Huizhou wonton maker carries on a long family tradition

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am

Selling wonton from his mobile kitchen on Old Street in downtown Huangshan , Wang Zili - whose name means self-reliance - is living testament to the entrepreneurship of the Huizhou merchants.

Known for their business acumen, hard-working nature and business ethics, the Huizhou merchants are from Huangshan and neighbouring counties in southern Anhui province - an area once known as Huizhou.

They dominated the business landscape, particularly the commodities trade, for more than 300 years until its decline in the latter part of the Qing dynasty.

His cooking implements on a bamboo pole across his shoulders, Mr Wang walks the narrow alley every afternoon touting his freshly cooked dumplings. He also rents a street-front restaurant, from which he makes most of his income, 'but I still enjoyed the old way of doing business and the street-touting is good for my overall business as it helps promote the brand', he said.

The brand, Wang Yi Tiao, dates back 180 years to when an ancestor began selling dumplings on the streets of the city at the foot of the famed Yellow Mountains. The Wangs had to give up the business after the communists took control of the country and denounced private entrepreneurship, but they kept their cookshop-on-a-pole - known as a biandan.

Initially Mr Wang, 37, did not want to revive the family business because of the stigma associated with private entrepreneurship. Instead he went to Shenzhen to work as a painter in a factory after graduating from high school.

'So it was not until 2000, when my boy was born, that I had to come back to look after my new family. With great reluctance I picked up my equipment and hit the street,' he said.

But the business steadily prospered and now he serves an average of 100 customers a day at the restaurant. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing is among those to have dined there.

Mr Wang attributes his booming business to the family tradition of hard work, high standards and a good sense of business - the core values of Huizhou merchants.

He registered the Wang Yi Tiao brand as a trademark in November 2005, making it the only trademark for dumplings on the mainland.

The brand has such a high profile that last July he was invited to the East China Normal University in Shanghai to lecture college students about how to start a business.

He has also received an invitation to join a parade of Huizhou cultural heritage when the Olympic torch passes through the province - part of government efforts to reinvigorate the backwater province.

Mr Wang said he hoped the Wang Yi Tiao brand could one day rival Wanchai Ferry, a global dumpling brand created by Hong Kong-based Chong Kin-wo in the 1970s.

But even if it does, the businessman has no intention of abandoning the family tradition.

'I won't give up my mobile kitchen selling freshly cooked wonton on the street,' he said.