This story appears in the February 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Sure, that stuffed animal you just won at the fair was probably made in China. But where? There’s a good chance that it came from Yiwu, which is about three hours south of Shanghai. Many of the world’s cheap goods originate there—everything from holiday baubles and hair accessories to belts and toy bulldozers.
A relatively small city of 1.2 million residents, Yiwu has become an important destination. In 1982 the municipality established Yiwu International Trade City. This sprawling wholesale market displays an endless variety of items throughout some 70,000 stalls, to dizzying effect.
Today buyers from all over come to examine samples of its million-plus products before placing bulk orders. “Each of these samples will be manufactured for an agreed price in a factory, usually close to Yiwu,” says photographer Richard Seymour, who documented the site in 2014. Then the merchandise is loaded into shipping containers—more than 1,500 are filled daily—and sent across the world to be sold.