The untold story: Wenzhou people, Jews of China

Last night I was chattering with an Italian friend of mine. At some point we were joking about how seriously Chinese worship money nowadays. He then told me an amazing story about some Chinese merchants in Rome:

The story started with his mother involving in a small scale garment business a few years ago. She needed someone to prepare for some special buttons and sew up the label on the clothes. As it’s very small scale, it was hard to find anyone who is willing to do the work. But she somehow found this Chinese family in Rome, who agreed to work for her with a ridiculously cheap price. His mom’s business prospered soon and grew much bigger. The amount of work increased and that Chinese family were also upgrading for a much larger scale of work in association with his mom. A few months ago his mom paid a visit to that Chinese family in Rome. She found out that that family are in fact not doing the work at all. Instead, they outsource all the labor to another Chinese family, who just arrived in Italy and presumably don’t speak Italian (probably not even Mandarin). His mom was amazed at the business mindset of her Chinese partner and went to ask the new family about the price they were offered from the original family. To her surprise, the price they got was not even half the price the she pays to the original family! She was shocked and tried to ask them why they would accept such a low price. At this very moment her Chinese partner stopped her and whispered to her ear to tell her not to reveal the original price between them, for the new family do not even know about it at all!

There goes the story. Of course after the story I was pretending to laugh hard as well about how stingy and greedy those Chinese are. Luckily his mom does not have to directly compete with the Chinese producers (yet), otherwise the whole tone of this joke would be much much bitter. It is always a humiliation for me to hear from such absurd stories about the Chinese, especially from my friends. What’s more humiliating is that all those negative images of Chinese in Europe, are actually largely owing to one specific group of people from China: Wenzhou people.

For those who are not aware of the situation in Europe, the image of Chinese here has been largely corrupted by the invasion of Wenzhou people, especially in the Southern Europe where the regulation and law enforcement are loose (e.g. Spain, Italy, even Romania…). Though lack of official statistics about the number of Wenzhou people in Europe compared to the amount of Chinese in Europe in general, everywhere I go in Europe I could easily spot them on the street and hear about the local complaints about “those Chinese” (UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain ….). The both Chinese families in this story, are exactly from this group as well. It is always a big headache for me to deal with those lowly image they left for the Chinese in general.

I must admit normal Chinese is probably not much more decent either. but as soon as I realize most of negative images of the Chinese stem from those stingy gold diggers, I just couldn’t hold myself being neutral on this one.

Most of those Wenzhou people are not directly from the Wenzhou city but numerous counties and villages around Wenzhou. The place is at the southeastern coast of China,  traditionally an important seaport in the imperial China era. Chinese are the most agricultural-drilled people in the world, thus have the strongest affiliation to the land we settle down. The Wenzhou people, on the contrary, live on the most barren and hilly land off the coast, have little agricultural activities and share the least sense of land affiliation (They are the most dedicated merchants in China, so dedicated that we call them copper/money-stinky). They were driven to become full-time traders in and out of China. When mainland China just allowed the private ownership in early 1980s, they were already everywhere in China, blatantly selling counterfeit products of low quality. Their pure thirst for money without ethics left them a very notorious reputation all over China. At some point the term “Wenzhou product” literally equals to “fake and low-quality product” in every city in China. The image of Wenzhou people in China is equivalent to the Merchant of Venice under Shakespeare’s quill. Actually they are called as “the Jews of the Orient” by some westerners. Regardless of others’ disdain, they wouldn’t really care and many of them soon became the first people to get rich in China. Nowadays Wenzhou people in China are always associated with major negative social phenomenon such as real estate bubbles, garlic mania, Puer tea mania in the country. Obnoxious opportunists, that is how a normal Chinese would think of about Wenzhou people.

Apparently when they were exploiting every marketplace within China, their cousins already stared westward at Europe, the affluent Europe, as the place full of gold for them to dig in. Together with the Fujian people, Wenzhou region has one of the highest illegal emigration rate in China. They’d borrow a few thousand euro from all relatives to pay the smuggler to hide underneath the filthy cargo tank for months to reach Europe. Speaking no local language, not even Mandarin, they know they have cousins there who made big money; and that’s all they care.

Anyway, I am not deliberately dissing the Wenzhou people, nor I am exaggerating their deeds. Those people are THE MOST clannish people I’ve seen in China. They stick everything inside the big family, even for financing (they are famous in China for they’d rather turn to family members for financing than the actual bank). They are also the most pious followers in Chinese money worship cult. Sure they are, after all, harmless to the locals as they don’t steal, don’t rob, don’t rape, and don’t suck the welfare (maybe to local small business owners they are quite damaging). But to me, they trashed the image of China even before a European could meet an actual Chinese for a conversation. What they stand for, is exactly all that I loathe about the stereotype of a modern Chinese, money worshiping, unethical, impetuous, no respect for intellectual culture and manners. And that is inexcusably low.


  1. It must be hard for a chinese. Its like Europe being a single country, and Swedes being accused of what Sicilians do abroad.

    But hey, we can use the hard-working, no BS genes in european gene pool. I’d rather have yellow jews than black catholics.

    1. It’s all down to labels. There is no such thing as a “Chinese” just as there isn’t really any such thing as a “European”. There are a bunch of ethnicities with different traditions and even language. Han, Wu, Wezhou, etc.

  2. I’m so angry after reading this…as self-declared the well-educated Chinese,obviously u have the extreme prejudice on my people. They work hard and just struggle for a better living. U r the person really disguisting, writing such an awful nonsense rubbish to assault wenzhouese.Does it matter u as some of my people don’t speak Madarin, work hard and are paid little. R u a noble being? actually U just wrote what u think, but the reality. If so, come to Wenzhou to witness by urself. U must apologize to us.

  3. Thank you for writing this! As an Australian, I have had bad experiences with the Shanghainese who I must say have the same reputation as the Wenzhou people you write of. Perhaps the Shanghainese I had the misfortune of encountering recently had heritage from Wenzhou but regardless, it really does seem Wu people from Eastern China (Southern Jiangsu, Zhejiang) have a poor reputation as “the stereotype of a modern Chinese: money-worshiping, unethical, impetuous, no respect for intellectual culture and manners. And that is inexcusably low.”

    I only wish Shanghainese and their Wu regional culture would get more criticism for perhaps their culture or soil that spawns this kind of greedy culture that lacks morals and humanity toward other humans? The Shanghainese I had the misfortune of encountering recently (who grew up in the West as well so he must have got these values from his parents?) would have sold or pimped out his own wife to make some profit, felt no moral conscience at all and wished he could legally step over other people to make money.

  4. It is a known fact people reflect their own insecurities upon others. What did this group of people do to you personally that causes you to knock them down as a whole so heavily? In every social group, one can find blemishes, but also gems. It is ashamed that only the blemishes were highlighted here. Lastly, as an author of this article, why are you hiding? The truth shall set you free.

  5. I find it quite ironic that the main issue you seem to have with the Wenzhounese is that they turn to their family as opposed to state-funded banks. Let me give you a history lesson:

    Wenzhou is primarily made of mountains, making agriculture near impossible. As a result, these people rely on trade to support their families. Fast forward to the reign of Mao, who believed the peasant class, particularly the agricultural one, is capable of anything and that everyone must be on their level. As a result, the entire Chinese population was placed into communes of about 5000 families, where each commune is required to provide their own food, shelter, entertainment, and most importantly, industry (coal, steel, you name it). All these families are grouped together based on proximity and location. However, being mountainous, Wenzhou is incapable of providing farmland for agriculture. Its people literally starved because the land cannot provide the food they need. The lack of support from the government as well as a lack of supply of surplus food (no incentive = no surplus) meant the Wenzhounese scraped by with what little they had, and they couldn’t even raise funds to get food elsewhere because they were allowed private businesses.

    It’s no wonder the Wenzhounese today have a strong disregard for the CPC, whose founders literally gave no fucks to anyone that wasn’t a farmer. So excuse the Wenzhounese for trusting their families much more than the government or any institute related to the state.

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