In China, Yiwu commodity index hailed as oracle of global affairs
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In China, Yiwu commodity index hailed as oracle of global affairs

RUMOUR about the spread of French “yellow vest” protests to other European countries went viral on Chinese social media before Christmas last week.

The story emerged after French president Emmanuel Macron announced a number of concessions to address protesters’ grievances over economic policies. While Macron expected calm and order be restored, the Chinese-fabricated rumour predicted the opposite.

Multiple versions of the story were spread via a number of micro-blogging accounts on Weibo and Wechat, quoting sources from a commodity wholesaler in Yiwu—a city well known as a wholesaling center—who stated that their entire stock of yellow vests in stock was sold out and more orders had been coming in from European nations such as Sweden, Prague, Switzerland, etc.

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The story implied that the “yellow vest” protests were spreading throughout the continent.

Here is one version of the story that circulated on Weibo and WeChat:

“【义乌指数】中国义乌的服装调研报告指出,现在来自欧洲的“黄背心”订单继续暴涨,现在黄背心制作工作已经在加班加点地进行,更有不少跨境电商卖家将此视为一次绝佳的销售机会。不少网友说,根据义乌商品市场的大数据,可以预测,未来黄背心运动的的浪潮还有可能蔓延到瑞典、捷克、瑞士、西班牙等国。早前就有外媒发文指出,义乌具有一股神秘力量,可以通过市场行情来预测国际政治大事件的走向。在义乌,接受的海外订单数量更被视为民意的风向标,可以惊人地对将要发生的事件做出准确预测。早在2016年美国大选的时候,义乌制造商就通过美国订购的旗帜和衣衫的数量提前5个月预测出特朗普将会成为总统。据了解,目前义乌的一些纺织厂已经开始陆续接受到美国订单,开始生产特朗普2020年竞选时的旗帜和支持者所穿的衬衫,由于订单量已经比民主党竞选所开出的需求高出数倍,因此也有人通过这点来预测特朗普很有可能连任美国总统。这是中国制造的大数据威力.”

[Translation: (Yiwu Index) Yiwu’s research report on clothing showed that orders of ‘yellow vests’ from Europe has continued to surge. Manufacturers worked overtime to meet the demand and many traders from overseas e-commerce platforms see the movement as an excellent sales opportunity.

“Chinese netizens believed that based on the Yiwu commodity index and its big data, the yellow vest movement would spread to Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Spain. Foreign media outlets pointed out that the Yiwu Index could accurately predict international political trends.

“Commodity orders from overseas market could serve as indicators of public opinion and hence could accurately predict the results of political events. Back in 2016, based on the orders of election-related t-shirts and flags, manufacturers from Yiwu had predicted Donald Trump would win the US presidency five months in advance.

“Observers say that textile factories in Yiwu have started receiving orders from the US and have begun manufacturing flags and T-shirts for Trump supporters for the 2020 presidential election.

“The demand is now several times larger than orders from supporters of the Democratic Party. Some have started to predict that Trump would be re-elected. This shows the power of China’s big data.”

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Protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) demonstrate against rising costs of living they blame on high taxes, on December 29, 2018, in Toulouse, southern France. Source: Pascal PAVANI / AFP

The myth of the Yiwu index

Located in Zhejiang Province, Yiwu is the world’s biggest small commodities trading hub, and one of the most popular small commodities wholesale markets in China.

Yiwu’s international trade city has an index called the Yiwu China commodity index that reflects market trends.

During the US election in 2016, the Yiwu Index became a hot topic on Chinese social media, as discussions about election-related merchandise order records in Yiwu seemed to indicate that Donald Trump was more popular than Hillary Clinton.

After the election, even state-affiliated media reported that commodity order records from Yiwu and Alibaba had predictive power, and many Chinese netizens believed that the Yiwu Index was more accurate than the US election polls.

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Some media observers were quick to point out that this interpretation was problematic, as Clinton, in fact, received more votes than Trump, but this analysis was ignored.

This time, state-affiliated media outlet Global Times fact-checked the online story and reported that yellow vests were not out of stock in the trading city and that the sales volume in recent months was not higher than last year’s.

The Global Times report, however, has done nothing to stop the spread of the Yiwu Index myth.

In fact, new commentary emerged after Christmas reasserting the predictive power of Yiwu Index.

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Panorama of Yiwu International Trade City in Yiwu of Zhejiang Province, China. Source: Shutterstock

The story, republished on various online media platforms, did acknowledge the erroneous sales figures for yellow vests, but continued to insist that the Yiwu Index had successfully predicted the results of both the 2016 US presidential election and the 2018 World Cup.

The writer echoed Chinese president Xi Jinping’s Dec 18 speech on the 40th anniversary of the country’s “reform and opening-up”, which cited Yiwu as a successful example of that shift.

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The commentary concluded that the predictive power of the Yiwu Index reflects the glorious history of the country’s transformation:

“实际上,义乌之所以能够一次次“精准预测“国际重大事件的走向,究其原因是义乌人通过几十年的奋力拼搏,将小商品产业在世界范围内做的了独树一帜、傲视群雄,成为世界多国所依赖的小商品产地。

在改革开放的历史浪潮中,就是无数个义乌这样曾经名不见经传的无名小城,在国家政策的鼓励扶持下,刻苦攻坚、努力拼搏、敢为天下先,使中国在短短40年里,实现了史无前例的惊天巨变。”

[Translation: “The reason Yiwu can ‘accurately predict’ the trend of global affairs again and again is due to the Yiwu people’s contributions in the past few decades.

“They have walked a distinctive path in the world’s commodity markets and established the city’s leading status as the manufacturing hub of world’s daily necessities.

“Open door and reform policy has helped numerous cities like Yiwu to take courageous steps and strike out for success. Their efforts have brought about the great transformation of China in just 40 years.”

This intertwining of the predictive power of the Yiwu Index with China’s economic transformation has made the myth even more difficult to debunk.

This article first appeared on Global Voices.