On The Week, Karina Martinez-Carter explains how the messages in fortune cookies are made and how their existence is -- unsurprisingly -- missing from China. Best of all, that "Fortunes also are tweaked based on client feedback. 'You will meet a tall, dark stranger' was removed from circulation when people complained they found it sinister."
The founders of Wonton Food and Yang's Fortunes both started off focused on other Chinese cuisine products. But each recognized the growing demand for fortune cookies and their baked-in aphorisms, and capitalized on it.
In 2005, The New Yorker profiled Donald Lau, who at the time was vice president of Wonton Food, Inc. and the person writing the fortunes. Lau scribbled off fortunes in between his other duties, gleaning inspiration from wherever he could find it like signs in the subway, as The New Yorker recounts. Since then, the company has brought on freelance writers to supplement Lau's output of adages.
Lisa Yang, vice president of Yang's Fortunes and daughter of founder Steven Yang, fell into writing fortunes, as well. When her father expanded into printing fortunes, he hired a writer to translate Chinese proverbs. Because cultural context was lost in translation, they often ended up nonsensical. Lisa Yang would edit them in her free time. In college, she spent a lot of time writing and rewriting the fortunes, even when her father hired a writer and a teacher to assist with the duty. Lisa Yang would read books of quotes for inspiration, and peruse daily horoscopes to get in the mindset to create new messages.
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