Pan company halts orders after documentary prompts sales surge

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/2/26 17:23:39

Chinese blacksmith Feng Quanyong hammers a pan to produce a nonstick surface at his studio in Zhangqiu, Ji'nan city, east China's Shandong Province in January. Photos: IC

Chinese blacksmith Feng Quanyong hammers a pan to produce a nonstick surface at his studio in Zhangqiu, Ji'nan city, east China's Shandong Province in January. Photos: IC



A hit documentary has made high-quality iron pans a must-have item in Chinese kitchens, sparking fears that the boom could damage the industry. 

The rush to buy these pans followed the Monday evening premiere of the third season of Chinese food documentary A Bite of China, produced by China Central Television.

The documentary depicts Chinese food culture, particularly the relationship between people and food.    

With eight episodes each lasting 50 minutes, this season focuses on areas such as kitchenware, snacks, banquets, chefs and desserts.  

The first episode focused on a particular hand-made iron pan produced in Zhangqiu District in east China's Shandong Province.

According to the documentary, a Zhangqiu Iron Pan needs to go through 12 procedures, be subjected to temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius and be beaten 36,000 times until it becomes "as clear as a mirror."   

Sold out

The episode caused sales of Zhangqiu Iron Pans to skyrocket overnight, with their sales on the Taobao e-commerce website increasing almost 6,000 times.    

According to Alibaba, which runs Taobao, the iron pans are most popular in Shandong, followed by Jiangsu, Beijing and Guangdong. Liu Zimu, who runs the pan factory, said that one hour after the episode was aired, he sold all 2,000 pans in his store. 

"We have about 50 craftsmen making the pans, and we are able to produce just over 100 pans every day," Liu said. "So far, we have received orders that will take two years to deliver. The history of the iron pans goes back 1,000 years, and hand-made ones are better at conducting heat than those produced by machines."    

"After being beaten tens of thousands of times, the hand-made pans are not sticky," Liu said. "They are better for cooking."    

According to Liu, prices of the pans range from 300 yuan ($47) to over 1,000 yuan. A pan made by an experienced craftsman in Liu's factory can fetch 1,299 yuan.    

While the popularity of the pans has brought big bucks, Liu worries about the development of the industry.    

"I am really happy that the craftsmanship is getting more attention and the pan makers are getting more respect," Liu said. "But making such pans is very complicated, and our capacity is quite limited, so it is inevitable that there will be fake ones on the market."    

Liu said that even some iron pans made in Japan had been branded as Zhangqiu Iron Pans, not to mention a number of poorly-made copies. "The market is getting a little irrational," Liu said.

After orders overwhelmed factory capacity, Liu closed his online store. "Making these pans is an art, and I don't want money to taint the art," Liu said.    

Chinese blacksmith Feng Quanyong hammers a pan to produce a nonstick surface at his studio in Zhangqiu, Ji'nan city, east China's Shandong Province in January. Photos: IC

Passing it on

Liu said that making the pans is no easy matter. A craftsman needs to use a hammer weighing at least 7.5 kg to beat the pans tens of thousands of times, a "very tough job."    

Zhangqiu pan-making culture once faced difficulties in being passed on to coming generations, as the industry was threatened by mass production, Liu said. As a result, many craftsmen found other jobs in order to survive.    

The situation did not get better until recently, when the public began to appreciate the quality of the iron pans. To help pass on pan-making culture, Liu and his peers have recruited many apprentices.    

In Liu's factory, apprentices are paid to attend training sessions, and senior craftsmen enjoy high subsidies to "let them live better lives."

Even before the fervor caused by the documentary, Liu's pans were already finding their way into other countries. Last year, his pans were purchased by customers in more than 20 countries and regions, including the US, Russia and Australia.    

"The pans are particularly popular among overseas Chinese," Liu said. In late 2017, a British man bought more than 100 pans. The pans were later sold out when the man returned to Britain, according to Liu. "I hope that after the documentary fervor, the public can view the art more rationally," Liu said.    

"The public need to allow craftsmen to focus on making good-quality, genuine pans rather than churning out large numbers of pans just for the sake of money," he said. "We are not just making pans; we are passing on a traditional art."

Xinhua
Newspaper headline: Flying off the handle


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