2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Refrigeration, Shipping and Collection Networks: The Rise of the Egg-Processing Industry in China, 1890-1930

Ning Jennifer Chang

Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

When examining the introduction of new technology, including steamers, railway and refrigeration, to China, historians tend to focus on the prospects for industrialization and modernization and thus pay little attention to the commodities produced by the innovation, not to mention their impact on people’s lives. By focusing on the rise of the egg-processing industry in China in the first half of the twentieth century and the subsequent consumption of Chinese egg products in Western Europe, this article intends to fill this gap. It will show that refrigeration, dehydration and shipping combined produced an egg industry in China on a scale not previously seen. This, plus Europe’s strong demand for food during the European War and the integrated operation of the industry, created a situation in which Chinese egg products succeeded in grasping a lion’s share of European and American markets after the war.

While analyzing the economic activities of China’s egg industry, this article points out that not only did the egg trade make a great contribution to China’s export, but that it also had noticeable impact on both the Chinese and British diets. In central China, the production of hen eggs increased so greatly that hen eggs took the place of duck eggs in the domestic market and became the leading egg article in circulation. In Britain, inexpensive Chinese egg products helped chain restaurants, such as Lyon’s tea shops, establish a foot-hold in the early twentieth century. After the European war, the eggs further contributed to the rise of the bakery and catering industries. It is estimated that during the inter-war period, 90 percent of the egg white and yolk contained in Britain’s bread, cakes, biscuits, sandwiches and ice cream came from China. Thus, egg products as a new commodity not only provided more food for Britain but created more variety in the diets of the city dwellers in both Britain and China.


Keywords: refrigeration, shipping, collection networks, egg industry, trade and food