Saturday, 22 December 2012

Guangdong - The Santa of Shantou

It's that time of the year again when Santa is getting ready for his epic annual journey, delivering toys around the world and I'm sure that his elves are very busy cataloguing, packing and piling gifts onto, what has to be, the biggest sledge in the world! 

Christmas in the 1970's

The expectations that kids have around Christmas time seem to have increased since I was a child in the late 70's and early 80's.  Actually, my generation was already spoiled.  Whilst we listened to our parents tell stories about stockings filled with sweets and the excitement of getting an orange on Christmas day, we would have been very disappointed if we didn't at least get a bike, not to mention the latest action figures, board games and the annuals of our favourite comic books, Beano for boys and Bunty for girls. 

I'm sure many of today's generation would equally be disappointed by board games or annuals, it's all about Xboxes and Kids' tablets! 

Made in the North Pole?

Despite being made in the North Pole, many of the toys delivered by Santa on Christmas Day have stickers saying Made in China.  I was four-years old when Deng Xiaoping undertook his economic reforms, which were to thrust China into the spotlight of globalisation.  Many of those 'Made in China' stickers were applied by Santa's lesser-known 'little helpers' in Guangdong's Special Economic Zones, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou. 

The Global Toy Market

Toys in the £1 shop by kkalyan
Despite Health and Safety controversies, like the one in 2007, China still dominates the world toy market, with many major brand-names having outsourced production to places like Guangdong.  The Global revenue for toy sales in 2011 was $83 billion dollars, with more than a quarter of toy sales in the North American market, including the US.  An estimated 88% of toys sold in the US were made in China.  Toy imports to Europe show similar statistics, with 86.2% of non-EU-made toys coming from China. 

It's a massive industry, employing more than 645,000 people in China - it's estimated that more than 70% of the world's toys are made in China.  Within China, Guangdong dominates the toy industry, producing 73.9% of the Made in China toys. 

A carnival of consumerism

Far from its humble religious origins (or some might say, pagan - see my earlier blog post), Christmas has escalated into a large scale consumerist carnival, which makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. It seems especially extravagant in these (as we are constantly being reminded) 'difficult economic times'.  It's also pretty bizarre, when you sit down and think about the fact that this nominally Communist nation has fed the consumerist/capitalist shopping sprees of recent years.  Whilst toys are incredibly important for a child's development, I can't help wondering when they became so expensive!

So which toys do Chinese children play with?

Santa feeding monkeys in Xi'an by vivido
I was curious to find out about the toys that Chinese children play with and, surprise surprise, Xboxes, video games and tablets feature just as highly on a Chinese child's' 'Santa list', as they do anywhere else in the world.  Interestingly, as a result of China's economic reforms and large-scale industrialisation, provinces like Guangdong have developed a middle class which is becoming a consumer of toys, as well as the manufacturer. 

Whilst various factors (the economic crisis, aging populations) have seen the demand for toys drop recently, in traditional markets like the US and Europe, domestic demand for toys in China has been increasingly annually by about 13%.  Astute toy manufacturers and (ahem!) Santa Claus himself will have noticed that, whilst there are more children in the world than ever before, the market for toys is ever-so-slightly shifting from the traditional US and European markets, to the growing markets of countries like Russia, China and India. 

So, as you're opening your gifts on Christmas morning, spare a thought for all of Santi's helpers, in the North Pole of course, but also in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou!

Image credits:

The image of the soft toys was taken by flickr member kkalyan. a.k.a. Kalyan Kanuri, who is an engineer from Bangalore in India.  You can see more of kkalyan's images on his photostream.  

The photo of a girl in a Santa costume feeding monkeys was taken in Xi'an Qinling national park, by flickr member vivido, who is a web editor from Dublin in Ireland.  You can see more of vivido's images on her photostream

Thanks to kkalyan and vivido for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons License. 

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