Zhongwu Jiang: How does an apple with a mixture of eastern and western genes become a space fruit?
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Zhongwu Jiang: How does an apple with a mixture of eastern and western genes become a space fruit?

Apples are one of the most widely grown and produced fruits in the world. Over the years, apples have brought people great taste satisfaction with their sweet and sour flavours. Zhongwu Jiang, a Chinese fruit tree expert and Vice President of the Shandong Apple and Fruit Industry Technology Research Institute, was recently interviewed exclusively by the China News agency’s "East Meets West" to explain the history of apples.

Zhongwu Jiang was interviewed exclusively by CNA's "East Meets West". Credit: JiaoNi Wang


Did the apple come from the West or the East?

Apples have a long history and are cultivated in temperate regions of the world, but the main varieties vary. While Western apples are widely cultivated, Chinese apples have a long history of cultivation as well. According to current research, the apples now being cultivated originated from the wild apples of Xinjiang, China, and are called "Seville's" apples.

As we have enjoyed the different flavours of the apple, we have also taken it to the wider world. The apple we now eat is a typical "East and West" fruit, with a "mix" of Eastern and Western genes.

Modern apple cultivation in China began with a missionary named Ni Wei, an American missionary who came to Yantai in 1871 with branches of Western apples and found that the natural conditions and geography were very similar to those of his home state of New York. With his experience in fruit tree cultivation, he built an orchard at the southern foot of Yantai and grew fruit that was very different from local apples. When nearby farmers discovered this, they grafted the branches onto the local "sand fruit" begonia trees, opening up a new era in China's apple industry.

Visitors visit the Yantai "Qixia apple" booth at the 20th International Fruit and Vegetable and Food Fair. Credit: Ke Tang


In the 1930s, Japan crossed the "Fuji" apple using Western varieties. Later, through the introduction of "Fuji" and continuous selection and development, more than 30 varieties were selected for their short branches, excellent colouring and quality, forming the current apple cultivation system.

As a hybrid the 'Fuji' has many advantages, being relatively large, crisp and refreshing, planted with the advantages of not dropping or cracking, and also resistant to storage. It is gradually developing into the dominant variety. For farmers, which apples are easy to grow and have high yields, good storage resistance and good benefits, will be preferred for planting. At this stage, different regions have their own special varieties, but as yet, Fuji apples have not been surpassed in terms of quality, planting benefits and consumer popularity.

Shandong Qixia Apple Art Festival. Credit: Mengxue Ren


Why have apples captured the world fruit market and become the most widely grown and produced fruit in the world?

Firstly, the nutritional value is high. Apples are a neutral fruit with a balanced content of pectin, mineral elements etc., which is good for the health. Secondly, apples are easier to cultivate, manage and store. In northern China, apples are a good source of vitamins during the long winter months, making them one of the most popular fruits. Thirdly, apples are "inclusive". They are suitable for all ages and are accepted by all ethnic groups around the world. In addition, experts have found that apples have a unique composition that makes people happy and can provide a "good mood", as the Western proverb goes: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away".

Apples have a unique place in the food cultures of countries around the world and are an integral part of life in many regions. There are countless "apple lovers" around the world who use apples in a variety of dishes. In some countries, for example, apples are processed into flour and used to make bread and ice cream. In recent years, apple sauce has become a popular product around the world, with people in many countries using it as a filling for their specialities.

The apple has also long been a cultural or 'symbol'. It is easy to see design elements using apples as a motif in many areas. The apple looks stable and has a peaceful meaning in China and is also used as a symbol of 'health' and 'wisdom' in many countries around the world.

Apples have a symbolic meaning of peace in China. Credit: Liangyi Yu


What is the "Chinese flavour" of apples? And how did it go global?

Picking apples. Credit: Yantai Municipal Party Committee Communication Department


At present, Yantai apples are grown on a total area of 2.8 million arcs, with an annual output of 5.7 million tonnes. At a time when the apple market is blossoming, Yantai apples have been the number one brand in China's fruit industry for 13 consecutive years, with a brand value of over RMB 15 billion.

What’s more, this flavour continues to be exported. China is one of the world's leading exporters of apples, with Yantai's apples and processed products playing an important role. The Qixia wholesale apple market in Yantai is the largest apple trading centre in Asia, and apples from here are sold to most countries around the world through re-export trade and other means.

Exhibitors promote apple products at the Shandong International Apple Festival. Credit: Wentan Sun

The United States is one of the most stringent countries in the world in terms of import measures, and in 2015, Chinese apples were exported to the United States for the first time. The China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement, which will come into force in 2021, will make Yantai apples one of the first Chinese and European geographical indication products.

Shandong Yantai inspection and export/import personnel inspecting pests on Yantai apples for subsequent export to the US. Credit: Ke Tang


During astronaut Yaping Wang's "space mission", Yantai apples made several appearances, attracting global attention and making them the "fruit of space". How do you think we can tell the story of Chinese apples to the world?

Because of its nutritional benefits and ease of storage, apples stand out from other fruits as a "space fruit". Yaping Wang is a native of Yantai, and eating apples from her hometown on the space station is a great encouragement to those working in the apple industry, especially young people.

Astronaut Yaping Wang performs a juggling act with an apple in space. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Not only did they make it to space, but in recent years, Yantai apples have had many high profile moments, appearing at major events and conferences such as the Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai World Expo, the G20 Summit and the SCO Summit in Qingdao, representing the best quality of Chinese apples and presenting them to the world.

To give higher value to China's apples and apple industry, we should do a good job of brand building and telling the story of apples. China's apple industry has undergone a dramatic development, with hard-working workers and famous varieties shining like stars. The legendary figures in the history of apple cultivation, the collision between apples and world cuisine, the craftsmanship behind the apple industry and the growth of the agronomist can be explored in depth. The "movement" of apples around the world has also facilitated cultural exchange.



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