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Yanghuo and Yangding

To speak of yanghuo and yangding is to relate the history of early modern China when the Chinese first opened up to, and were soon to marvel at, the industrialized world.

The industrialized Western powers brought to the Chinese various products of modern industry that they were to find convenient, of better quality, or advanced, and were to embrace with open arms. Most of these imported industry products contain the Chinese character 洋 (yang, meaning overseas or Western-produced).

The following table lists a few examples of such items:
Pingyin Romanization    Chinese       Meaning   
Yanghuo 洋火 matches
Yangding 洋钉 nails
Yangche 洋车 Carts
Yangbu 洋布 Cloth
Yangyou 洋油 Gasoline
Yangjian 洋碱 Soap
Yanghui 洋灰 Cement
…… …… ……

Though with a glorious ancient civilization, China used to have a fairly poor industrial foundation. Industry products appealed to the Chinese public for their utility, endurability, and price competitiveness. It became fashionable for a Chinese household to use yanghuo to lit fires, have clothes made using yangbu, and wash hands with yangjian. The Chinese themselves were to make every effort toward industrialization. And success was achieved in some areas, indeed. For example, in 1930, Hongsheng Match Corporation under Chinese entrepreneur Liu Hongsheng claimed a share of 22% in the entire Chinese market. Liu Hongsheng was crowned “Match King” of China. And Qixin Cement Company founded in 1906 under Zhou Xuexi managed to maintain a monopoly in the domestic cement market over the entire period of the Republic of China (1912~1949). However, the generally backward state of Chinese heavy industry restricted the growth of industrialization. And it was not until the Maoist era that China gradually built up a comprehensive system of modern industry.

Nowadays, China has become the world’s largest manufacturing base, and is able to produce all kinds of industry products on its own. The Chinese public, especially those in rural areas, have got used to such terms prefixed with “yang”, and it is hard to predict when such usages will be abandoned.


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