Farewell to Tianyi

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Hu Zhoumeng Pho­tographs by Chen Jian

Although the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son is still more than a month away, a Black Fri­day-es­que shop­ping craze al­ready swept the Tianyi Small Com­modi­ties Mar­ket, the largest of its kind in Bei­jing. Lo­cated near the West Sec­ond Ring Road in China’s cap­i­tal, Tianyi is con­sid­ered by many lo­cals to of­fer “ev­ery­thing you need.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this was the fi­nal clos­ing sale. Clear­ance sale signs were found every­where in the mar­ket, and cus­tomers car­ry­ing bags and even suit­cases picked the shelves bare. Their shop­ping en­thu­si­asm couldn’t be cooled by the chilly air con­di­tion­ers. Over the cries of ped­dlers and the noisy hag­gling, loud­speak­ers re­peat­edly an­nounced that the Tianyi mar­ket would of­fi­cially close on Septem­ber 16, 2017.

To solve prob­lems such as pop­u­la­tion pres­sure, air pol­lu­tion, traf­fic con­ges­tion and surg­ing hous­ing prices, Bei­jing launched a cam­paign aim­ing to re­move its “non-cap­i­tal func­tions” in 2015. Given that whole­sale mar­kets like Tianyi at­tract a heavy con­cen­tra­tion of traf­fic, peo­ple and cargo, they be­come key tar­gets for re­moval or ren­o­va­tion. As of now, over 370 whole­sale mar­kets have been re­lo­cated out of Bei­jing. As early as the end of 2015, Tianyi closed its branch store in Di’an­men. In early July this year, deal­ers at the Tianyi Small Com­modi­ties Mar­ket re­ceived a no­tice that the 25-year-old mar­ket would be closed soon.

Last Day

At 7:30 a.m. on Septem­ber 15, 2017, 28-year-old se­cu­rity guard Ping Yu opened the gate of the Tianyi mar­ket as usual. Cus­tomers al­ready wait­ing out­side swarmed in im­me­di­ately. Ac­cord­ing to Ping, cus­tomer traf­fic had in­creased sub­stan­tially in re­cent days, peak­ing at 10 a.m. when driv­ers had to wait for as long as two hours to park in the mar­ket’s un­der­ground park­ing lot.

Four years ago, Ping moved to Bei­jing from his home­town in Shanxi Prov­ince. He joined the se­cu­rity guard team in the city’s Xicheng Dis­trict, and had worked at the Tianyi mar­ket ever since. His du­ties also in­cluded giv­ing cus­tomers di­rec­tions and help­ing them find lost com­pan­ions. In the last few days be­fore the mar­ket closed, many long-time cus­tomers asked to take a pic­ture with him. “The mar­ket will be gone for­ever, so many want to keep it in their mem­o­ries with pho­tos,” Ping ex­plained.

The largest small com­modi­ties whole­sale and re­tail mar­ket in Bei­jing, Tianyi con­sisted of three build­ings with busi­ness space to­tal­ing 41,400 square me­ters, equal to nearly six soc­cer fields. The mar­ket con­cen­trated some 1,900 deal­ers that of­fered more than 130,000 kinds of com­modi­ties, rang­ing from clothes, gifts and sta­tionery to house­hold ap­pli­ances and cos­met­ics.

Li Ying, 65, squeezed through the crowd to get to her hus­band, Xie Kai, who car­ried a selfie stick. She showed him a brown haver­sack she had just bought for 25 yuan (US$3.8). Li was a fre­quent cus­tomer of Tianyi, and the am­ber neck­lace, bracelet and ear­rings she wore had also been bought there.

“I often spend the whole morn­ing shop­ping here,” Li grinned. “At lunchtime, I’d eat a plate of dumplings at a nearby restau­rant. What a great life!” Af­ter the clo­sure of the mar­ket, she’d par­tic­u­larly miss the car­toon and an­i­mal sculp­tures in the square. De­spite decades of weather­ing, the iconic dec­o­ra­tions never faded.

A group of cus­tomers sat rest­ing be­hind the per­son-sized sculp­tures of the 12 zo­diac an­i­mals. Ad­ja­cent to the sculp­tures was a stall sell­ing silk scarves, with the mer­chant shout­ing from atop a stool, “Five yuan each! All of them!”

The shop­ping craze lasted un­til the mar­ket closed at 6:30 p.m. At that mo­ment, many crowded at the en­trance and pointed

their cell phones at the hang­ing elec­tronic clock to cap­ture the mo­ment. The song “Un­for­get­table Night,” the farewell song of ev­ery year’s Spring Fes­ti­val Gala, re­ver­ber­ated through the air.

Some res­i­dents who live near the mar­ket used to com­plain about the noise and traf­fic jams caused by dis­or­derly ware­houses and restau­rants, tri­cy­cle carts trans­port­ing com­modi­ties and whole­sale deal­ers car­ry­ing cargo. How­ever, all of these prob­lems van­ished when the mar­ket closed. The down­side is they may find it less con­ve­nient to buy gifts or dec­o­ra­tions for Spring Fes­ti­val. Ac­cord­ing to the plan­ning of Xicheng Dis­trict’s Com­mis­sion of Com­merce, a hand­ful of hi-tech and fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies will rent space where the Tianyi mar­ket once was.

Re­lo­ca­tion

Early on the morn­ing of July 13, 2017, a crane crept up to the mar­ket, and sev­eral work­ers re­moved the “Tianyi Mar­ket” sign from atop its main build­ing. The best days of the faded sign­board were long gone, as are those of whole­sale mar­kets at large. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, small com­modi­ties whole­sale mar­kets like Tianyi mush­roomed around China. In re­cent years, the pop­u­lar­ity of on­line shop­ping and surg­ing ur­ban real es­tate prices have caused many whole­sale mar­kets to suf­fer a steep drop in prof­itabil­ity.

Against the back­drop of the in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment of the Bei­jing-tian­jin-he­bei re­gion, most of Bei­jing’s whole­sale mar­kets have planned to move to He­bei Prov­ince or Tian­jin. It was re­ported that the Tianyi mar­ket will be re­lo­cated to Shi­ji­azhuang or Lang­fang. The ad­min­is­tra­tor of the mar­ket also or­ga­nized sur­vey trips for its deal­ers to find new places to set­tle. So far, how­ever, the new lo­ca­tion of Tianyi re­mains un­cer­tain.

Mr. Lin from Zhe­jiang Prov­ince op­er­ated a jewelry store in the Tianyi mar­ket. For the past 12 years, his neck­laces, bracelets and ear­rings were sold to coun­tries like Croa­tia, Ja­pan and Rus­sia. He planned to stay in Bei­jing af­ter the clo­sure of Tianyi. “Per­haps I’ll open a new store in the Bairong whole­sale mar­ket,” he said. “My Wechat store is still in op­er­a­tion. And my net­work of busi­ness part­ners is here. Even if I get out of the jewelry busi­ness, I’ll find some­thing else to do.”

Mr. Luo from Sichuan Prov­ince was one of Tianyi’s 70-plus jan­i­to­rial staff. “I don’t know where to go,” he sighed, lack­ing a clear plan for his fu­ture. “Per­haps I’ll go where the mar­ket moves or re­turn to my home­town.”

On the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 15, He Bao­qiang, who used to op­er­ate a sport­ing goods shop at Tianyi, came back to “take a last look” at the mar­ket with his son, who stud­ies at a lo­cal pri­mary school. He was in his 20s when he mar­ried and left He­bei Prov­ince for Bei­jing to start a busi­ness at Tianyi. His eyes glis­tened when he re­mem­bered fire drills and an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions the mar­ket or­ga­nized. “The Tianyi mar­ket was al­ways well man­aged, and it felt like at home.”

At a lo­gis­tics sta­tion in the north­east of the mar­ket, 30-year-old courier Cui Meng had al­most run out of sup­plies. He used to work at a steel fac­tory in his home­town in Shan­dong Prov­ince. Af­ter the de­cline of the steel in­dus­try, he moved to Bei­jing to seek job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Dur­ing the two years he worked at Tianyi, his de­liv­ery busi­ness ran well. “At our peak, I de­liv­ered more than 1,000 pack­ages a day, which took fix or six trips in a van.”

“This is the last de­liv­ery ser­vice to Tianyi,” de­clared one of Cui’s col­leagues, who sighed and took a selfie in front of an elec­tric tri­cy­cle cart loaded with goods be­fore leav­ing. Cui wist­fully watched him rid­ing the cart through a stream of peo­ple and ve­hi­cles. No more pack­ages would ever be de­liv­ered to “Tianyi Mar­ket, 29 Fucheng­men­wai Street, Bei­jing.”

A cus­tomer car­ries bags loaded with goods pur­chased at the Tianyi mar­ket. Septem­ber 15, 2017 was the last day of the mar­ket, and many com­modi­ties were sold at steep dis­counts.

The largest small com­modi­ties whole­sale and re­tail mar­ket in Bei­jing, Tianyi fea­tured about 1,900 deal­ers hawk­ing more than 130,000 kinds of com­modi­ties, rang­ing from clothes, gifts and sta­tionery to house­hold ap­pli­ances and cos­met­ics.

Scarf mer­chants shout to at­tract cus­tomers. The sculp­tures of the 12 zo­diac an­i­mals be­hind them were iconic dec­o­ra­tions of Tianyi. De­spite decades of weather­ing, they never faded.

Many cus­tomers take pho­tos at the Tianyi mar­ket on its last day.

On Septem­ber 15, 2017, the last day of the Tianyi mar­ket, cus­tomers were re­luc­tant to leave be­fore clos­ing.

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