From ‘Tobacco King’ to ‘Orange King’, China’s oldest entrepreneur dies at 91

BY SILVI WRITER

Chu Shijian(褚时健), China’s oldest entrepreneur, passed away in his hometown of Yuxi, in Southwest China’s mountainous Yunnan province, on Tuesday, aged 91.

His perseverance and endurance through difficult times have inspired many people in China.

Born on Jan 23, 2018, Chu was known as China’s “tobacco king” and the founder of Chu Orange.

He became director of the near-bankrupt Yuxi Tobacco Co at the age of 51. Under Chu, the company became China’s most profitable State-owned tobacco company during the 1980s and 1990s and operated as the Hongta Tobacco Group.

However, Chu was arrested on charges of corruption in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later commuted to 17 years.

Released on medical parole in 2002 at the age of 74, Chu has been cultivating oranges in a rugged region of Yunnan with his wife, Ma Jinfen, and has since grown into a flourishing business employing hundreds of farmers and covering more than 5,000 hectares.

In 2006, Chu’s orange garden had a total production of 1,000 tons of oranges, and in 2011 reached 8,600 tons. This year, total production of Chu Orange is expected to reach 10,000 tons.

In 2012, Chu decided to sell his oranges online, on benlai.com.

The fruits were always in short supply, though they are sold for at least 25 yuan a kg, compared with an average 5 yuan per kilo for ordinary oranges.

This campaign could be the most successful online marketing campaign then with its 200 tons of orange were sold in the first month.

A unique orange brand has become one of the most coveted fruits in China this winter, though it is sold for five times the average market price — and is invariably out of stock, China Daily has reported.

Chu Oranges has since become an in-demand option for Chinese buyers worried about food security and taste, according to the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.

“It’s not just because the fruits are exceptionally sweet and juicy,” said Shi Jin, an office worker in Shijiazhuang, capital of north China’s Hebei province. “The brand has a big story behind it.”

“These are not ordinary oranges. Each fruit carries Chu’s story of perseverance,” said Shi. “So the fruits are not just delicious, but inspiring, too.”

Rest in Peace, Mr Chu.

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