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Tops for the decorative but missing the big prize

HONG KONG (SE): In what has become known as the Christmas Village of China the climbing mercury and the sizzling earth of high summer signals the height of the peak season for Santa hats, tinsel and LED-lit Christmas trees.
 
Located a little over an hour away from Shanghai by bullet train in the province of Zhejiang, Yiwu is an inland city of around 1.2 million people and is recognised as producing nearly two-thirds of all the decorations that give the Christmassy feel to the world for the big December 25 celebration.
 
Records at the Hangzhou Customs House show that between September 2016 and August this year, the 600 workshops and factories surrounding the city churned out US$3 billion ($23.25 billion) worth of Christmas glitter to be spread around the world.
 
ABC News reported that some Christmas factories say at least 30 per cent of their orders are from the United States of America, while most of the rest find their way into Russia and Latin America, with the local popularity of the festival ensuring an increasing percentage is sold within China itself.
 
Although Christmas is not an official holiday in China, more and more people are now embracing the holiday spirit. And that means more and more decorations being shipped from Yiwu on local transport.
 
“My children really like Christmas; it is just like celebrating the Lunar New Year,” Huang Aijuan, the owner of a factory that produces artificial Christmas trees, told ABC News.
 
In order to receive all the goods in time for holiday sales back home, Christmas traders from around the world make yearly pilgrimages to the city months in advance. Their first stop is usually the Yiwu International Trade Market.
 
Located in the centre of the city, the wholesale-only market is a multistoried shopping labyrinth divided into five sections. The market covers a sprawling three square kilometres of floor space, roughly 15 times the area of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
 
The Christmas subdivision in Section One alone makes up only a small portion of the 75,000 mini-showrooms that sell virtually everything from artificial snow to tinsel or racing reindeers to angels atop Christmas trees at relatively low prices, as well as a few innovative additions each year.
 
Yiwu is even regarded as the origin of the Made in China label, as just years into the Reform and Opening era in the early 1980s, the Yiwu Market was already on the map supplying the world with all sorts of toys, ornaments, small home appliances, underwear, umbrellas and automotive accessories.
 
More recently, under the Belt and Road Initiative of the current president, Xi Jinping, which seeks to reinvigorate trade along the Ancient Silk Road, freight trains now run directly from Yiwu to Madrid, London and Prague, as well as Tehran, significantly broadening Yiwu’s reach in the world market.
 
To maintain its reputation as the world Christmas factory, suppliers in Yiwu face pressure to keep costs low in order to compete with other emerging countries with cheaper labour.
 
ABC News reported that the factories are mostly staffed by migrant labour from other parts of China working up to 13 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
The average wage works out at around US$30 ($233) a day.
 
One factory owner said the local government had asked her to improve working conditions, so she is planning to move to a bigger space.
 
But as world demand for Christmas decorations continues, the hard production reality of Yiwu qualifies it to replace Santa’s mythological workshop at the North Pole.
 
However, that is not likely to happen in the near future, as mythology is not born from either fact or statistic, but the fantasy of a dream we long to live freed from the confines of science, space and time.
 
While Yiwu may top the decorative, it bottoms out on the myth, and is even further away from the reality of the mystery of God becoming man.
 
Carola Binney, a former English teacher in China, told The Spectator that during the Christmas season at her university every classroom had at least three Christmas trees—one at the door, one at the front of the room and one at the back.
 
In addition Santa Claus is ever present in stairwells, on walls and even at the entrance to restrooms and Binney adds that specifically Chinese customs have evolved as well, with gifts of fine apples becoming popular.
 
She notes that this represents a radical turnaround from the attitude of the Communist Party of 1949, but explains that because Santa Claus does not represent a threat, he is left free to come and go anywhere, but Jesus Christ is another matter.
 
Binney observes that while any reservations the Party may have are expressed in terms of young people being distracted from the sober Chinese festivals. 
 
She surmises that its true concern is a growth in belief in the baby born in the stable in Bethlehem.
 
But the huge market that the Chinese Christmas Village has drawn to itself across the world, maybe reflects how far from the reality of the birth of Jesus Christ the celebration even in the traditionally Christian world has become.
 
Yiwu’s success carries the message that we can celebrate Christmas happily while completely missing out on the big prize.

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