian, Turkish, Uzbek, Afghan, Thai, Russian, and ‘Muslim’ restaurants (often Chinese Hui or Uyghur) operating in the city, which provide spaces for the international visitors to socialise, conduct business, and share information. Trade is not simply a matter of buying and selling: it is also a form of sociality predicated on the mutual recognition of value and people. What are the practices, systems, and hierarchies that establish the common recognition of value (moral and reputational as well as economic) and thus make exchange possible?

Project information also available in Madarin  义乌研究项目的中文介绍
Yiwu: Trust, Global Traders and Commodities in a Chinese International City [Mandarin] [PDF 399.17KB]

Project Questions

  • ERC What is the nature of capitalism and the trade systems currently found in Yiwu?
  • What kinds of spaces, values, modes of communication, and practices underpin cross-cultural trading relations in Yiwu and its connected outposts? 
  • What kinds of trading networks, diasporas, and communities are present in Yiwu?
  • What kinds of practices, rituals, languages, and spaces make communication and commercial cooperation possible between traders from different backgrounds?
  • In what ways is Yiwu connected to other nodes in the global commodity trade?
  • What effects do the activities of commodity traders in Yiwu have on local, regional, national, and international political dynamics?