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Hammer and Tongs: China Entrepreneur Leads Handmade Wok Revival

Owner Tian Huan (R) chats with a blacksmith at his workshop for handmade woks in Datian village, Hubei province, China August 13, 2018.

A Chinese entrepreneur is reviving old ways of wok-making and hopes to tap into growing demand for niche, handmade goods from China's young, affluent consumers.

Tian Huan, 27, started his business selling handmade iron versions of the famous round-bottom cooking pan three years ago in Datian, near his home village in central Hubei province. Tian was inspired during a visit to a Japanese artware shop in Beijing, where he saw gift items made from traditional ironwork that were popular with young Chinese consumers.

"It hit me that I could start a business to bring the traditional craft of wok-forging in my home town to life," said Tian, who decided to return home after majoring in design at a Beijing university.

He now owns six shops and employs 12 blacksmiths in Datian, a village of 3,000 people about 1,267 kms (787 miles) from the capital Beijing.

The handmade woks are made from iron plate forged at a heat of up to 1,600 degrees centigrade. The metal is then hammered into shape by a blacksmith and polished.

"You wake up in the morning hearing ding-dong sounds from everywhere in the village," Tang Yunguo, a 58-year-old blacksmith, said of the daily hammering sounds in Datian. The price of a handmade wok ranges from 600 yuan ($87.94) to 1,000 yuan, depending on the size. It is nearly triple the cost of a mass-produced, machine-made wok.

Tian said he sells 300 to 400 woks per month on the mobile platform WeChat.

He and other handicraft vendors are trying to tap into the craze for handmade goods among young adults in the world’s second-largest economy.

Buoyed by their rising spending power, Chinese consumers in their 20s and 30s are willing to spend more to buy what they consider to be unique or higher-quality products.

"More and more people are having a spiritual pursuit of sentiment and buying things that carry temperature and emotion,” Tian said.