The Town of Righteous Ravens

The town of Righteous Ravens was so-named around 1400 years ago, back in the Tang Dynasty. ( 634 AD, for those who like exact numbers in their timelines.) The town has a much longer history though, with recorded history reaching back into neolithic times.

Moving forward into the Qing dynasty, enterprising folk from Righteous Ravens decided a spot of trading would help the local economy, so they began trading bird feathers for sweets around 1600 or so. Not raven feathers, mind you, but… chicken feathers.

Righteous Raven folk swapped chicken feathers for candy for so long, it entered into the language as an axiom

鸡毛换汤   jimao huan tang – chicken feathers change sweets

Adjusting the controls on Spaceship China to move forward to the 1960s, post Cultural Revolution, the local traditions surfaced again. Skipping a few decades and landing in the 21st Century, Righteous Ravens has a busy market economy which is globally famous.

Swapping chicken feathers for candy – Zhejiang trading culture

yi means righteousness


wu is the word for crow or raven.

衣物 , YIwu, has a small commodities market where traders from all over the world come to buy small commodities – like zippers, and smaller commodities like the small metallic rings that are used in making brassieres.    .

Yiwu has broad, wide streets and the scent of hustle and hope. Along with planeloads of foreign traders, from diverse countries such as Iran, USA, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, New Zealand – there are a bevy of local traders also. You’ll see them at the train station, blue-white-red plastic bags overflowing with small goods and tied expertly with red string. Men, women and children cluster around the train station with backpacks and those striped backs full of goods they will on-sell when they get home.

Yiwu has another claim to fame – a horse. Possibly the only horse to ever receive a military medal, Jujube Coloured Horse received his during the World War 2. Wu Little Cow, 吴小牛,Wu Xiao Niu, a soldier in the Second Company, was tasked with going up the hill amidst enemy fire to bring water back for the battalion. Atop the hill, he quickly dropped to the ground to avoid enemy fire, and found his horse had done the same. The Second Company was short on soldiers, but no-one could survive without water.

Little Cow told his horse what to do.

I suppose, these days, they would call him a “horse whisperer” – as the horse braved enemy fire for 42 days and brought water back to the soldiers. Eventually, Jujube Coloured Horse was buried on a peak north of Yiwu, and a marble monument has now been erected there.

Yiwu Train station on not a very busy day

Yiwu is a town on the go. There’s always a steady stream of people coming to make their fortune, and it has a kind of busy energy common to transient towns in China. There’s a few western style restaurants, catering to the traders.

One of these, Danny’s Cafe,happens to have the best humus I have ever tasted. Carefully blended in-house,  perfectly textured and with a hint of lemon, Danny’s hummus has a lovely fluffy consistency that slides along your taste buds and has you craving for more.

So if you are ever passing through Shanghai and have a few hours to spare – its worth the two hour train ride to Yiwu, just to taste the hummus at Danny’s.

I never did find out why Righteous Raven got its name.

Author Peter Hessler has written about the Zhejiang trading towns in a National Geographic article.   You can find it here