Posted by: martinworster | December 11, 2014

Canton Fair (Ghangzhou, China)

Dude, where’s my virus mask?

The Canton Fair was my main reason for visiting China. The Canton Fair is the biggest exhibition / fair in the world and the place was daunting, especially as it was right at the beginning of my trip and coincided with jet lag. I flew into Hong Kong, spent one night there then up at 5am the next morning to cross the border and then take the train into Guangdong province and the city of Ghangzhou (romanized as Canton). First impressions of Ghangzhou were it’s pollution – you couldn’t see the sky, just a heavy, smoggy, repetitively low amber-grey cloud. Sometimes the sun would haze through the smog but it was always grim, cloudy and a tad depressing. It didn’t help that my hotel didn’t have any windows looking out so I felt like a worker in his digs working on the Qatari World Cup.

China Canton Fair (1)

At the fair, manufacturers of everything from all over China – and obviously there’s a lot of them – try and wholesale their products to buyers from all over the globe. Each week – or ‘Phase’ – focuses on a different market sector. Phase 1 is electronics and household electrical goods, machinery, lighting equipment, chemical products etc and Phase 2 was consumer goods, gifts and home decorations (our sector). Phase 3 is textiles, food, health, shoes etc. It’s hard to convey the immense scale of the place – I can’t think of any comparatively sized buildings I’ve been in before to give scale. Think Heathrow Terminal 5 but 4 times bigger. And then lots of them all joined up next to each other with multiple floors. Then there was the amount of people – from every corner of the globe, Europeans, Russians (a lot), African’s and Middle Easterners, American’s and well – just every corner of the planet represented. The trip coincided with the ebola panic so many people were wearing masks and your temperature was taken as you entered the building, obviously a pointless exercise as you could still be carrying and incubating the disease without displaying any symptoms. The joke on the trip was what I would do if I was sat next to a sweating and sneezing African gent on the flight home.

China Canton Fair (2)

Golf carts would transfer you from one end of the building to another. The array of goods was fascinating. One hall kitchen ware, another outside furniture, marble statues, architectural items, bronzes, porcelain, tableware, dining furniture – and from high to low end. Some really funky pieces – trendier stuff you’d see in Restoration Hardware. In fact I recognized the many pieces from one factory as Restoration Hardware although they could have been copies, as you soon learn in China everything is copied. I did even see a 3D copying stand – and thought of buying a 3D copier and printing more 3D copiers to sell.

China Canton Fair

It was quite daunting on many levels. Mainly the scale of it and the people. But also the scale of manufacturing. Each stand would have it’s own factory – so if you took a fancy to certain lines on a stand that factory would then make your order after receiving a deposit. Many of the exhibitors had Minimum Quantity Orders – if you liked a desk, you’d probably have to order 40 of them and fill a 40 foot container with other pieces in similar bulk. When you talked to the Chinese people on the stands they’d proudly tell you that they were suppliers to Tesco, Next, Sainsburys, etc so I kind of felt like a small fish buying for a small family business. It just put into context China’s global position as the maker of everything. The machinations of capitalism – the process chain from manufacture to end consumer product in household. That’s what makes Guandong province such a polluted corridor as most things made in China exit from the ports of Ghangzhou and Hong Kong in containers to be shipped the rest of the world. The smelly end of capitalism. China’s cheap labour facilitating the manufacture of cheap goods to feed the rest of the world’s nihilistic and mindless consumerism. Belching factories, exploited labour and polluted skies a 21st century version of Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ line which critiqued the Industrial Revolution in England in the 1800s. A rape of resources and labour. Still, I think I found some nice new lines at the fair that will hopefully go down a treat with our global customer base.

China Canton Fair (3)

We used the metro a few times in Ghangzhou and that was very impressive – clean, hyper efficient and dirt cheap. Although you have to contend with the vast swathes of humanity that use it and of course the different cultural values when it comes to personal space – people will push and jump in front of you, not to mention cough, sneeze and loudly clear their nasal passages. I guess with 1.3 billion people you might have to put up with a bit of hustle and bustle….

China - Shenzen Train Station (1)

China - Shenzen Train Station

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