Jerry Sheng '20 Main Building Photo Exhibit: Christmas Factories - Santa’s Real Helpers

Photography student Jerry Sheng ’20 hails from Hangzhou, China, near the town of Yiwu, where many goods destined for the American market are produced, including Christmas decorations. Sheng spent last summer photographing the small factories, workshops, and workers that make these products. The photographs are on view in Main Building hallway. 

Jerry Sheng ’20 - Artist Statement

Christmas Factories - Santa's Real Helpers - 2019

Located about 60 miles south of my hometown Hangzhou is a very unique town called Yiwu, which the World Bank labeled as “the world's largest small commodities market". In 2018, the market sold over 37.5 billion in goods to 219 countries and regions around the world with 1.8 million kinds of products. I can say without exaggeration that most daily necessities marked "Made in China” are most likely made in Yiwu: from socks to shoes, ties, candles, scissors, fishing rods, and lanterns, among others. Thousands of factories and small workshops are scattered in this 1100-square-kilometer area and they are the perennial suppliers of supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Target.

As a photographer who aims to capture and depict the social issues through my work, I spent several days during the summer break and took a series of photos there. In July, hundreds of  factories were busy making the various Christmas decorations that needed to be assembled and shipped to every corner of the world before September.

Factory workers come from various remote places in China. In order to complete orders, they usually need to work 12 hours or more a day, but they have no complaints because this allows them to get 20 to 30 dollars a day, several times more than what they can earn by doing farm work at home. Every year, they come to Yiwu to start work around April and finish in December, when all the orders for Christmas supplies are completed. Many of them don’t know what Christmas means. For them, as long as there are abundant orders, it is “Christmas” every day.

For the worldwide consumers who will buy these items, it may be hard to imagine that these decorations which bring them huge joy are manufactured in such small workshops by people who don’t even know the meaning of this holiday. Through photography, I want to inspire readers to think about those under-explored, relatively unknown worlds that exist in our society.

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