Across China: Girl power takes root in poverty-striken hometown
CHANGCHUN, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- To outsiders, Taonan looks like an ordinary county-level city with few opportunities, but local college graduates, especially girls, view it as a place of role models.
Since 2014, the poverty-stricken city in northeast China's Jilin Province has seen 37 women with college degrees returning from big cities to start careers or build businesses. But it all began with one woman, Wang He.
Wang, 36, was a teacher and teaching agency owner in Tianjin. In 2014, Wang had the idea to start a cooperative in her hometown Taonan, selling mung beans online.
Taonan is a major mung bean distribution center in China. Most of the beans there wholesale at around 50 yuan (around 7.3 U.S. dollars) per tonne. In the beginning, Wang also pursued the approach but after three months, few beans had been sold.
Later, along with five female colleagues, Wang decided to grow organic mung beans and sell select products to high-end markets. They also created a brand called "Tao Bao," meaning treasure of Taonan.
Wang and her team traveled to cities such as Beijing and Shanghai to promote their products in supermarkets. Business took off in the second year after several high-end supermarkets decided to sell their products.
A bag of beans weighing 400 grams now sells at 30 yuan, and Wang has signed contracts with more than 50 farmers in her hometown to grow organic products. That has brought in over 3 million yuan for the farmers.
"Our income has doubled by cooperating with Wang," said Chen Feng, a local farmer.
To encourage business, the local government leased an old 20,000 square meter factory to them as a working venue, at no cost to Wang.
As Wang's fame grew in Taonan, more local female college graduates joined the venture.
"Cramming in the subway and sitting all day in a cubicle is not the life I wanted," said Jiao Qi, 30, who had a white-collar job in Shanghai.
Jiao left Shanghai in 2014 to become Wang's assistant. "Selling beans may sound unimportant, but I can find my inner freedom here building my own career," she said.
Casting aside her well-ironed white blouses, Jiao often wears loose-fitting floral dresses to attend various local events.
Young graduates like Jiao can now start their own business in the factory thanks to Wang's support.
Zhang Zhongyue, a fresh graduate from China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, returned to Taonan to attend to her sick father. She works in Tao Bao but also started her own trademark agency in the factory.
"If I went to a law firm in Beijing, I would probably be an assistant for the first few years," Zhang said. "Here I am able to run my own business right after graduation."
Tao Bao offers registration capital, working venue and social connections for startups like Zhang's agency in the factory.
"Girl team is one of our brand characters. We want to prove that female self-starters can overcome challenges and build a career," Wang said.