Where: Qingping Lu and Ti Yun Lu streets of Shamian Island, Guangzhou, Guangdong, South-East China
When: Open daily
What’s in Store: Sparrows, bunny rabbits, kittens, sleepy puppies, goats heads, leopards, monkeys, snake, seahorses, centipedes, ants, starfish, turtles, shellfish, and freshwater fish – if it moves, you can eat it!
Top tip: If you are squeamish, it might be best to stick to the traditional Chinese medicine quarter. Vegetarians and delicate westerners are adviced to stay clear!
Where It’s At
Qingping Market is held on the streets of Qingping Lu and Ti Yun Lu on Shamian Island in Guangzhou, in the Gaungdong Province. Guangzhou was formerly the British colonial city of Canton, and the nearby offshore Shamian Island, which was given to the French and British after the Opium Wars, remains a retreat from the commotion of the city. However the island’s relaxing atmosphere is definitely not evident at the daily market.
Ironically named Qingping, meaning peaceful, this market is more of a menagerie. There is a saying in China that the only things with four legs that they won’t eat are tables and chairs. This is particularly true in the former Canton region, where Cantonese cuisine is celebrated for its crispness and freshness. This means that petting your food before it’s slaughtered is quite acceptable as all of your ingredients are sold alive!
What’s in Store
Even if you’re not hungry, Qingping is a sensory experience you won’t forget in a hurry. In fact, you may well leave feeling quite ill – it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you’re an animal lover it would perhaps be wise to stick to the Chinese traditional medicine part of the market and then head for the antiques and jade shops in the area.
But if you’re made of stronger stuff, join the crowd of 60,000 shoppers at Qingping, browsing the 2000 stalls and be overwhelmed by the sights and smells. Hawkers shout out prices and hold out handfuls of writhing flesh in front of you, cell phones rings, and the smell of fresh blood hits your nostrils as it mingles with the strong scents of ginger and other spices. As you pick your way through this sensory overload, take a look at what’s on the menu: sparrows, bunny rabbits, kittens, sleepy puppies, goats heads, leopards, monkeys, snake, seahorses, centipedes, ants, starfish, turtles, shellfish, and freshwater fish. It makes you wonder how the Chinese can make the unpalatable so palatable!
Qingping was the first market to be permitted by the communist government in 1979 and it was considered a radical experiment. Since Deng declared that the open market could co-exist within the communist framework twenty years ago, business has boomed and at Qingping you’ll realize that the Chinese never lost the art of wheeling and dealing.
SARS – bird flu
You could leave Qingping feeling more than just queasy. The market has been blamed in the last couple of years for being the source of the proliferation of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). What with a huge array of birds on offer it is also undoubtedly a cause for concern for the World Health Organization in the fight against the bird flu pandemic. It is also known to be a haven for illicit animal trafficking and Qingping has the greatest number of incidents in the world. Conservations organizations are unable to fight against the belief that by eating these ‘wild’ species you will be imbued with the ‘wild’ qualities of the animal. Traditional Chinese medicine has utilized wild animals in its recipes for hundreds of years and it is not a doctrine that will be reversed overnight. Fortunately, hope is on the horizon for animal welfare organizations with the coming Olympic Games in 2008, which may provide enough international pressure for China to change its ways. In the meantime, Qingping is an experience, whether an enjoyable one or not is debatable, but it is definitely not palatable to the delicate westerner.
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