Wu Shuiping misses the old days, when Beifu — the village of 300 households near Beijing where he grew up — was filled with fat, waddling ducks. Their incessant quacking was the soundtrack to his childhood, and their meat — particularly delicious when made into that symbol of gastronomic decadence, imperial Peking duck — appeared on dinner tables across the capital and beyond. “About half of all households here farmed them,” he says. “It was like a world of ducks.”
But these days, those who savor arguably the most iconic Chinese dish are more likely to gobble up imported breeds than domestic ones. Overseas competition has forced most villagers out of the duck business, and 46-year-old Wu is the only such farmer left in Beifu, located in the county that once supplied most of the region’s ducks.About half of all households here farmed them. It was like a world of ducks.
Wu raises a breed somewhat confusingly called Pekin duck, which was domesticated in Beijing about 600 years ago. In the late 19th century, Pekin ducks were imported into the U.K., where they were also reared for meat. Later, Pekins were interbred with a local variety to produce leaner birds that catered to British tastes. In the 1980s, as China began opening its economy to foreign imports, the U.K. began selling interbred Pekins back to China.