Spain through the looking glass

Spain’s Chinese take a stand

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The last few years have seen a subtle but noticeable change in the landscape of the average Spanish high street. Now, alongside all the fruterías and faramacías and salones de belleza, there is almost always at least one cut-price emporium run by a Chinese family.

My neighbourhood has four of five of these places. A couple of them are tiny; two are cavernous as airport hangars. All are filled to the rafters with goods shipped in from Guangzhou, Shanghai and Qingdao. You can easily lose yourself for hours in the bigger establishments: you might, for example, go in needing an egg lifter and a cork notice board and come out, as happened to me recently, half an hour later with a fig plant and a fridge magnet instead.

For me, these Asian bazaars – known locally as chinos, have made shopping in Spain not just more fun but also a whole lot easier. The Chinese shops are always open, they have almost everything you could ever want and their prices are of the sort to drive Spanish shop holders crazy.

And the chinos have been thriving. Until recently, that is.

In a post from last month, I mentioned that Spanish police had busted a dastardly money-laundering ring run by Spain-based Chinese impresario Gao Ping. Well it turns out that since that raid (details here) in which over €11 million in cash was seized, there have been reports of Spanish shoppers deserting the chinos in droves. Traders at the huge Cobo Calleja Industrial Estate in Madrid claim, for example, that 70 per cent of their business has evaporated.

Wanting to follow this up, I conducted a straw poll of the various Chinese-run businesses in my neighbourhood and learned that business here in Seville was also slower, although the Halloween demand for capes and ghouls masks had mitigated this somewhat.

You might expect Spain’s Chinese community to accept this new state of affairs with resignation: instead they have surprised everybody with a spirited bout of self-defence. Last week, for example, representatives from 25 Chinese associations based in Spain sat down with journalists from the EFE news agency and roundly condemned all criminal actions before going on to say that not one member of Spain’s Chinese community should be afraid to report illegal activity.

In that same meeting (video footage here), Julia Zhang, president of Asociación Nihao España, told EFE that Chinese children in Spain were currently afraid to go to school or catch the metro because they were being taunted with the words ‘mafia kids’. Zhang also said that some customers in Chinese-run grocery stores were refusing to cough up for the tax component of product prices because “the Chinese don’t pay taxes anyway” (which struck me as more than slightly ironic).

Then this weekend just gone, in another remarkable turn of events, Chinese shop owners at Madrid’s Cobo Calleja Industrial Estate – which is the largest conglomeration of Chinese businesses in Europe – took the unheard of step of closing up shop for a day as part of a bid to reclaim their image. Speaking about the protest, Law student Yinong Chen, one of the spokespersons for the local traders group, said it was time to challenge the misconception in Spanish society at large that the country’s Chinese population represented a closed and secretive society.

Chen said the Chinese in Spain were just like the Spaniards of earlier generations: they had come to this country as immigrants and were now working hard and making sacrifices to earn an honest living.

Some 165,000 people of Chinese descent currently live in Spain and the community has grown six times in the last decade. Thirteen per cent of Spain’s Chinese community were actually born in Spain and 70 per cent come from the region around Qingtian and Wenzhou.

Spain has an uneasy relationship with the Chinese. In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, the country’s Olympic basketball teams caused a stir when they posed for their team photos by making slit-eyed gestures.


It’s the thought that counts


Written by georgemills25

November 5, 2012 at 17:54

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