Bottling Xi'an
China Daily     Updated: 2021-03-11

Local entrepreneur smells success as she endeavors to create an aroma for the ancient city, Xu Haoyu reports.

Xi'an, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, is a city with a proud heritage and has served as the capital of 13 dynasties. The capital of Shaanxi province is best known, today, as the home of the terracotta warriors. But how would you encapsulate or imagine the fragrance of a city with such a heritage?

When it comes to things cosmetic the French have, how would you say, a certain je ne sais quoi.

For Guerlain, the fragrance brand from France, the city is as elegant as bamboo, as fresh as jasmine, and as dignified as sandalwood. Which means that it is no surprise that the company has recently launched a perfume named, well, Xi'an. In its longer than 190-year history, Guerlain has dedicated perfume to royal families and celebrities. But this is the first time it has created a perfume for a city.

The Xi'an municipal government and Guerlain agreed to develop a perfume for the city at the 3rd France-China Cultural Forum held in 2018.

Zhang Chengcheng, a Xi'an born 36-year-old entrepreneur, acted as the tour guide for Thierry Wasser, Guerlain's fifth-generation chief perfumer, helping him to better understand the city. Zhang was selected as one of the 50 personages during the 50-year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France in 2014.

Accompanied by Zhang, Wasser visited famous sites and historical monuments, tasted local food, and listened to raindrops falling and dripping off the city wall. He mobilized all his senses for inspiration, and finally he chose the scents of three plants to express his vision of Xi'an.

After 18 months, Wasser completed the creation in November.

"The perfume is not only a product or a cultural symbol, but it must also be associated with the people of the land where it's created," he said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.

During Wasser's stay in Xi'an, Zhang also took him to Hujiazhuang village at the foot of the Qinling Mountains, which is 40 kilometers away from the city's urban area, to witness rural life there, and told him about the village's fight against poverty.

Hujiazhuang village was once very poor. Although villagers grew wheat, corn, and some worked in big cities, their average annual net income was only 1,680 yuan ($258).

In 2010, responding to the government's call, Ronghua Holdings, the company founded by Zhang's mother in 1994, established cooperatives to help develop the local grape industry, and gradually constructed pastoral complexes that include vineyards, wineries, landscape parks, accommodation and digital health centers.

In the past decade, the village has undergone huge changes, and villagers' average annual per capita income has increased to 31,800 yuan.

In 2019, Ronghua Holdings developed a planting base of more than 13.3 hectares in Hujiazhuang village. Based on Guerlain's technology, seeds were sown for Damascus rose, Iris pallida, bitter orange, lavender, jasmine and other fragrant plants.

The agricultural development model, which involves international branding, planting, rural revitalization and social welfare, further improved the life quality of villagers.

"The flower sea of Hujiazhuang village nurtures hope and a new rising industry," says Zhang.

"The 'Xi'an' scent is like a seed. People all over the world will get to know Xi'an through this scented business card," Zhang says. "Hopefully more foreigners will visit Xi'an and be impressed by this city that makes me proud, and there is a bright tomorrow ahead for the residents."

Zhang's participation and contribution in this collaborative project is supported by her mixed background. She spent around 10 years, almost her whole adolescence, studying in France.

In 1999, when Zhang was 14, she had average grades. Her mother, Cui Ronghua, went on several business trips to Europe, realized the importance to master another language and decided to send her daughter away.

France was chosen as the destination, on the advice and help of one of her mother's friends, who was working at Xi'an Foreign Affairs Office and helped the girl find a reliable host family in France.

Zhang recalls that when she was applying for visa in the embassy, the French staff couldn't help but worry about the little girl who was about to travel to a strange country alone, and told her in Chinese that she could return home anytime.

"'Don't worry, let me have a go,' that's what I said, with my poor French which I just studied for two months," she says.

Zhang considers herself as a 200 percent optimistic person, and her "homestay parents", Veronique Bernard and Gabriel Bernard, identified her strength and took it to a new height.

She recalls that when she first arrived in Metz, a city in northeast France, she burst into tears when she saw the graveyard outside her room window.

"You are lucky that you don't have to deal with a neighbor who plays rock music at 3 am," Zhang says as she remembers how Veronique Bernard tried to comfort her.

During her stay of more than four years, Zhang benefited from the family's love and care.

For instance, every evening, the family would exchange their daily experiences during dinner; and when she was having trouble understanding Victor Hugo's poetry, Gabriel Bernard invited her to sit by his side under an apple tree in a rainy afternoon, reading the piece repeatedly and trying to feel the sorrow of a father who lost his daughter.

"There should be ordinary communication in ordinary life, and this kind of ordinary communication is particularly powerful," Zhang says.

Later, Zhang entered the Institute of Research and Commercial Action in Paris and got both an undergraduate and a master's degree on marketing and business management.

In 2008, Zhang, 23, returned to her home city of Xi'an and worked at the provincial bureau of commerce.

Meanwhile, she participated in many events organized by Yishu 8, a nonprofit organization engaged in arts and cultural exchanges between China and France. Christine Cayol, founder of Yishu 8, was impressed by Zhang's passion for the arts. She invited Zhang to attend the first France-China Cultural Forum in 2016. In 2018, Zhang tried to bring the annual event to her hometown of Xi'an where she got to know Wasser.

"Zhang spent her youth in France where she developed her character and vision, but she was born in Xi'an where her roots are, and the local culture is in her blood. It's her destiny to create the dialogue between two cultures," says Cayol.

In 2011, Zhang established Ronghua Charity Foundation, focusing on helping vulnerable groups. In January last year, Zhang spent 2.2 million yuan on providing materials to elders in Shaanxi, and donated 12.5 metric tons of fruit to Wuhan, the Chinese city hardest hit by the pandemic.

So far, the foundation has donated 220 million yuan, and invested 315 million yuan in public services.


A rose-cultivation base in Xi'an where Ronghua Holdings and the municipal government have agreed to develop a distinct perfume for the city. CHINA DAILY


Xi'an entrepreneur Zhang Chengcheng at Guerlain cultural salon in Beijing. CHINA DAILY


(From left) Christine Cayol, the founder of art center Yishu 8, Helen Zhou, the director of Guerlain in China and Zhang, the director of Xi'an Wall Protection Foundation, attend the launch of the perfume named after Xi'an in November. CHINA DAILY


The agricultural team of Ronghua Holdings plants roses at the Xi'an base in Hujiazhuang village. CHINA DAILY