Finally up: my report for the BBC on Yiwu, China’s plastic city where Christmas is made and sold:

‘In the next room the fabric products are made; again about two dozen women sit at rows of sewing machines. It’s hot and all you can hear is the constant hum of the machines as they stitch together hats, Christmas stockings, and festive bunting. The red and white Santa hat – the kind you wear at office parties – that you buy for a few pounds and then throw away by New Year’s Eve. I see it being made here. I watch a girl sew white fur trim on to red felt at the rate of about two hats a minute, and as she finishes each one she simply pushes them off the front of her desk where they fall, silently, onto an ever increasing pile on the floor.’

I also wrote a fictional take on the same themes, a little Christmas Tale for Motherboard’s Terraform:

‘Ming-hua takes a Santa Claus from the conveyor belt, holds its feet between thumb and forefinger, and blushes its cheeks red with two delicate taps from a paintbrush. As always, she tries to avoid its dead-eyed gaze, but before the second dab of paint it’s laughing at her, hidden servos shaking is head from side to side in simulated cheer.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas Ming-hua!

She drops the Santa on the pile next to her table and they celebrate the arrival of yet another of their kind, 300 Santas ho ho ho ho-ing and vibrating as one.

Two tables up the line Yanyu, who paints the pupils onto their dead eyes, is wearing a plastic mask while she works. This week it’s Kermit the Frog; last week it was Pikachu. Before that, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It stops the Santas from scanning her face and searching the social networks for her name. It means they keep fucking quiet. The masks have to be animals or cartoon characters—no real people or celebrities.

Ming-hua tried it, for a while. She hid behind Spider Man’s face. But it got too hot, the sweat from her brow stinging her eyes, the smell of the plastic as suffocating as the fumes from the injection-moulding machines clanking and pounding in the corner. She decided she was better off putting up with the ho ho ho-ing.’