City in Jiangxi feathers its nest by embracing down jackets

Gongqingcheng upgrades technology to keep leading edge as apparel manufacturer

By ZHAO RUINAN in Gongqingcheng, Jiangxi | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-23 07:32
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Settlers arrived in Gongqingcheng in the 1950s. CHINA DAILY

Editor's note: In a series of reports titled "Claims to Fame", China Daily looks at how some regions have earned wealth and recognition through specific products to realize the goal of rural vitalization.

In the 1950s, when a team of educated youths from Shanghai arrived in Gongqingcheng, Jiangxi province, ducks seemed like the best option to find a "golden egg" for the struggling local economy.

Ninety-eight zhiqing, or educated youths, had traveled to Gongqingcheng to develop reclaimed land near Poyang Lake, the country's largest freshwater lake. Their efforts to inject economic life into the area through agricultural projects concentrated on duck breeding.

Ducks raised in Gongqingcheng CHINA DAILY

The number of ducks raised in Gongqingcheng ballooned from about 1,000 in 1959 to 80,000 in 1968, according to local government statistics. A dried-salted duck processing plant was established in 1965, and four years later, it was processing more than 90,000 ducks annually.

However, the increase in duck numbers generated a significant amount of waste, which became an urgent issue due to the foul smell and feathers filling the sky during the summer.

In 1970, the plant sent staff members to a feather-processing factory in neighboring Hunan province to find out how the duck feathers could be utilized.

Later that year, the plant started feather-processing workshops with a 2,000-yuan fund, and trained 27 female workers to make down jackets.

In 1971, the Gongqingcheng Down Factory, a State-owned enterprise that would become famous around the nation and overseas, began operations, producing China's first batch of 3,000 down vests.

Zheng Cuiping, 59, started working at the factory in the 1980s when she was a teenager, and stayed there until she retired. "I remember when I was a little girl, ducks were everywhere in the small town. I could hear their quack! quack! quack! A dried salted duck was a very popular product," she said.

In 1972, the first down jackets produced by the factory made a splash at the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and sold out in the blink of an eye; Gongqingcheng's economic surge had been started by the waddling birds.

Starting out from the Gongqingcheng Municipal People's Government office building, "Garment Town" can today be reached in less than 10 minutes on foot by crossing a street and walking along Zhiqing and Yaya roads.

Hundreds of down jacket factories and retail shops are scattered through Garment Town. In winter, shoppers and retail buyers from other regions flock there to look for warm down coats, running their fingers over rows of clothing racks in search of the best purchases.

The county-level city produced 70 million down jackets in 2022 and an estimated 75 million in 2023, according to data from the Gongqingcheng Garment Industry Office.

Gongqingcheng has a population of only 190,000 people, with more than 30,000 engaged in down jacket-related industries, the office said.

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