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Annie Wu and China's First Joint Venture
    2008-11-07 07:49:27     CRIENGLISH.com

Thank you for staying with Life in China! Up next, we will feast our eyes on the first joint venture in China, the Beijing Air Catering Company. Thirty years ago, and for the first time in history, the company presented hot and diversified in-flight food to Chinese passengers. Our reporter Du Lijun has the story.

REPORTER:

Take a flight these days and you find Chinese airlines offering a wide array of in-flight food. Western dishes battle eastern equivalents for table space, and the choice is mouth-watering. It's hard to believe that 30 years ago, standard dinners of Chinese airlines comprised of little more than biscuits, a boiled egg and some cold luncheon meat.

The story started with the birth of the Beijing Air Catering Company three decades ago. Annie Wu from Hong Kong was its founder. She recalls her first trip to the Chinese mainland in 1978.

"That was a very unique trip. I had to bring my own roll of tissue paper and soap bar. It was very interesting because I knew there were lots of opportunities in China. The country was just opening up thanks to the late Mr. Deng Xiaoping. I was in Sichuan, in Chongqing. It was an inside experience for someone from Hong Kong, who is also Chinese. Maybe I could try to learn some mandarin and go to different places to work with the local counterparts. Maybe we could achieve something for the country. So actually, I enjoyed that trip a lot as it gave me an opportunity. Ive never imagined that I could be in Sichuan. "

When Annie Wu was traveling on a train during that trip, she heard a message from the radio which led to her decision to invest in the mainland.

"That was when I was in the train from Wuhan to Guangzhou, on the way back to Hong Kong. I could not hear properly, because I couldn't understand Mandarin. So the person who took us on the trip translated for me. Mr. Deng Xiaopin was announcing that the country will have an Open Door Policy. He said that China welcomes investment from overseas, even from Hong Kong and Macao. I thought this was the chance to do something."

Annie Wu comes from a family with a legacy in catering. Her father and uncle established Hong Kong's largest food and beverage corporation, the Maxim's.

In 1980, flights were getting ready to take to the skies between the Chinese Mainland and the United States. Since China had no professional air catering, Annie Wu decided to use her family's knowledge to take the chance. However, Annie Wu's uncle and co-founder of the Maxim's company, opposed the idea. He said they had no experience of doing business in China and that laws to protect investors' interests in China were still lacking.

But Annie Wu wasn't put off.

"From the tone of Mr. Deng Xiaoping's announcement, I could feel the Central Government's determination to build a more open society. I am a part of the Chinese race, and I wanted to do my bit for the country."

Before 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, investments from Hong Kong were considered joint ventures in the Chinese mainland. But these partnerships were only theory at the time. On one side of the negotiation table was Annie Wu, representing the Maxim's company, and on the other was Xu Bailing, vice minister of the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Xu Bailing talks about his impression of Annie Wu.

"Some business people just sit down and talk about their profits, but that's not the case for the Wu family. Besides business, they seemed to genuinely care about the development of China and Chinese Aviation."

Maxim's Catering finally obtained the rights to food production for Air China in May 1980, with license serial number '001'.

Xu Bailing tells us more.

"When the first bread came fresh from the oven, I took them to Deng Xiaoping's office. He really liked it. Since then, bread produced in our kitchen was popular. Big hotels reserved our breads to serve their VIPs or foreign guests."

Besides good bread, Annie Wu and her Hong Kong co-workers have also brought a modern management system to Beijing. The company had strict food safety rules such as washing hands with soap, and wearing clean uniforms and hats. Soap was in short supply in China in the 80s, so Wu shipped boxes in from Hong Kong. She even allowed her employees to take them home on condition they followed strict sanitary rules at work.

Over the years, the Beijing Air Catering Company's record for food safety is spotless. Each day, over 100 air meals consumed in-flight originate from the company.

 
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