Surviving the Town the Dollar Store Built

Bulkland The Futian Market of Yiwu in China is where wholesale buyers come from around the world to buy cheap Chinese goods. Covering a massive 4 million square metres, over 100,000 suppliers hawk their wares. They sell everything from toys to fluffy handcuffs, to plastic Santas doing strange things. Business moves at a hundred miles an hour and the air is full of tales of quick fortunes, kidnapped businessmen and now, a slumping market.
"This is the city the dollar store built". Since 2008 the number of dollar stores in the US has doubled, there are now more of these stores than pharmacies. The story is the same across the globe. This growth in cheap stores has kick-started Yiwu's expansion. In May 2014 alone, Yiwu exported $157 US million worth of small plastic goods. Seen as a place of opportunity, people from all over the world have come to Yiwu to realise their dreams.

30 years ago Yiwu was a poor and dilapidated backwater. 89-year old Gong Jinxiang remembers a time when " wild vegetables were the only food source," but since Deng Xiaoping opened China's economy up, the city has been thriving. Everyone in Yiwu is an entrepreneur, from the international businessmen to the local cottage industrialists. Wong Xiaoying "had never heard of the concept of 'Christmas'", but now makes her living trading in Christmas decorations and kitsch Santa figurines.

The new rich in Yiwu spend their money on cars and designer brands, and spend their evenings in the nightclubs. Belarusian teen Katey performs for the newly wealthy crowd, surrounded by sparkling bottles of champagne and vodka, she sings over the thumping music. But this is a city with no rules. German businessman Marco Tonelli compares it to "the Wild West, the Eighteenth Century, in America".

But Yiwu's boom seems to be coming to an end. Everyday thousands of migrant workers crowd the streets desperately looking for work. Wages are low and employment hard to come by. Even the international businessmen find it hard: "they want everything, take, take, take", ruminates Englishman Nigel Cropp. The freedom from bureaucracy is what made Yiwu such an attractive place to do business, but with prices rising and quality low the city is beginning to lose its allure. Yiwu is just one casualty of the downturn in the Chinese economy.

Through interviews with international entrepreneurs, Chinese migrant workers, local vendors, and elderly residents, Bulkland weaves a story of a city with few rules and plenty of opportunity, but has Yiwu become an exemplar of China's faltering Tiger?


The Producers

Daniel Whelan - Director / Producer
Daniel grew up in a small town in Australia. Since graduating in 2009 he has made two acclaimed short dramas, commercials and a host of other content. He moved to China in 2010 and started to focus on documentary production. Daniel’s work has been shown on ABC, PBS and BBC. His short films have played at festivals in Australia, China and the USA, where he has also worked as an assistant director across many programs and networks.

Tobias Andersson Åkerblom - Producer/ D.O.P
Tobias is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Gothenburg, Sweden. He has lived in China for several years and speaks, reads and writes Mandarin fluently. Tobias has covered China and the Asian manufacturing industry for several of the largest Swedish newspapers and broadcast media, such as the public service TV company SVT, Radio Sweden, the newspaper Metro and the newswire service TT.

Making The Film

When journalist Tobias and filmmaker Daniel met they were both surprised to find that they both harboured an idea to tell the story of the city of Yiwu. Daniel wanted to tell the story of a city and it’s people whose lives were wholly dedicated to bringing us the cheap and tasteless things that fill our homes and offices in the West. Tobias was interested in Yiwu as a case study of China’s initial success and potential fall. The film was shot over 6 weeks on location in Yiwu with a small crew. After a long period in the edit we hope that the film is both an intimate look at the people who labour to bring us cheap stuff and also a look at China in a historic moment as it moves away from the products that brought it’s rise in the first place.

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