Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Burning issue: China’s incense makers labour ahead of the Lunar New Year




Burning issue: China’s incense makers labour ahead of the Lunar New Year

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A man prays with incense sticks to celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Longhua temple in Shanghai on February 16, 2018. afp

Burning issue: China’s incense makers labour ahead of the Lunar New Year

Dozens of workers toil through the night coating thin lengths of bamboo in herbs, spices and richly coloured powders to create incense sticks that are spread out under the rising sun to dry.

It is an important time of year for the villagers of Yongchun county, a mountainous area of southeastern Fujian province that supplies much of the world’s incense.

Now, the clock is ticking with the approach of the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, when countless Chinese will pray and burn incense at temples and in traditional ceremonies.

The craft of producing incense runs deep in Dapu town, where Hong Zhongsen operates a family business passed down through the generations.

“Making incense is very important for my family. It’s not just a business. It’s also to preserve an ancestral craft and a traditional religious culture,” said Hong, 31, standing amid rows of brightly coloured incense sticks.

The area’s fortunes have long been tied to the nearby ancient city of Quanzhou, a key conduit for foreign trade for centuries.

It is believed that Arab traders brought incense to Yongchun, where the aromatic spices that they imported were combined with local bamboo.

Yongchun county is now home to around 300 manufacturers, according to Chinese media, employing more than 30,000 people.

Locals claim that one in every three incense sticks sold in Southeast Asia is made in Yongchun.

A round-the-clock production process involves up to 18 separate stages during which bamboo sticks are coated in fragrant herbs and spices and then dusted with powders of deep purple, red and yellow.

The messy process also leaves workers looking as if they had been dipped in the colours themselves.

The sticks are then dried in the sun, a nerve-wracking step for workers like Li Xiuzhen, 57, due to the area’s changeable weather.

“I’m at the mercy of good weather,” she said.

Through three generations of tweaking, Hong’s family has arrived at a secret recipe for which it is well known.

Demand is growing in China and in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that have prominent overseas Chinese communities, as well as in Buddhist Thailand.

Shipments to Europe also are rising, Hong said.

His production has increased fourfold in the past 15 years to millions of incense sticks per day, he said, necessitating the introduction of some automation to meet demand.

But he still insists on several steps such as dying and drying the sticks being done by hand using age-old methods to preserve quality.

“Yongchun incense is unique, with a special scent and texture. It’s an exquisite art, and a slight difference in production may change the overall quality,” Hong said.

Hong, a Buddhist, says there is at least one Buddhist temple in every village in Yongchun and Quanzhou.

“Incense used for paying respects to Buddha is still the main type we produce as it’s a legacy of our forefathers. We’re also diversifying our incense varieties to serve multiple purposes like home air freshening or aromatherapy,” Hong said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Tourists urged not to skip trip

    The Ministry of Tourism has called on international tourists not to cancel trips to Cambodia, but urged them to adhere to several dos and don’ts when arriving in the Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry released an eight-point instruction manual on Wednesday published

  • The taxman cometh – Cambodia’s capital gains tax casts the net on individual taxpayers

    In a country where only limited personal income tax existed, the new taxation law beginning January 1, 2021, will make taxpayers out of Cambodians, whether they are ready for it or not About two years ago, a little known amendment was made to Article 7 of the Law

  • Cambodian-American gets Star Trek treatment

    Kevin Ung, a Cambodian-American whose family escaped genocide during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, was recently selected from thousands of applicants to participate in the Television Academy Foundation’s inaugural 2020 Star Trek Command Training Programme, a course intended to give hands-on filmmaking experience

  • Cambodia seeks to be transport hub

    Cambodia is working on several fronts to modernise its transport infrastructure and services, concentrating on opening new international gates to relieve and balance traffic congestion at its borders, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol said on Thursday. This is part of the Kingdom’

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • Deminers unearth ancient lion statue

    Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on Tuesday that a statue of a lion was found by mine clearance experts while they were digging for a development project. It was sent to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts last