Derek Newberry

Rising Ventures: MinYiYuan Connects Folk Art With National Markets

Scot Fang interviews the founder of MinYiYuan, a company that is bringing prosperity to a rural region of China by connecting local handicraft traditions with a broader market for folk arts.

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China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse is not exactly news, but millions of Chinese in the countryside still face the challenge of rural poverty. Much of China’s rural population is migrating to the cities in order to earn better income as low-skilled laborers, but many (especially women and children) are often left behind in the countryside with little means to earn sustainable income. Against this backdrop, Cai Tingfen saw an opportunity for sustainable growth and poverty alleviation in the handicraft skills of the minority-ethnic population of Liupanshui City (Guizhou Province). In December of 2005, Cai founded Minyiyuan Ltd as a handicraft enterprise that would integrate minority communities in low-income regions into the economy while preserving their folk culture.

Minyiyuan’s de-centralized ?company + base + peasant households? production strategy sets them apart from other handicraft companies. First, the company purchases raw and supplementary materials from nearby villages as per product design requirements established by the base. Next, local laborers conduct non-workshop production from their own homes by manually crafting their art in the traditional folk way. Finally, the finished goods are purchased back from these producers by the company. This environmentally-friendly strategy induces locals to generate raw materials by planting economic crops for handicraft-making such as cotton, hemp, and Chinese herbs, discouraging forms of income that involve excessive deforestation. In addition, non-workshop production does not rely heavily on energy sources such as water or electricity, and creates goods that integrate traditional folk techniques with market-driven production models.

In 2006, Minyiyuan’s Folk Art Center reached a productive capacity of 60,000 batik (wax-printing) works per year, 8,000 embroideries per year, and 20,000 sets of ethnic handicrafts per year; realizing a sales income of 1.13 million yuan. The primary sales and exhibition locations for these works are in two regions around Liupanshui of Guizhou province and Zhongshan of Guangdong province. The Folk Art Center is currently focusing on marketing strategies and research and development of new products with its team of cultural, finance, and marketing experts. The company is currently seeking an 8 million yuan investment to construct a research and development base that would transform the company into a conglomerate–integrating product design, manufacturing, packaging and sales. Cai’s plans for her company include further expansion into the tourism sector through an increased emphasis on gift and souvenir sales, as well as engagement with a wider diversity of folk cultures to bring their unique products to market.

For more information on MinYiYuan, see the extended company profile