China’s small market enterprises thrive


CHINA has a very large land mass with a dense population.
The greater part of the population is eastbound because since ancient times, people were drawn to the ocean for travelling and trade.
The East is where a married couple was only allowed to have one child.
This policy has since been raised to two children per couple.
Cities big and small, are flooded with people just as is the case in Harare nowadays.
These people are often from smaller cities and rural areas and they enter the bigger cities to try and make a living.
Many are farmers or hoarders who at times end up running small businesses that last for over a decade.
China is mostly developed in the east and the west is mountainous and dry.
The west has places like Tibet and Xinjiang.
The population density is very low and couples can have as many children as they please.
There is no need for people to live in skyscrapers and single-floor buildings are common.
This is not so in places like Shanghai, where every building has at least five floors.
Shanghai alone has a population of over 30 million people, about twice the population of Zimbabwe.
So one can imagine how busy the city is, by simply looking at the numbers.
The small business that I have become most familiar with is the restaurant industry.
Particularly the chain Halal restaurants which are called Lanzhou Lamian meaning ‘Lanzhou pulled noodles’.
Lanzhou comprises of mostly non-Han minority groups from the west named Huizu who are Muslims.
They have a unique way of pulling noodles that has found favour nationwide.
Because they also sell clean meat which is void of pork and is slaughtered according to the Islamic law called dabiha, they have found a niche which keeps their food on demand. Besides the Chinese who come for the noodles, they attract the Muslims from among the local and expatriate population.
They all have halal certification and use similar colours and styles to decorate their restaurants.
Their menus and pictures are also similar and this makes them a sort of chain restaurant.
The restaurant owners are from Qinghai, Xinjiang, Xining and many other places which may be distant from each other, but are all westbound and Muslim.
Regardless, the meals and atmosphere of their restaurants are identical, whether one is in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
The restaurant industry has been known to be one of the easiest to get into in China.
Ancient Chinese houses had long blocks of wood by the doorway which the Chinese call menkan.
There is a saying that the door to the restaurant business has a short menkan (threshold).
This is true as Chinese cities are flooded with restaurants owned mostly by out of town people.
Besides the Lanzhou restaurant food, I have been estranged to the majority of Chinese cuisines mainly because they include pork.
However, many parallels are evident in the way that all Chinese small businesses regardless of ethnicity are run.
The key word is family.
In the Lanzhou restaurants, one will find the father pulling the noodles which is a job which requires strength and skill.
The mother prepares the food that is ordered, and the children, if old enough, serve the customers.
When the children are young, they are kept around to learn preparing the dishes.
At times they taste and name the meals shown on the pictures.
In many cases, that is also how their parents learn running the restaurant business as well.
As for the small businesses that are run by the Han, they are also often family-oriented.
There is also a sort of chain store feel which works among them. For example, there are Dongbei (north-east) stores which specialise in selling flat cakes coupled with soya milk.
They can be found in cities all over China and the recipes and atmosphere are the same.
These are small kiosk size takeaway stores which thrive, especially at breakfast time.
You find the mother making youtiao which is basically a doughnut without cream.
The father makes soya milk as early as 4am and the son or daughter will be serving the customers.
This is a clever way of running a business because the money stays within the family.
It is also a way of passing on skills and experience to the families’ next generation which will have a starting point if they wish to start a family or become entrepreneurs.
Zimbabwe has a similar situation to China.
Big cities are flooded with people from smaller towns and rural areas.
These do not have to be considered a burden, for they can offer a lot of things besides labour to the bigger cities they move to in search of money.
But what we have witnessed in places like Harare is an upsurge of vendors, who simply hoard and sell poor quality goods.
Some sell fruits and vegetables, but in unsanitary conditions.
As a result, the city council has time and again come down viciously on these small traders.
They are often ambushed and when caught, can be fined or have their goods confiscated.
China, however, has somehow managed to give the unlicensed small time vendors loopholes for them to sustain their businesses.
During work or day hours, if an unlicensed vendor is spotted in some places, there may be trouble.
But after hours, the vendors are allowed to set up wherever they please and are expected to be gone by day time.
The idea is for the licensed restaurants to have a fair shot without competing with the unlicensed ones when the shops are still open.
So it is a win-win situation because at night, the unlicensed takeaways will not have to compete with the restaurants that have closed.
The result is continuous business and service in the cities all around China.
Besides restaurants and takeaways, Chinese streets often have stores selling fruits till late or even for 24 hours.
The wife runs the business during the day and the husband during the night.
This is typical even in convenient stores which run for 24 hours in the city.
Such strenuous work of running a business all day and night, everyday, takes more than just one member of the family to achieve.
It takes a family to share the burden.
The combined effort of the small businesses is a dynamic city life in almost every street in the cities of China.
In Zimbabwe, the traditional way of making a living in the city was for a household in the rural areas to have one or more members of the family working in the industry or some other job so as to sustain his or her relatives back home.
With the fall of Zimbabwe’s industrial capacity, also came less success on the part of rural folk coming to the city in search of jobs.
This is where the entrepreneurial spirit and family oriented small business approach of China could be of assistance to such families.
Adding pressure on the member of the family who is in the city may lead to the taking of desperate measures which can lead to stealing, robbing and other bad ways of making a living.
So families should support each other and work together.
They should find skills and try to make a brand which if successful, will be emulated by their kinsfolk that have the same skills and background.
The chain store effect may soon take place if a pioneer sets the pace and standard.
This is already evident in the Zimbabwe stone sculpting and straw weaving industries which also have a chain store feeling.
Neighbours from Mozambique, Malawi etc, have cuisines sold in restaurants finding favour with Zimbabweans.
This will improve the quality of life in whatever city or country they may move to in the region.


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