Abstract: Selling Knitting as Modernity: The Dongya Corporation in Tianjin, China, 1932-1937

Brett Sheehan


In 1932 Song Feiqing founded the Dongya Corporation in Tianjin, China to manufacture and sell knitting yarn. At that time, virtually all knitting yarn in China came from foreign producers in Britain and Japan, but the Dongya Corporation managed to take 25 percent of the Chinese domestic yarn market within four years of beginning operations. This remarkable success derived in part from its innovative marketing. Dongya marketing strategies combined the appeal of a patriotic National Goods campaign, close ties to distributors, and evocation of Western-inspired scientific and hygienic modernity. Foremost, however, it capitalized on import-substitution policies of the Nationalist state which allowed it to sell yarn at a price point lower than that of its foreign competitors. Market share declined after foreign competitors relocated production to China. Thus Dongya could sell Chinese consumers on the modernity and patriotism of knitting, but only at the right price.