left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Family business mirrors the country's growth

Updated: 2012-06-22 13:55
By An Baijie ( China Daily)

Reporter's Log An Baijie

When I spoke with Zhang Cunyou about the family's Daokou roast chicken business, I felt as if I were reading a book on China's development over the past several centuries ,because the fate of the family enterprise was so closely tied to that development.

When Zhang Bing created the "Yixingzhang" brand of roast chicken under the Qianlong emperor, during the Qing Dynasty, China's economic and social development had reached a peak, with businesses booming, society fairly stable, and the population increasing.

"The town of Daokou was called 'little Tianjin' at that time," Zhang Cunyou relates, "because it was a port on the Yellow River with thriving businesses, and the 'Yixingzhang' brand grew in popularity as a result of that."

And the family chicken business went along smoothly for generations until, in the 1930s, when the Japanese army invaded.

"My grandfather told me that people could hardly make a living and lots of people starved to death after the Japanese invasion. Few people could afford a roast chicken and the family business slowed down during that period."

The family broke up for the first time in the 1930s.

Then, things got even worse during the 1960s-70s and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) when the family lost control of the roast chicken business and Zhang's father was labeled as a "brutal capitalist" who exploited his workers.

During that tumultuous period, much of the family legacy, such wooden signs with the brand name on them, were destroyed by Red Guards who accused the family of being representatives of feudal society that needed to be destroyed.

"Most of the wooden signs with a several-hundred-year history were used as fuel for cooking fires," Zhang says. "Luckily, one carpenter saved one of them. It's the only remaining sign."

Even the wooden window frames in the family workshop were replaced, and the new ones were not as beautiful as the old wooden ones, Zhang says.

It was until the 1980s when Zhang and his family restarted the private business under the reform and opening-up policies.

Zhang says he never believed that his family could dominate the Daokou roast chicken market ever again after so many frustrating setbacks over several generations.

But, even his idea of establishing a Daokou roast chicken museum got central government support and he expects to get some money from the Ministry of Culture in the near future.

He says that one of his favorite songs is "Country", sung by Jackie Chan, and adds, "Only if there is a powerful country, can there be rich families. The relics reflect my family's connection with Daokou roast chicken."