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Monday, December 25, 2000, updated at 12:40(GMT+8)

Wenzhou: Chinese City Echoes Paris' Fashion

Roaming the streets of east China's coastal city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang Province, visitors are greeted here and there by ostentatious shop signs which bear the names of Paris Mansion, Champs-Elysee Bar and Arc de Triomphe Toggery or something related with France.

Xiaonan Avenue, a new shopping center, is dotted with shops selling famous brands from France, like Crocodile Shirts and Pierre Cardin Suits.

A few of newly opened French style bakeries have also attracted lots of local residents, youngsters in particular, amidst the peddling of traditional Chinese food like soybean milk, steamed bread and wonton.

Young couples take wedding photos at the Paris Fashion Wedding Pictures, where beautiful young ladies pose for "romance from Paris" as described in the advertisement.

It is Wenzhou, a city featured with close tie to Paris. "The earliest tie between the two cities dates back to a century ago," Li Danian, director of the Wenzhou Overseas Chinese Office, said.

"The first Chinese immigrants from Wenzhou and neighboring Qingtian County arrived in Paris in the late 19th century. They were migrant peddlers via Russia and other European countries," he added.

The first Chinese immigrant tide occurred during World War I, when the French government recruited 150,000 Chinese laborers, many of whom were from Wenzhou and Qingtian. Most of the laborers went back after the war ended, but over 2,000 Chinese from Wenzhou and Qingtian remained in France.

The second wave took place in 1930s, when a lot of handicraftsmen from Wenzhou went to seek their fortunes in Europe, with most settling in France.

The past 20 years saw the third upsurge of Wenzhou's immigrants to France.

"In contrast to those earlier immigrants from Wenzhou who were poor farmers, this group of Wenzhou people going abroad are entrepreneurs with some capital," Li said.

In fact the Wenzhou people, 7 to 8 million in population today, were among the first group of Chinese, who reacted to the government's call to develop individual private business in the late 1970s when China initiated its reform and open-up policy.

Local enterprises in Wenzhou are mainly engaged in industries like clothes, leather, glasses, lighters and low-voltage electrical appliance. Statistics show that approximately 1 million people from Wenzhou are doing business across China.

In France about 80,000 Wenzhou natives have achieved success in same sectors as garment, leather and catering. A number of successful businessmen go back home to invest in Wenzhou. Zeng Xuguang is one, for example, who settled in Paris in the late 1970s.

Zeng came back to Wenzhou in 1992 and set up the Huashi Clothes Co. Ltd., of an investment of US$5.5 million and producing 300,000 high-quality suits annually.

Zeng's company is negotiating with Sadev from Paris to jointly produce perfume and dress under Sadev's brand of Loris Azzaro. There are currently 156 French-funded enterprises in Wenzhou, involving a total investment of 350 million US dollars and engaging mainly in real estate, transport and garment trade. "Eighty percent of these enterprises are in the black," Li Zuozhong, director of the Wenzhou Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau, said.

Li noted that perfume and wine imported from France sell well in Wenzhou, for people's per capita income in Wenzhou is 75 percent higher over the nation's average in cities. In the first nine months, the city's export value to France hit US$24 million, up 15 percent from the same period last year, according to the statistics.

Export of glasses accounted for a large portion of the city's total exports to France. Wenzhou has more than 400 glasses factories, exporting annually 100 million sun glasses and frames, valuing 10 million US dollars. An increasing number of Wenzhou's enterprises plan to export their products to France - garment enterprises in particular.

The Wenzhou Sitton Garment Company imported a set of equipment from France that makes clothes and was going to export its products to Europe in 2002. "Our products are of world-class standards and quality, which make us confident in tapping up French market," Zhu Jianmin, president of the company, said.

The Sitton has registered its brand in France and Italy. On behalf of Chinese men's clothing industry, the Sitton and four other clothing enterprises from Wenzhou participated in a Chinese costume show during the Week of Chinese Culture Paris, sponsored by the Chinese Government in the second half of last year. The company is determined to make the city a clothing capital in the country. Last month a clothing fair and a Sino-French symposium on clothing industry were held in the city.

There are now 2,000 clothing enterprises in Wenzhou and eight out of them have an annual output value of over 100 million yuan (US$12 million). With the help of local government, some leading enterprises are planning to establish their design center and clothing school.

In This Section

Roaming the streets of east China's coastal city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang Province, visitors are greeted here and there by ostentatious shop signs which bear the names of Paris Mansion, Champs-Elysee Bar and Arc de Triomphe Toggery or something related with France.

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