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 chewing a recently slaughtered
fluffy puppy dog is not your thing, 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.