yiwu college student entrepreneurs

Students run their online businesses from a classroom at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College. Photo: CFP

Students run their online businesses from a classroom at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College. Photo: CFP

People in Yiwu pride themselves on being born traders. To tap into this idea, a local college in this city of Zhejiang Province launched a business starting school aimed at training students as entrepreneurs and demanding them to make ambitious business plans during their three-year education.

Unlike other universities and colleges, students at the business starting school, under the Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College, are not strictly required to attend classes, achieve high scores in exams or publish a thesis to earn credits. Instead, they are measured by how much money they make through running online businesses on Taobao, China’s largest online auction and shopping site.

Reportedly, more than 1,800 out of 8,800 students at the college had become fledgling entrepreneurs, mostly on Taobao. This nets them an average of 1,500 yuan ($235) a month, which can at least cover their personal living expenses. They get their diplomas once their shops earn 10,000 yuan a month on average.

“College entrepreneurship is the most efficient way to educate them in this case,” Jia Shaohua, vice president of the Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College commented.

“It can increase their motivation and help them find jobs after graduation.”

Business top priority

With the booming of online trade in China in recent years, Jia saw an opportunity and launched the business starting school in 2008.

“Since higher education became broadly accessible, many college students have started their own businesses,” Jia said.

Three hundred students are enrolled in the business starting school at the moment and they are able to ask for leave should business problems occur.

To help students even further, the school has allocated a building to the budding businessmen where classrooms with 24-hour Internet are turned into offices and warehouses.

A special curriculum is in place. They take lessons relevant to e-commerce, such as design, photography and management.

“As long as you show your passion and devote yourself to your business, the college will back you,” Zhu Huabing, head of the business starting school, told the Global Times.

These methods also sparked great controversy when a graduate who had failed six subjects was unexpectedly granted a diploma and hailed as an “outstanding graduate.”

Shi Haojie had hit a business volume of more than 10 million yuan a year and had become a legend at the college. He now owns two companies and one factory and employs 300 people in Wenzhou, Shenzhen and Yiwu.

However, according to the school regulation, this commercial genius faced being kicked out of school for failing so many classes.

Jia, the vice president of the college, gave him a chance. “If such an excellent student as Shi was not granted a diploma, it would shame him, the school and the whole education system in China,” Jia told Dragon TV.

Money first and foremost

In a classroom, a dozen students are writing to clients, talking to them on the phone or updating their websites. Piles of small commodities, such as socks, silk stockings, hats and household items are piled up.

In the corridor, portraits and inspirational quotes from famous entrepreneurs such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, CEO of Alibaba Jack Ma and school celebrities suchShi Haojie hang on the wall.

Ma Junli, a freshman who runs a shop selling creative household items, is busy packaging the goods to send out a dozen of parcels that day.

“I got a low grade in the college entrance examination, so I had to do something to prove myself in some other way,” Ma said frankly.

As a junior college, it is easily accessible for high school graduates.

“We’re not very familiar with the regulations and rules of Taobao, but we hope we can catch up with the field in the next few years,” classmate Cheng Chao said confidently.

Cheng, 19, was rebellious in middle school and skipped almost every class to play video games.

Entrepreneurship changed him. He now owns a shop selling knitting wear and he says, “I have no degree from famous universities, and I might not be able to find a good job in a society that attaches great importance to your education background, but I can at least be self-employed.”

To better take care of the business, Ma, along with seven other students, applied to stay at school for their coming summer vacation.

“I am always the first to get a tan in summer and the first to put on winter clothes as I have to ride my motorcycle to fetch the goods in the wholesale market,” Wu Yunfei, a 22-year-old sophomore from architecture school explained.

Wu has not attended any class since last month as his online shop reached a monthly revenue of 5,000 yuan. Although he is not enrolled at the business starting school, the college extends its preferential policies to students in other departments.

“You don’t have to be a student at the business starting school to be a good businessman,” Wu said. “Instead, we can do better than them if we are diligent and realize the business opportunities.”

Students package their products to be delivered to customers. Photo: CFP
Even though the story is inspiring, it has also met with some opposition.

“Universities and colleges are for students to acquire knowledge and establish a correct outlook on life, rather than solely be encouraged to pursue money and fortune,” Professor Zhang Yiwu from Peking University told the Global Times.

The general education on the college students should not be abandoned when colleges are exploring creative curriculums, Zhang said.

Teachers have complained that the privileges enjoyed by the students have disturbed the normal order of school.

“When take attendance, students tell me some of them are off taking care of their online shops, while teachers know some only use this excuse to skip class,” one teacher told the Global Times.

Two students were kicked out for abusing their Internet privileges to play online games.

The current exit strategy was established to give willing students a second choice. Any student finding themselves struggling as entrepreneurs can apply for a chance to switch schools at the end of the first semester. In the meantime, students who lack the passion and capability to start a business will be transferred to other schools after careful observation and evaluation.

Overall, it seems the commercial atmosphere has been beneficial. Students are able to share practical knowledge and advice with each other under professional campus guidance. They also learned skills that pure academic paths would not allow them to: how to set fair prices, bargaining with suppliers and learning to withstand difficulties before breaking even.

Employment and creativity

Graduates have faced a severe employment situation after graduation in a crowded job market. There are cases where families who spent a life-time saving tosend a child to school became impoverished after the student graduated and stayed unemployed.

The rewards for university students are not optimistic. Statistics showed that the average starting salary for university graduates is a paltry 2,300 yuan per month.

Media remarked the college has overthrown the current education system that highly valued academic achievements and led to the current scenario.

It is worth trying, Yang Dongping, an education expert from Beijing Institute of Technology, agreed.

“Of course students are expected to acquire knowledge at a college. But the key question is what, when and how to learn,” Yang said.

“For those who are unwilling to learn in class, it is our duty to teach them


Some students like Yang Fugang have realized this necessity and undergone several rounds of innovation and reform concerning its business model and core products.

Instead of selling products from other suppliers, Yang has established his own brand and cooperated with factories to create the new products since last year.

Shi Haojie has also employed a professional development team to create new products on 3D glasses.

“I suggest the students learn in class while pursuing their business dreams,” Shi said, adding that he felt lucky that he didn’t have to stick to classes in college.

“I don’t expect them to become millionaires while still in school,” said Zhu the head of the business starting school, “I hope this three-year education can sow the seed of enterprise in the students and when the time is ripe, the seed can take root, bloom and fructify.”


The undercover migrant worker yiwu

Chen Jiashun works at a handicraft factory in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, to learn more aboutworking conditions in the migrant community. Provided to China Daily

Chen Jiashun has worked as a pig herder, a porter, a math teacher for migrant students and astorekeeper in Yiwu, a city in Zhejiang province that’s famous for its small commodity trade andvibrant free markets.

But the 44-year-old’s real job is a human resource and social security official in Yunnanprovince’s Zhanyi county. And this meant he sometimes needed to go undercover to discoverthe realities farmers-turned-workers face.

Farmers in Zhanyi typically earn less than 5,000 yuan ($790) a year from agriculture, so manyhave migrated to Yiwu for better jobs.

The county began to develop human resource transfers as one of its pillar industries in 2004.

It set up a workstation in Yiwu in 2007 to help farmers find jobs there and to support migrantworkers from Zhanyi.

Chen was appointed as head of the station. His duties include collecting employmentinformation and assisting migrant workers, who are treated unfairly or are involved in disputes.

The first batch of 300 people arrived in Yiwu in 2007, but 60 percent of them quickly returnedhome.

They were dissatisfied because they couldn’t earn as much as local officials had promised.They felt duped.

“Local officials said one could earn 1,200 yuan a month,” Chen says.

“But they received only 900 yuan after deducting utilities.”

Also, workers weren’t allowed sick leave, Chen says.

So, many decided to return.

“Take us home just like you brought us here,” one told Chen.

Chen worked and lived with the workers to persuade them to stay and improve their workconditions. He urged employers to allow workers leave and to stop giving them utility bills.

But he failed.

Chen realized he needed to collect more detailed job information before mobilizing farmers tocome to the city.

After discussing the situation with other officials at the workstation, Chen decided to work as amigrant worker to understand their actual work conditions.

He landed a job at a factory producing accessories and kept his true identity a secret.

Over the following month, he discovered the working and living conditions were lower than theyshould be. He informed the county government.

“When we recruit workers for the factories, we must give applicants the accurate information,”Chen says.

“It could be misleading to tell farmers they can generally earn 1,500 yuan a month.”

Chen has worked in five factories and found jobs for more than 7,000 people.

He had been a middle school headmaster before being transferred to the county humanresource and social security bureau. He once taught math in a school for migrant children inYiwu to collect information about the realities they faced.

He says going undercover has enabled him to better understand migrant workers’ needs.

“Without Chen’s instruction, we couldn’t have achieved what we have today,” Zhanyi nativeWen Caixiang says.

Wen and her husband are migrant workers, who landed jobs in Yiwu with Chen’s help in March2008. The couple also received his encouragement and support when they opened ahandicraft production base in Yiwu in 2010. They hired 18 migrant workers from Zhanyi earlythis year.

Chen no longer works undercover and stays at the workstation for a third of the year.

He has also established an information network which migrant workers can use to reportworkplace information.

“Our people see us as their hope,” Chen says.

“We can’t let them down.”


Yiwu – Hong Kong direct flight route from July 1 to resume service

yesterday, the reporter from Yiwu Municipal Government Port Office was informed that the approval by the State Port Office, the sixth consecutive year temporary opening of this year, Yiwu air port. Yiwu to Hong Kong round-trip direct flights on-time from July 1 to November 15.   One week to fly four days   Fare more benefits   According to the Southern Shantou Airlines to fly the person in charge, and a week last year, every single fat ban this year, Yiwu – Hong Kong flights every Tuesday, four, six, day to fly a week to and from the four classes.   Flights specific arrangements as follows: Yiwu to Hong Kong flight number CZ617, except Thursday departure time is 8:20 am, and the remaining three trips take-off times are 8:00 am, the flight about 2 hours to arrive in Hong Kong.   Hong Kong to Yiwu flight number CZ618, return Yiwu flight departure time except Tuesday at 10:50 am, the remaining trips are 11:10 to take off, arrive around 13:00 Yiwu.   Need to be reminded that international flight clearance test was used to compare carefully the procedure is relatively cumbersome, even from the door of the airport to check in advance at least one and a half hours to get to the airport.   In addition to the convenience advantages of Yiwu – Hong Kong flight fares are very competitive. See from the price announced by the recent Southern Shantou, Yiwu Branch team value in Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Shanghai and other surrounding airport offers many added, “a fire, which will summer to visit Hong Kong market to heat up.   Yiwu will become the province   The fourth Airport ports   April 27 this year, the General Administration of Customs formally below Yiwu air port included in the national port development plan (2011-2015). Yiwu air port to become one of the 10 new open air ports of the country during the second five, the province’s five-second period only a new port, will become the province Hangzhou, Ningbo, warm airport after the fourth Airport Port .   Yiwu air port included in the national planning, and this is a major breakthrough in Yiwu pilot. Yiwu air port for five consecutive years of successful implementation of the temporary opening, during which opened Yiwu to Hong Kong Ferry route, a total of 638 sorties taking off and landing aircraft, personnel of 54 487 people, with an average load factor of 66.7%.The proportion of business travelers on the route up to 49.3% last year, overseas visitors for more than half can be described as a truly international flights.   Convenient “Airbus”, both for the convenience of Zhejiang, central and western regions businessmen to Hong Kong exhibitors turn for the better, further promoting trade and economic exchanges, but also conducive to the residents of both each other’s sightseeing and shopping to boost the development of tourism and improve the province’s “big clearance system, and further promote the province’s small and medium enterprises to the world, promote the transformation of the mode of economic development.

Yiwu small commodities market sees sales decline amid economic slowdown

The city of Yiwu, famous as a wholesale marketplace for small commodities trading, has felt the pain of the economic slowdown in Europe and the US. 

Many traders in this Zhejiang Province city now think back fondly on the not-so-distant past, when an estimated 210,000 merchants a day – including 13,000 from abroad – buzzed about in a marketplace of some 60,000 stalls, offering almost 2 million pieces of merchandise that ranged from Christmas ornaments to toys and jewelry. 

Yiwu was such a thriving marketplace that the State Council, China’s cabinet, made it home to the nation’s small commodity index – a barometer of global consumer goods prices. 

In the past, Yiwu merchants sold about two-thirds of their products to foreign buyers. Now, with Europe facing a debt crisis and recession and the United States in a somewhat slow and shaky recovery, orders are drying up and the once noisy marketplace has lost some of its buzz. 

“I am experiencing the worst times since I started my business in 2000,” said Liu Hua, general manager of the Lucky House Toy Factory. “Sales have dropped 10 percent in May alone.” 

Liu and her husband ran a factory with 50 workers in Yiwu, selling dolls and cartoon wallets at a market stall. Theirs was a pattern similar to that of many other traders in the city. At a high point in 2008, the couple was earning a 20 percent profit on its goods. 

Whereas foreign buyers once accounted for 80 percent of the merchandise Liu sold, that ratio has now turned domestic. Where once she dismissed domestic retail buyers, now she courts the droves of consumers who come to the city looking for bargains. Products wrapped in bulk for the wholesale trade have been torn open and repackaged to accommodate the smaller-lot domestic trade. 

A certain sense of despair spreads across the relatively new four-story, air-conditioned Yiwu marketplace. 

Merchants sit in front of their stalls with little to do but discuss bad times with fellow stall owners. Some sleep or while away the time playing computer games. Tele-controlled aircraft toys fly effortlessly through mostly empty passageways as vendors try to attract attention. 

Domestic market 

There are still foreign traders, mostly from India and the Middle East. They walk through the marketplace with their Chinese translators, browsing and asking about prices. If they want to buy, they can drive hard bargains. 

“Sales have dropped by up to 30 percent this year,” said Fu Chunhan, deputy market department manager of Zhejiang China Commodities City Group Ltd, operator of the Yiwu markets. “Foreign traders are more cautious, and most favor short-term orders.” 

The Yiwu small commodities index dropped 0.8 percent in the first three weeks of May to 103.94. It was 108.02 at the start of 2011. 

Yiwu merchants like Liu are scrambling to shift their focus to domestic buyers. 

“The domestic market now gives us better profits than the foreign market,” said Chen Peilang, executive manager of the Zhejiang Rose Umbrella Co, one of the biggest umbrella manufacturers in Zhejiang. 

Rose Umbrella’s domestic sales have risen to 50 percent of revenue from less than 30 percent in 2005. Chen said it hasn’t been easy for foreign-oriented manufacturers to suddenly shift to the domestic market because it takes time to build up brand familiarity. 

“Although Rose has been popular among European and Japan customers, most domestic clients still know only the Tiantang, or Paradise, an umbrella brand in Hangzhou,” he said, referring to the Zhejiang provincial capital. 

Down but not out

Yiwu’s leading trade Agent Yachina is one of the most successful trading companies in Yiwu. “Even though the world economy is yet to fulyl recover, your own effort and dedication to quality service counts the most. ” says Oliver Stone, the company General Manager, who owes his success to American standard service and quality control. Yachina’s total turnover doubled last year despite the dire economy .

Yiwu merchants may be down but they’re not out. To raise the profile of their brands in the domestic market, many have opened online stores.

Ai Shengming, 45, has been one of the more successful. 
Ai was losing money until he established an online store for his Mengchi Ornaments Factory in 2010. Clients can now design and build three-dimensional models on his website, with prompts from factory staff. 

“Most other Yiwu ornament companies need to have samples to show to their clients,” Ai said. “But I need only draw models with computer software, which saves on costs.” 

He said he received orders valued at more than 14 million yuan (US$2.21 million) last year from traders in Russia, the United States and Europe. 

That success hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Online store 

More than 70 percent stalls in the Yiwu market opened online stores in the wake of the European debt crisis, said market operator Fu. Broadband access is available to all stalls in the markets. 

“The city now has more than 50,000 online businessmen, with annual volume of 50 billion yuan, almost the same with that of the physical stalls in the market,” Fu said. 

To survive going ahead, Yiwu merchants must develop their own brands and move up the value chain, rather than relying on small profits from selling huge quantities of cheap goods, said Weng Jianping, deputy director of Yiwu’s Bureau of Commerce. 

Neoglory Group, a leading ornaments manufacturer in Yiwu, is a case in point. 

The ornaments maker developed the high-end brands Su and Tofu, which are mainly silver jewelry of such high quality that they were exhibited at the Paris Fashion Week, said Neoglory Ornament general manager Yu Jiangbo. 

The higher-end products and the company’s ties with global retailers like Sweden’s H&M have helped Neoglory remain profitable in these hard economic times, Yu said. 

Neoglory’s ornament production brought in revenue of about 1 billion yuan last year, dwarfing all the other similar manufacturers in the city. 

Neoglory is a typical sort of Yiwu success story – a small, tight-knit family business that grew into a major manufacturer. 

Yu, 27, is the elder son of the group’s president and is poised to take over the family empire some day. Thirty family members operate different sections of the company, and most live on the top floor of the company headquarters. 

Like most first-generation merchants in Yiwu, Yu’s parents began their business in the early 1980s, making handicrafts like embroidered goods and shoes in a small home workshop and selling them to cities across the Yangtze River Delta. 

In 1983, when the Yiwu government built the first market for traveling merchants, Yu’s parents were among the first to set up a stall. 

In 1995, his parents borrowed several million yuan to establish their own factories and began selling ornaments and crystal glass to foreign traders. Today Neoglory Ornament is the largest ornaments maker in Asia, with 5,600 employees and total assets of 250 million yuan. 

“Yiwu was a poor agricultural area, and many farmers were forced to leave the land and try their luck at small workshops,” said Ma Lihong, deputy president of the Party School of the Zhejiang Committee of the Communist Party of China. “The city government developed the markets to serve them, and that’s how the big Yiwu marketplace began.” 

The marketplace prospered along with China’s economy. After the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Yiwu’s markets became popular with Arab traders who found entry into the US more difficult. 

In 2005, the United Nations and World Bank designated Yiwu as “the world’s biggest wholesale market for small commodities.” 

Yu Jiangbo, general manager of Neoglory Ornament 

Shanghai Daily: What have you achieved during the past decade? 
Yu Jiangbo: In 2006, my mother, chairman of the company, recruited many professional managers to try to boost the sales of ornaments, but they all failed. At that time, I had graduated from the Imperial College in London, and my mother gave me a chance to be the general manager. I have managed to develop the company’s own brands, and our ornament sales have dwarfed all the other similar manufacturers in Yiwu. 

SD: What’s the biggest mistake most businesses in your area make in looking at the future? 

Yu: Most local companies do everything by themselves – from design and manufacturing, to marketing and sales. In the ornament industry, I think they should outsource the manufacturing to save labor costs and concentrate on design and marketing. My company did so beginning last year and has cut costs by 40 percent. 

SD: What would you most like to see in China’s development planning? 

Yu: The appreciation of the yuan in recent years has added pressure to the export of local ornament makers. I hope the government can do something, like export tax refunds, to relieve the pressure. 

SD: What’s your biggest concern? 

Yu: I am afraid the impact from the economic slowdown in Europe and the US is just at the beginning and may continue for a long period. 

Located in the middle of Zhejiang Province, Yiwu is more than 300 kilometers from Shanghai. 

Besides its famous wholesale markets, its economic base rests on industries such as knit hosiery, fashion jewelry and clothing accessories. It has also come to be called “sock town” because it makes more than 3 billion pairs of socks for Wal-Mart and other foreign buyers. 

In 2011, the city had industrial output of 141.1 billion yuan (US$22.4 billion), up 21 percent from a year earlier. The city has the biggest service sector in Zhejiang Province. 

Yiwu, founded in about 222 BC, also has a rich cultural heritage that includes traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy, kung fu and folk arts. 


square kilometers 


registered population 

6 towns 

How to get there: 

Take a train from Shanghai Hongqiao Raiway Station to Yiwu. The No. 803 bus is needed to the Nanfanglian Station before having the Bus No.311/312/313 to the town. 

A drive along the G92 Expressway takes about 3.5 hours.