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A woman of substance shares the recipe of her success

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

09:35, August 07, 2012

Tang Ruiren recalls former chairman Mao Zedong's visit to her family in 1959 before a picture of the meeting.

Tang Ruiren, 83, thought she would remain an ordinary farmer forever.

But a leap of faith some 30 years ago, changed her life. With only 1.70 yuan (27 cents), she started a small stall selling porridge to tourists who started pouring into Shaoshan village, in Hunan province, to visit former chairman Mao Zedong's home.

"I earned more than 3 yuan on the first day," says Tang, who used to live opposite Mao's former residence. "That's four times what an ordinary farmer earns a day."

Today, Tang owns more than 300 restaurants throughout China and abroad, with her signature dish - pork braised in brown sauce - which is also Mao's favorite food.

Born in a poor family, she and her brother begged for a living until she got married at 14 and became a farmer. Her husband was always away from home, serving in the army. Tang says she had to support the family on her own, which made her courageous.

When she first started her porridge stall, she got flak from her neighbors. They opined that Chairman Mao's fellow villagers should not become entrepreneurs, which is considered capitalistic.

"I regained my confidence with the encouragement of some guests who said that it's nothing shameful to earn money with one's own hands," shares Tang, who is now bedridden because of fractured bones on her body and legs.

Three years after she started her business, Tang's family saved more than 10,000 yuan - a considerable amount then. From a small porridge stall, Tang expanded her venture into a home restaurant, taking advantage of the location of her home.

She hung a huge picture of her with Mao in the middle of her restaurant, which attracted many curious diners including foreigners and celebrities. Through the years, Tang has even picked up some simple phrases in different languages to explain the significance of the photograph and her dishes to her patrons.

All her restaurants now have portraits and bronze statues of Mao. One particular photo always draws attention - a photo of Mao with her and her son.

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