Donkey hides are boiled to extract the gelatin/collagen and the resulting product is used for a multitude of different treatments - from cosmetic creams which are claimed to preserve youthful looks to medical cures, even edible snacks.
Prior to the 1990s, the demand for donkey hides and skins was largely fulfilled by a ready supply within China itself. However price controls by the authorities in 1994 impacted on the profitability of the industry and led to a production slump.
But a huge demand for ejiao in the past three years has resulted from the booming Chinese economy, with the medicinal and cosmetic virtues of the product being promoted heavily on the Internet to a cash-rich and geographically scattered Chinese population. Demand for ejiao almost immediately outstripped the available domestic supply and it has become ever more valuable and expensive. Traders and businessmen responded in a gold-rush style frenzy to capitalise on the extraordinary demand for donkey hides and have been scouring the earth in their search for donkeys.