Zhang Shaobo, the owner of a Halloween mask factory in Yiwu, received word last March that one of his most consistent export customers in India was sick with the coronavirus. By May, the man was dead. New customers from Mr. Zhang’s main markets in India and South America also stopped coming to China to look at his latest products.
He laid off all but four of his 20 factory workers, and began making preparations to close his shop at Yiwu’s wholesale market. With business so weak, he said, “I am not going to keep renting it.”
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, acknowledged the economic challenges in a speech published on Friday by a Communist Party journal, Qiushi.
“There are profound adjustments underway to the international economy, technology, culture, security and politics, and the world has entered a period of turbulent change,” Mr. Xi said in the speech, which was delivered in August. “In the coming period, we face an external environment of increased headwinds and counter-currents, and we must prepare to respond to a series of new risks and challenges.”
Those challenges could worsen in the weeks ahead. After considerable success in taming the coronavirus, China has suffered a series of small outbreaks of late. The government has mobilized swiftly, by building hospitals, imposing mass testing and putting at least 28 million people under lockdown.
Jan. 18, 2021, 11:13 a.m. ET
The authorities are starting to reimpose a wide variety of health checks that are discouraging consumers from spending money. Even before the recent outbreaks, not everyone was prospering. Consumer confidence never fully recovered last year. Chinese families have proved particularly wary of big-ticket expenditures, like home remodeling projects or new furniture.
Growth in retail sales faltered in December, slowing to 4.6 percent from 5 percent the month before. Ning Jizhe, the commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, attributed this to the renewed spread of the virus, saying that, “this has brought some uncertainty to the economy.”