Filmmaker Daniel Whelan on Yiwu, a city at the core of cheap Chinese goods


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Kaiser and David Moser chat with Dan Whelan, director of "Bulkland," a film about Yiwu's changing role as a center of the global trade in dollar-store trinkets.

Renowned as a trading town during the Qing dynasty, the eastern city of Yiwu again became famous for its markets after China’s economic reforms kicked in during the 1980s. Since then, the metropolis of 1.2 million people has transformed into a hub of the nation’s supply chains, attracting merchants from around the globe searching for cheap Christmas decorations, lighters, pens and millions of other trinkets. Check out the SupChina backgrounder for more info.

In this episode of Sinica, Kaiser and David Moser speak with Dan Whelan, director and producer of Bulkland, a film about Yiwu and the people who live and trade in it: British-Australian and German product sourcers, Yemeni merchants, some of whom have been in the city for 30 years, Russian bar dancers and the locals who work tirelessly to sell the rich harvest of China-made tchotchkes to the rest of the world. The discussion ranges from China’s economic slowdown to the spectacle of Middle Eastern businessmen slaughtering rams in Yiwu’s streets for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan’s month of daily fasting.


David: Global Times editor Hu Xijin on US-China relations, press freedom in China, and the June 4 protests.

Dan: Interviews on Death Row, a documentary about Ding Yu’s long-running documentary TV series, Interviews Before Execution.

Kaiser: Beijinglish, a comic video on Beijing-accented English; Trump Time Capsules by James Fallows.

More about the film and the issues it examines:

Bulkland‘s website, and options to purchase or rent the film on iTunes and Google Play.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler, mentioned by Dan in the podcast for the book’s description of towns in Zhejiang Province that specialize in manufacturing a single product, such as buttons or bra straps, many of which are traded in Yiwu.