Historical past and Tradition: The Brown Sugar Industry in China

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The Foundation of Yiwu Brown Sugar

Businessmen from hundreds of nations, wearing formal suits, squeeze through skyscrapers; other folks weave their components through the crew as if time is extra costly than gold; the elites, ingesting coffee on the wander, strut at streetlevel, as in the event that they are superior to anybody else.

Here is possibly the stereotypical image of an international trade center. Nevertheless Yiwu is hundreds of. It is miles a city, however also a village that is plump of the feeble ambiance.

Definitely one of its cultural heritages is handmade brown sugar. About 340 years in the past, brown sugar became first launched in Yiwu. When other folks peaceable had now not ample meals to spend, brown sugar became an gorgeous change for rice. The infamous “chicken feather for brown sugar” yarn reveals the bartering observe in the past, the put sugar makers would give out brown sugar in change for chicken feathers to gather feather dusters. For the time being, meals is now not any longer the first allege for most other folks, but this history and spirit of brown sugar custom lingers. Whereas globalization and international trade occupy boosted town’s economy and reshaped other folks’s components of living, the quickly transformations occupy resulted in the catastrophic suppression of Yiwu’s feeble custom and industrial, and particularly, on brown sugar. 

Every holiday after I went to Yiwu, I never forgot the new brown sugar made in the cow-driven stone mill and the draw very much surprised I became to search out that the ugly sugarcane will likely be became into tasty sugar. Nevertheless all straight away, the feeble sugar mills had been long gone and changed by industrial factories, threatening this treasured cultural heritage.

Aiming to retain this loss of life custom, final summer season, and Christmas, I went to Yiwu and interviewed other folks connected to the brown sugar industrial, collectively with brown sugar factory homeowners, sugarcane farmers, salespeople, authorities, and trade union officials. On this materialistic society, earnings are nearly continuously the best possible priority. Nevertheless I mediate that the intangible cultural heritage of brown sugar production has its outlandish price — it represents the efforts of generations of my ancestors. By organizing an job, making a documentary, and writing an essay about this community, I mediate I’m in a position to raise other folks’s consciousness and support retain our misplaced custom through the inevitable vicissitudes of modernization.

Articles, books, and documentaries abound depicting this feeble manufacturing of brown sugar, however one thing is continuously lacking — the folk. 

The Existence of Sugarcanes

The first person I interviewed became Zhiqian Wang, a infamous farmer whose household has been in the brown sugar industrial for generations.

Yiwu’s sugarcane is harvested handiest once a 300 and sixty five days, making the sugarcane plump of dietary values — the total vitamins, tastes, sweetness accrued in 365 days of photosynthesis are concentrated in these canes. This makes Yiwu’s brown sugar peerless, however also limits production, making it though-provoking to income. Which ability that, most other folks quitted the industrial, however Wang stayed. For him, it is a components of living quite than a components to gather a living. 

Rising up in Xiantian, a village 15 miles from Yiwu, Wang became familiar with the farming task. As a long way as he knows, his huge-grandparents had been rising sugarcanes. Motivate then, sugarcane became merely a byproduct on the farm, which affords the inessential snacks for young other folks. Handiest when there became spare farmland would farmers develop sugarcane.

Wang recalled that despite the indisputable truth that there became a puny quantity of sugarcanes, other folks, particularly young other folks, found huge ardour into them. Motivate in the days when young other folks had no video video games, they knew programs to rejoice on the sphere. Staring at the canes rising from seeds to the fruit even bigger than himself, Wang witnessed this magical transformation every 300 and sixty five days. When he saw sugar juice being squeezed out of the though-provoking-shelled canes, heated and concentrated to change into the syrup, and eventually condensed to brown sugar cubes, he felt contented. Every cube represented his all-300 and sixty five days effort and hope.

The constructing of the brown sugar industrial coincides along with his coming of age. After the industrial reform in the 1970s and 80s, China began to birth its enormous market to the initiating air world, boosting GDP nearly exponentially. Having ample to spend, for most, became no longer a map however truth. Folk began to shift their consideration to the standard of meals. Brown sugar, with its outlandish flavor and high dietary price, came into the public’s eyes. It became handiest five years sooner than most rice-rising farms in Yiwu grew to change into dedicated fully to sugarcane plantations.

Wang did now not miss this likelihood, from which he very much expanded the dimensions of his farm and utilized industrial machines to extra mercurial develop and task the sugarcanes. Nonetheless, outlandish but costly Yiwu sugarcanes are outcompeted by the cheap canes imported, that could be harvested twice or three times a 300 and sixty five days. 

The Clash Between Times

The rising brown sugar market gave those practitioners phenomenal extra change to be taught and retain this economy; on the other hand, it also introduced challenges to this feeble industrial. To win out what it became like in a contemporary, industrialized brown sugar factory, I visited Xinliang Sun, the proprietor of the finest brown sugar factory in Yiwu. 

Every task is industrialized. The new and squeezed sugarcanes pile up birth air the workshop, posing a inviting image to the total customers and mates. All the workers are wearing white uniforms and masks, making your complete task unpolluted. There are now not any like, show-off tactics overall in the man-powered mills, however repetitious, low-professional operations overall on the assembly line. Even the air tastes sweet, however one thing is misplaced in the factory. The sugar tastes now not bad, however it absolutely is now not as scrumptious because the handmade one. The cost of brown sugar lies in its custom. As Sun admitted, he has to decrease the cost in expose to sell the factory-made sugar, however even so, factories occupy phenomenal bigger earnings than feeble mills.  

This battle between the industrial advantage and the feeble custom has prevailed in many various fields, threatening the feeble industrial to be either changed or minimalized. The the same spot also challenges the feeble, handmade brown sugar production: if we keep away from the utilization of industrial machines to retain the authentic and feeble flavor of the brown sugar, the provision will remain low and mark will likely be incredibly high, limiting the market dimension and discouraging other folks from working on this industrial, the put they’ll barely glean benefits; if we handiest focal level on financial beneficial properties, we’ve to sacrifice the feeble, cultural heritage that has been passed down for generations. Neither of the 2 alternatives is ideal.

Those Old Days

Nevertheless how did the shrimp-scale, handmade sugar production workshops characteristic and advantage? I went to the Yiwu Global Market, one of the most finest international trade markets on this planet. I met Yideng Bao, a 61-300 and sixty five days-mature brown sugar retailer whose household has been engaged on this industrial for many generations. 

Bao himself would one draw or the other participate in the production task. His supplies are largely from those shrimp workshops, which primarily rely on human sources with the support of some rudimentary instruments and machines. Those workshops are primarily quiet of native villagers, the put other folks plant sugarcanes collectively and gather brown sugar collectively. After they construct the workshop, they purchase their money and make investments in warehouse construction, equipment procurement, and land select. Afterward, they’ll share the benefits proportionately in accordance with every household’s initial investment. Nevertheless even in the event that they cooperate exceptionally well, the fund is barely ample to offer a rudimentary workshop with puny know-how and production capability. 

They are peaceable fair to a couple, particularly those city vacationers who advance to skills this feeble custom. Folk skills gazing them making the brown sugar in the feeble components. No person complains relating to the low production rate; surely, that is what appeals to them. When a cow drives the mill, and the juice is slowly squeezed out from canes, it is an enjoyment. Every step is so sexy that even gazing those production procedures is like a show. It reminds us of what life became like in the past when there were small know-how and no electrical energy. Every spectator is overwhelmed by the nostalgic mood. The scent of the freshly produced sugar, at the side of the scent of smoke by the burning woods, fills each person’s thoughts.

The handmade sugar is too though-provoking to be valuable from those made in factories. What makes the feeble handmade sugar hundreds of is now not how it tastes, however what it implies. For city dwellers, they live a fleet-paced, high-drive life. The scrumptious meals is bigger than overall in a metropolis, however many have to rely on bewitch-out on a fashioned workday. The brown sugar-making scene, exhibiting a stumble on into an idyllic nation-insist life, fills a void.


Archaic brown sugar manufacturing — handmade brown sugar — has been enlisted as one of China’s nationwide intangible cultural heritages. It is miles extremely praised because the essence of “Yiwu spirit” — the great thing about life’s bitterness. Many change heritages were infamous as data becomes extra accessible on-line. Nonetheless, brown sugar is in a spot. To fully perceive the allege and stumble on a possible resolution, I went to the Yiwu Judge Tank (YTT) for an resolution. 

Happily, I obtained to meet with Huaishan Zhou, the Chief Govt Officer of YTT. We first discussed the explanations that limit the enhance of the brown sugar industrial total, wherein he urged that the seek data from for the brown sugar product remains regional, despite the indisputable truth that the interprovincial and international trade grows. Folk’s seek data from for pure sugar is low; most sugar is consumed in eating locations and bubble milk tea stores. They need sugar handiest to bring sweetness, now not a nutritious diet for his or her customers. White sugar, on this kind, outcompetes brown sugar with out difficulty with its phenomenal decrease mark. 

Market seek data from is now not the finest limiting allege. The young generation is reluctant to develop brown sugar, which is dumb, time-ingesting, and lowly-paid. After I went to the brown sugar plantation, most farmers working there are above 45, and loads live alone in the nearby villages, with their young other folks working in cities. It is miles a frigid indisputable truth that as time passes, increasingly extra retire, and few enters. The labor will likely be insufficient, and those tactics will likely be misplaced.

The shortcoming of human labor, competitive dilemma, low productiveness, and high price effect handmade brown sugar in difficulty. As industrialized manufacturing requires phenomenal much less labor, many professional workers are shedding their jobs, and have to abandon their acquainted abilities with out successors. Machines gain brown sugar at a phenomenal decrease price, however it absolutely is “killing” those high-professional brown sugar artisans. Without these other folks and tactics, brown sugar is merely a gain of sugar that is brown. It is miles now not any longer a cultural heritage, a carrier of history, and a treasure of nature. 

Nonetheless, the spot is that if we entirely abandon the modernized industrial, the provision will likely be puny, and the cost remains high, leaving brown sugar unprofitable and making this custom impossible to retain; if we change the feeble manufacturing technique with machines, there will likely be a short amplify in sales, however the total 300 years history and custom will vanish, leaving undesirable energy in the support of. 

Hopeful Future

Industrialized know-how and feeble manufacturing can now not coexist fully, however it absolutely would now not mean they are mutually unique. As Wang urged, we can treat “brown sugar” and the “feeble brown-sugar-manufacturing know-how” as two hundreds of ideas. It is miles never the sugar that we would like to present protection to, however the cultural heritage in the support of it. Archaic manufacturing is puny, which is an proven truth. To offer protection to it, the authorities would possibly possibly also peaceable fund to offer connected museums, exhibitions, and cultural preservation zones to raise public consciousness. It is miles the market’s natural response that some buyers, particularly the other folks who price quality over mark, would peaceable readily engage handmade brown sugar, despite the larger mark. 

There is already some growth. In the initiating, a alternate in other folks’s price toward foods has occurred. On the 2d, increasingly extra other folks price healthiness over satiety and deliciousness, inserting fitness as a priority. Carbohydrates, particularly sugar, are regarded as the “enemy” of well being and look. Yet they are the indispensable capabilities other folks have to dwell on. On this kind, other folks decide on those rather extra healthy kinds of staple vegetation—brown rice over white rice, complete-grain over white bread. This constructing will likely be prolonged to sugar—brown sugar is lawful a extra fit change for white sugar. 

To boot to to the alternate in price, the enchancment of the Web allows brown sugar to thrive. Ziqi Li, a Chinese language net celeb, makes a video on how she grows sugarcanes and makes brown sugar in the feeble components. The video attracts hundreds and hundreds of audiences worldwide with its pure and feeble vogue and tremendously will enhance brown sugar’s reputation. The complete lot begins from the very birth, so straightforward and pure that it eases other folks’s drive. The video reminds other folks how straightforward life became in the past, and the draw other folks made their living with out standard know-how. Brown sugar here is a carrier of the past. Placing one cube to your tongue, gazing for it melt, and all straight away, the total flavors, memories, and straightforwardness emerge. Folk are now not paying for the beauty, however the custom and history in the support of brown sugar.

This sets an correct instance for brown sugar to use, however the allege peaceable remains. Brown sugar is now not as standard as tofu; it is replaceable; the incompatibility between handmade and machine-made sugar is subtle for most other folks. In expose to bring the the same success of tofu to brown sugar, it would possibly possibly be significant to advertise and advertise brown sugar. Brown sugar and feeble manufacturing know-how would possibly possibly also additionally be treated one after the other, however they are now not unprejudiced. Handiest when brown sugar is successful can we provide protection to this cultural heritage.

This compromise between standard know-how and traditions is now not an particular person case. As globalization and modernization dominate the field, increasingly extra feeble cultures are being challenged, and a few occupy already been misplaced or abandoned.

The burden to retain these cultural heritages lies on us, the folk. When farmers are planting sugarcanes below the unbearable solar, anticipating a harvest in the tumble; when mill workers are using cows to task canes into liquid, gazing for the pure, sweet sugar cubes; when the salesmen are carrying blankets of brown sugar, yelling and exchanging it for chicken feather: it became the past when productiveness became too low to enhance the huge population. Nonetheless, history, with out reference to how though-provoking life is, contains the spirit and values passed down from a complete bunch of generations. Brown sugar is bittersweet, lawful the components life is.

Tianhao Luo is a student from Salisbury School, Salisbury CT.

[All images courtesy of Salisbury School, Salisbury CT]

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