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Mr. Li goes to Leskovac

Leskovac - central square
Central square with "Chinese market" (green building)

Near the Leskovac central bus station is the railway station renovated in 1999. This was the only public investment in Leskovac under Milosevic. Walking down King Peter Street, one finds three of the five open markets of Leskovac. One of them is the Kineska pijaca, the Chinese market: there are 40 stands with traders, most of them from Southern China, communicating with the customers through a few common words. They sell clothes.

The brain behind the Chinese market is Mr. Li from Lanxhao, who also runs the "Peking Agency", a liaison office that tries to link importers with Chinese producers, and the second shopping mall in the centre. Li hails from Lanxhao, a city with 3.5 million inhabitants specialised in cotton confectionary. Li first came to Belgrade to import Chinese goods. In 1998 he moved on to Leskovac. "People were really surprised, they had never seen a Chinese in their live."

Li arranged a trip from Leskovac to Lanxhao to launch a city partnership in 1999. Li also signed a contract with the municipal company responsible for markets to open the Chinese market in 2000. In 2005 the contract was prolonged for another five years. This was the year when Li brought a delegation form Lanxhao on their world tour to Leskovac (they also visited Paris and Manila).

His Serb assistant Dejan, in his late 20s, is from Leskovac: Dejan speaks Chinese as he used to train Chinese football players, including a team in the 2nd league in China. In 1998 Leskovac was run by Milosevic's SDS and there was an interest in cultivating Serbian-Chinese relations. Li also calculated that Leskovac was close to Kosovo, a growing market for clothes.

There were no Chinese in Leskovac until 1998. Today there are more than 300. Besides the open Chinese market, Chinese entrepreneurs run two shopping malls in the very centre of the city. One was opened in 2002 in a building next to a big socialist trading chain: big Chinese signs announce its change of name to "New Age". Inside there are many small shops, separated by curtains without any doors. Most sell textile products. There are no shelves, only tables, and products hang from the walls and ceiling. The Chinese vendors frequently sit in some corner and play with their laptops, while Serb employees communicate with the customers. As Li put it to ESI in 2006:

"As long as the Chinese can earn more money here, they will stay. It is very hard to live here, but as long as you can earn 300 dollars here, compared to 100 dollars there, you stay. Also, life is less crowded, there is less pollution here, so overall, it pays."

February 2007

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