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Traditional sugar-making proves to be lucrative business in China's Hainan

Updated: 2022-02-26 14:30 ( Xinhua )
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For the Spring Festival holiday, Wu Shaoyu managed to sell 230,000 yuan (36,400 U.S. dollars) of hand-made sugar online.

"It just shows that with proper sales channels, traditional craftsmanship will prove its value," said Wu, an inheritor of Hainan traditional sugar-making, a craft that has received provincial-level recognition in south China's Hainan Province.

She is also an online influencer, with followers of about 23,000, and her account has drawn nearly 106,000 likes on Douyin, a popular short-video app in China.

As a Hainan local, she keenly promotes the traditional hand-made sugar, hoping the craftsmanship will garner more public attention.


Wu grew up in Xuelan, a small village in the province's Danzhou City, where most villagers made a living by growing sugarcanes.

"Every family knew how to make sugar by hand," Wu said, as she recalled how locals made sugar sitting under a thatched shack with a big bowl.

"People would make square-shaped black sugar from the sugarcanes they grew and leave some sugar at home for the children as snacks," she said. "The rest of the sugar would be sold at the local rural market to boost family income. Those were memorable, sweet days."

But the traditional sugar-making technique gradually lost popularity as the modern sugar-making industry burgeoned.

"Traditional sugar-making just faded out in my village, the number of villagers who had mastered the skills gradually declined," she said. "More importantly, individual villagers that grew and sold sugarcanes for a living slowly slipped into poverty."

Wu used to work in the metropolis of Shanghai. Whenever she returned home, her father would complain about the situation.

"I am getting old, the big bowl at home is decaying, and the traditional sugar-making techniques are dying," her father would often tell her. "I will probably never be able to eat the homemade sugar again. I'm sad."

These words struck a chord with Wu, and she decided to help pass on the old techniques.

"If we lose our tradition, we lose our ground," she said.


In 2013, Wu gave up her career in Shanghai and returned to Xuelan Village to renew the prime of the sweet business. She built a traditional sugar-making base with her father to help protect and pass on the craft.

"We had an old house, a cow to pull the millstone and big bowls to stew the sugar," she said. "The entire process is quite complicated, including 18 procedures."

Wu realized that expanding new sales channels was essential for making traditional sugar better known among the public. So she chose to explore an emerging industry: short videos.

According to a report released by Shenzhen-based research firm AskCI Consulting, China had about 880 million online short-video users as of June 2021, and the number is expected to grow. Another report published by CSM Media Research said that nearly 42.8 percent of short-video users have started uploading their own video clips.

Wu started uploading videos on the internet in April 2020. Within less than two years, she uploaded about 50 videos presenting the beauty of her native village as well as local snacks, and each video was carefully produced.

In her videos, she records how she chops wood, grows and picks vegetables, and makes delicacies. She does not sell sugar directly in the videos, but the down-to-earth, serene and simple rural lifestyle has evoked a sense of nostalgia among many urbanites that place orders for the sugar in her store.

"For many people, it's not about the sugar, but rather about a nostalgic feeling," she said.

As Wu's business is thriving, she is also leading over 370 local households who are working with her towards prosperity.

"This is a dream come true," she said. "I am glad that the traditional sugar-making craft is gradually shining in the spotlight."

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