A decade ago, an occasional visit to Yide Road intrigued me with the distinct odor of the dried seafood. Having threaded my way through a swarm of outflow customers, I finally reached the place and was stunned by the bizarre arcades. The overcrowded shopping street consisted of myriad wholesale stores, whose shop assistants were whole-heartedly engaged in their sales-pitch. Other employees were occupied by weighing, packaging and charging. Under the warm light, commodities like dried scallops, dried brinish fish and dried sea cucumbers were checked out carefully by customers from all walks of life. Undoubtedly, the scene of bargaining and trading was truly impressive and out of the ordinary. In the eyes of a teenager like me, the bustle and prosperity of Yide Road embodied the vitality of Canton.
As told by my parents, Yide Road has long been a world-renowned trading venue in Canton. Ever since the Maritime Silk Road came into being, Canton has become a Chinese access to overseas markets and the distribution center in South China. Located at the geographic center of the Canton City and along the bank of the Pearl River, Yide Road was naturally a transportation hub. On account of its favorable location, Yide Road soon developed into an ideal place for intra-national and international trade. When the merchant ships sailed ashore, various sources of cargo would be unloaded and transferred there. With tens of thousands of commodities flowing in and out every single day, Yide Road breathed unlimited opportunities into this city the other way round.
Specialization of Yide Road underwent several major changes in its history. Originally, in the Qing Dynasty, it served as a distribution center for agricultural byproducts brought by farmers nearby. In sequence, a batch of pharmaceutical enterprises was established there. As the transaction scale gradually grew, Yide Road was deemed to be the business center of the entire province in the Republic of China period. Back at that time, not only agricultural byproducts but also salted fish and other dried foods were sold wholesale to retailers, restaurants and foreign merchants. It was also during this period that this venue acquired its alternative name—Salted Fish Street.
According to the elders, the honor of Yide Road climaxed at the commencement of the reform and opening. Specialization and veracity were translated into its brand prestige, which had a far-reaching implication for its success. Encouraged by the advantaged policy, many venturesome entrepreneurs settled down here and started to pursue their dreams. As recalled by one of them, there were so many people pouring in the place that it used to take him more than five minutes to walk through the 60-meter-long street! From the early 1980s to the late 1990s, Yide Road was not only a selling venue but also a paradise for those who yearned to establish their own business and accumulate wealth.
However, at the dawn of the Information Epoch, Yide Road entered its bleakest period while e-commerce was all the rage. Its competitiveness was hindered by the sluggishness of its family-run management, the inefficiency of its obsolete delivery system and the ineffectiveness of its marketing efforts. In order to replicate the glorious achievements and the maritime dream of their predecessors, a legion of ambitious talents, equipped with the latest pertinent knowledge, masterminded a complete reform, including the introduction of e-commerce, modern logistics and scientific management. Their efforts finally paid off. A number of shops with honorable history, such as Jammy Chai and Hongxing Pharmacy, were accorded the title of China Time-honored Brand and enrolled into a supporting program with the same title.
To some extent, Yide Road can be compared to a museum where our maritime dream is “showcased”. Adventurous businessmen, generation after generation, have been devoted to realize their own self-value, much resembling their European counterparts dating back to the Age of Sail. The immense market created by the Maritime Silk Road was accessed through the Yide Road, urging our businessmen to expand their repertoire beyond bargaining with local residents, managing domestic delivery and promoting their brands over the neighboring cities. Contemplating, negotiating, managing, financing and investing in a global mind set have already become the daily routines of the professionals in Yide Road.
Nowadays, after experiencing many ups and downs in the volatile global market, we Cantonese people once again embark on the trading business in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and one of our bases is situated in Yide Road. Our new generation is following their predecessors’ path to sail, to explore and to develop in the new maritime era, hopefully bringing back the glory to Yide Road. At the same time, Yide Road will still witness the extraordinary achievements of these ambitious youngsters, just exactly as it did in the old days.
(By Tan Rongle from Jinan University)