Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shanzhai City

I just spent the morning with Jackie and her cousin shopping at Guangzhou's famous Baiyun Shopping Center. What a surreal place.

The place is a complex of hundreds upon hundreds of shops selling fake designer goods. Stall after stall was filled with fake Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel items. It dwarfs anything that I'd ever seen in Xi'an, even though I thought the stuff I'd seen in Xi'an was staggering large.

We were shocked by the number of foreigners walking around the place.

Most of the foreigners weren't American or European though. They were predominantly African and Middle Eastern buyers of bulk orders wanting to ship goods back to their home countries. While shopping, I tried as best as I could to listen to their bargaining with the shop owners. All sorts of languages were being thrown around. I saw a number of Middle-Eastern men and women scoping out products with, what I assume were, Arabic-Chinese interpreters.

In the past, I'd heard a couple of the African guys I know who teach English say that they come down to Guangzhou pretty often to do business. Now I know what their business is.

I snapped a few photos of the place. I could tell that people were not happy to see a foreigner with a camera and one woman even confronted me about having my camera, so I didn't get too many shots.

Here are a few of what I did get though:

The entrance of the complex. I was able to catch a bit of the Hornets/Rockets game (and the freak that is Shane Battier).

Small stalls the size of bedrooms like these are the connections between factories and buyers that supply Africa and the Middle East with fake designer goods.

For my St. Louis homies

Seeing all of the activity going on at the shanzhai complex today in Guangzhou, it struck me that despite the thousands of factories that have closed and the millions of unemployed migrants, southern China is still doing incredible amounts of manufacturing. Indeed, Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta is still a bustling part of the world.

Here is an article on Guangzhou from current issue of The Beijing Review:

Image from Wang Jing & Co.

Guangzhou is the capital city of Guangdong Province in China's developed southeast coastal area. Zhang Guangning, deputy to the 11th National People's Congress and Mayor of Guangzhou, told Beijing Review that the goal for Guangzhou's GDP growth in 2009 is 10 percent.

Beijing Review: How has Guangzhou been affected by the financial crisis? Will its economic growth decline?

Zhang Guangning: Exports account for 43 percent of Guangzhou's total economic volume. The global financial crisis has put big pressure on Guangzhou's economic development. In 2008, the city's GDP totaled 821.6 billion yuan ($120.11 billion), up 12.3 percent. Per-capita GDP reached 81,233 yuan ($11,876), up 10 percent. In 2009, we will strive for the goal of 10-percent GDP growth and 8.5-percent per-capita GDP growth.

How will you realize this goal?

Sustaining economic growth is the top task of Guangzhou, and expanding domestic demand is the fundamental way to reach this goal. According to the Outline of the Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta and the arrangements of the Central Government and Guangdong Provincial Government, Guangzhou will grasp the opportunity of hosting the Asian Games to accelerate the formation of a new economic growth pattern driven by domestic demand. Meanwhile, we will try to maintain exports and foreign investment for stable and fast economic development.

Read On
Although Xi'an has a huge population (around 7 million), my Chinese hometown feels like a back-water compared to Guangzhou. I've been to Beijing and Shanghai before, but it's been a couple years. Being in Guangzhou is showing me China's booming economy much better than Xi'an does.

Jackie and I are not in Guanzhou by choice (the American consulate is here), but I'm glad that I'm getting a chance to see the engine of China's export-based economy.

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