China's stone workshops silenced by European crisis

Thu Dec 8, 2011 6:57pm EST
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By Chris Buckley

DANGCHENG, China (Reuters) - Mournful ancient Roman lovers, a boy Mozart and half a dozen angels lie in weeds behind the padlocked gates of an abandoned sculpture workshop in Dangcheng town, victims of economic waves rippling across the world to this corner of northern China.

Dangcheng applied the traditional stone-carving skills of this rocky part of Hebei province to boom as an exporter of ornate statues, busts, reliefs and fountains to Europe and North America. Now the town is struggling with the deep slump in once vibrant markets, especially Italy and other euro zone countries.

"The boss ran away, they say. He went broke a year or two ago. Don't know where he went," said Lu Jiguang, a brawny mason from a nearby workshop who stopped by the locked gate.

"There haven't been that many bankruptcies here. Most people find a way to get by, but business is certainly hard going," continued Lu, with the same stone dust-covered features and gnarled hands as nearly most other residents of the town.

"I've seen reports about the financial crisis in Europe on television," he said. "It's also had a bad effect here."

Dangcheng, a town of 20,000 people 240 km (150 miles) southwest of Beijing, is a microcosm of the risks that slowing exports pose for China -- risks that a commerce official laid out this week.

Reuters visited Dangcheng in 2009, when the downturn was beginning to bite. A return this week showed that the extended euro crisis and U.S. doldrums have mauled business, forcing some workshops to shut and many more to scale back or move.

And all surviving ones to court customers at home.   Continued...

<p>A bust of the Chinese philosopher Confucius lies on the ground in an abandoned stone carving workshop in the town of Dangcheng in Quyang county, located 250 km (155 miles) southwest of Beijing December 7, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray</p>