Huan is convinced that, as happened during the opium wars with the British, some foreign power will soon introduce into southern China a new highly addictive drug, sold as natural medicine, which will numb civilians and military, leaving them so high that they will be unable to repel an invasion.

This small man, fabric merchant of about 40 years, who has already gained some confidence after chatting a while of football with a couple of beers, releases carr

He erillates his conspiracy theory while impromptuing a tour of the giant Zhongda Market, which covers about five square kilometers in a western suburb of the southern city of Guangzhou.

It is a nine-story labyrinth with more than 20,000 fabric and clothing stores, to which must be added the small factories, workshops, warehouses and logistics centers that are around the main complex. Almost half a million people work throughout the chain that feeds a vast market that moves every year in sales, according to the projection of local authorities, more than 200,000 million yuan, which in exchange are 26,000 million euros.

Huan, for us to put it on the map, says it is one of the 3,000 suppliers with which Shein, the mother of the new phenomenon of ultra-fast fashion, works in Guangzhou, where this Chinese company has its headquarters and clothing workshop. The warehouse is in the neighboring city of Foshan. There, employees sort orders and fill thousands of boxes with cheap dresses, blouses and jeans that, after a plane trip, end up in the closet of some Western girl.


In China, the birthplace of this brand, practically nobody knows it because it has never been aimed at the local market. But in Europe or the United States, Shein is everywhere: the startup is already worth more than Zara and H&M combined, who also feed on the fabrics in Zhongda, as do 2,800 other international brands.

Interiror of the Guangzhou Changjiang International Textile Center.

Guangzhou, China's third-largest city, a mega-city home to 14 million people – around four million are migrant workers from other corners of the country – is home to the largest wholesale clothing markets in the Asian giant. But it is also home to 8,700 multinationals, from Allianz to FedEx. An important financial center in the region, for several years it has been chosen as the most popular investment destination in the country and is even in the top world in terms of scientific research production.

"Here they have turned entire neighborhoods into incubators for companies and the authorities of these neighborhoods organize open competitions for neighbors to present innovative ideas, with prizes of more than 50,000 euros. There are many incentives for development," explains Álvaro Castells (32), a biochemist and PhD in biomedicine who has been living in Guangzhou for three years.

Castells highlights the city's projects such as an island that they took in the middle of the river that crosses the city and that they are turning into a biological campus with an area of almost two square kilometers, full of companies and research centers. "Guangzhou is below the Tropic of Cancer and, although it is very expansive and industrialized, it is full of green areas. You can literally get into a mountain that is six kilometers from the city center," describes the Spaniard.

Guangzhou is the business center and capital of Guangdong province, better known in the West as Canton. If it were an independent country, it would be the tenth largest economy in the world ($1.9 trillion in 2022), just ahead of Italy. But we are talking about the gateway to southern China, a prosperous region with 126 million inhabitants that hit the ball in the early 1990s thanks to the commercial opening that led to the reforms of leader Deng Xiaoping and the impulse to low-value-added manufacturing, leading this place to become the land of Made in China. Although it now seeks to break the stigma of cheap and low-quality Chinese products, with a strong commitment to high-tech companies.

In this region, in 2022, according to the ICEX registry, 71 Spanish companies had been established, such as Grupo Antolin, the multinational that designs and manufactures components, or Esmalglass, a Castellón firm dedicated to ceramics.

Most of these companies are in Guangzhou, which is the commercial center of the province. Then, others such as Madrid's Goal Systems, specialized in the development and implementation of advanced computer systems, operate from Shenzhen, the technological center, which is a unique case in the world: in 1984 it was a fishing village, covered by rice fields, where less than 300,000 people lived. It wasn't even considered a city. It is now a skyscraper-filled metropolis with 13 million inhabitants.

With more than 8,000 high-tech companies that give it a reputation for being the Chinese Silicon Valley, Shenzhen gave birth to technology giants such as Huawei – which has installed more 5G coverage stations in the city than there are in the entire European continent – and Tencent, the company that developed WeChat, WhatsApp's Chinese brother. with more than 1,000 million users.


Between Shenzhen and Guangzhou is the great factory of mobile phones and shoes: Dongguan, another modern and wealthy city from where a quarter of the world's mobile shipments leave and which produces 65% of the high-end footwear purchased on the planet.

On this Cantonese route we must not forget Chenghai, another old fishing village that gave life to the largest toy industry in the world. It is the toy capital of the world: 12,000 manufacturers and more than 130,000 workers in a market valued at $56.280 billion by 2022. China is the undisputed leader in toy manufacturing and export, accounting for about 75% of global supply. And Chenghai alone is home to nearly 30% of that production.

Dongguan Shoe Factory.

Before returning back to Guangzhou, one can stop 35 kilometers from the capital, in modern Foshan (almost eight million residents), where Shein has its warehouse and the Catalan company Casa Cais its sausage factory. Chorizo, blood sausage, sausage... "All made in China," explains Segismundo Nogueras, commercial director of Casa Cais, who arrived in the Asian country more than seven years ago to work in the shoe factory of a Granada company in Dongguan. "Before, we imported pork from Spain, but with the pandemic all logistics and supplies were paralyzed, with the product stranded months in ports due to strict import controls. It was the time when theories began to circulate in China that the virus arrived through frozen products imported from other countries," explains Nogueras.

Now, back in the provincial capital, there has just concluded the first of the two sessions of the Canton Fair, the largest in China and the first major commercial event held since the second world power opened its doors at the beginning of the year, ending the self-isolation imposed by the policy of closures under Covid zero, that dragged logistics and production for three years.

Local newspapers, trying to sell the great success of the event, say that more than 30,000 exhibitors have participated in the fair for buyers from 229 countries. But specialized media such as Asia Times highlighted that the fair, in terms of Western buyers, has been more muted than in years prior to the pandemic because there are many companies that are turning their orders to factories in other countries such as India or Vietnam, since they do not want to be affected by the intensification of the Sino-American decoupling. to which is added the current high cost of tickets to China.

"The phenomenon observed at the current Canton Fair confirms what we can see in China's overall trade figures. In the first quarter, China's exports to the European Union fell by 7.1% year-on-year, while exports to the US fell by 17%," reads the publication based on the latest April data from the General Administration of Customs. A decrease that was offset by the large increase in exports to the countries of Southeast Asia, Africa and Russia, the current major customers of the world's factory.