Chu Shijian: from Tobacco King to Orange King, at 85

Chu Shijian: from Tobacco King to Orange King, at 85

Staff Reporter



Chu Shijian. (Internet photo)

Chu Shijian, China’s 85-year-old “Tobacco King” and former owner of the Yunnan Hongta Group, decided in 2011 to ease his way into retirement by starting a fruit company. Chu Oranges has since become an in-demand option for Chinese buyers worried about food security and taste, according to the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.The founder of PC giant Lenovo Group, Liu Chuanzhi, is also no stranger to the back-to-the-land story, having himself set up Liu Peaches earlier this year.

Their careers are all inspirational stories, said Dalian Chong Investment Management Limited investment director Yue Yang. “Consumers buy their fruit, and taste their spirit.”

For consumer products such as cars, garments and handsets, there are quite a few well-known tycoons to admire as role models, but fruit industry heroes are only just beginning to rise. Renowned entrepreneurs such as Chu and Liu have turned to agriculture and with their shift has come a swift upgrade in quality and product price.

According to statistics from, a five-kilogram package of Chu Oranges is priced at 128 yuan (US$21), while a 3-kg package of Liu Peaches is sold at 168 yuan (US$28), about 100%-200% more expensive than similar produce. Even so, demand still far exceeds supply.

During the Single’s Day shopping spree on Nov. 11, Chu Orange sales reached 200 tons, surpassing sales for the whole of 2012. CEO Yu Huafeng said his firm is expecting to sell 2,000 tons of Chu’s oranges this year, but if the company can its hands on more, it would have no problem selling 8,000 tons.

In 2006, Chu’s orange garden had a total production of 1,000 tons of oranges, and in 2011 reached 8,600 tons. This year, total production of Chu Orange is expected to reach 10,000 tons.

The market for quality food and fruit has followed rising living standards in China, and that should be the direction of the nation’s fruit industry, Yu said.

According to Yue, China’s fruit farms had a production scale of over 500 billion yuan (US$82 billion), with an average growth rate of higher than 13.6% over the past 10 years, and the expected growth rate to be around 8%-10% in the next few years.

In 2013, Chu’s garden is expected to produce 10,000 tons of oranges with a total production value of 80 million yuan (US$13 million) and achieve profits of more than 40 million yuan (US$6.6 million), according to Chu’s inheritor Li Yaxin.

In 1998, Chu was sentenced to life in prison for corruption at the Hongta Group, where he presided for 17 years. Chu, who turned Hongta (Red Pagoda) into the most popular cigarette brand in China, was approved for medical parole in 2002 and began to produce oranges at the age of 75.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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