China’s unemployment turns to car boot sales as COVID-hit economy stalls

BEIJING, Aug 24 (Reuters) – When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wang Wei to shut down his tourism business, the Tianjin native poured his savings of 80,000 yuan ($11,785) into selling coffee at the rear of his green Suzuki microvan in the Chinese capital Beijing.

Since June, Wang has been driving her mobile coffee booth from car boot lounge to car boot lounge, offering hand-brewed coffee brewed into an assortment of liquors.

Once considered too low a status for many, street peddling of goods has made a comeback as people who have lost their jobs or closed their businesses seek new ways to earn a living and circumvent anti-COVID policies relentless of China.

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Hospitality, tourism and after-school tutoring have been particularly hard hit.

Wang, 40, abandoned a brick-and-mortar cafe in Tianjin in 2020 when the pandemic first hit. The overseas group tours he used to organize also took a hit that year, with a lucrative trip to see the Northern Lights canceled costing him hundreds of thousands of yuan. in shortfall.

This year, the spread of the Omicron variant across China was the final nail in the coffin, making its group tours in the Chinese hinterland impossible.

Wang started running her mobile coffee stall this summer, after car shoe fairs popped up in major southern cities like Chengdu, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

Under a canopy extending from Wang’s van, guests relax in camping chairs, with soft evening lights completing the glamping experience.

“The growing popularity of this garage sale market has helped me get through the toughest times,” said Wang, who estimates that she earns around 1,000 yuan a day.


China’s economy barely grew in April-June. Youth unemployment remained high, hitting a record high of 19.9% ​​in July, the fourth month in which the rate had broken records. Read more

Pan, 25, closed his bar in Shenzhen after a COVID outbreak in March, accusing him of more than 100,000 yuan in debt.

“I was quite depressed, and one night my fiancée Annie, wanting to cheer me up, took me to a watering hole in a quiet neighborhood with warm low lights and soft music,” said- he declared.

It was then that he saw a couple selling alcohol at an outdoor stand, prompting him to do the same, but with his Tesla.

“My best friend lent me 3,000 yuan, which became the initial investment for our pop-up liquor store,” Pan said.

Pan and Annie ran out of money in their first week, but their determination paid off, with daily earnings since soaring to 7,800 yuan.

“In the future, we plan to travel the country with our Tesla and sell alcohol from the trunk of our car in the cities that we value the most,” Pan said.


Policy makers, tacitly accepted jobs being more difficult to find, have encouraged “flexible” employment in the informal economy.

Even Beijing, which has long considered makeshift markets to be under the capital, turns a blind eye to garage sales.

Liu, 30, made a living teaching children in Beijing how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, but after in-person learning stopped due to COVID-19, she became “penniless”.

She now sells coffee out of the back of her small van and hopes her small business will get her out of her financial straits.

“We are still losing money at this point, I get less than 100 yuan a day most days – not enough for meals and transportation,” she said. “But I’m glad to just be busy.”

($1 = 6.7879 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Reporting by Ella Cao and Ryan Woo; Edition by Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.