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Historical, cultural and social perspectives on luxury seafood consumption in China


Since China is a leading market for a number of types of seafood, and much of this seafood is imported from other countries, Chinese consumption of seafood is an issue of vital importance to many of the world's fisheries. Focusing on luxury seafood, in particular bêche-de-mer, shark fin and live reef food fish, this paper firstly examines the links between Chinese consumption and species population trends in source countries. After a discussion of current efforts at conservation and management of these fisheries, the paper shows how the consumption of luxury seafood in contemporary China is intertwined with broader historical trends, including the expansion of Southern Chinese cuisine; cultural beliefs and traditions, in particular surrounding elements of traditional Chinese medicine; and most importantly, notions of social status and conspicuous consumption linked to the development of the Chinese economy and social stratification. The paper points to the role of the historical, cultural and social processes that underlie Chinese luxury seafood consumption, and to the need for greater levels of action among various actors to address this consumption if sustainability is to be achieved.

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*Correspondence: Dr Michael Fabinyi Tel: + 61 7 4781 6358 e-mail:
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B. Fine (2002) The World of Consumption: The Material and Cultural Revisited. Second edition. London, UK and New York, NY, USA: Routledge.

J. Goody (1982) Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

H. Roetz (2010) On nature and culture in Zhou China. In: Concepts of Nature: A Chinese-European Cross-Cultural Perspective, ed. H. Vogel & G. Dux , pp. 198219. Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Y.J. Sadovy & A.C.J. Vincent (2002) Ecological issues and the trades in live reef fishes. In: Coral Reef Fishes: Dynamics and Diversity in a Complex Ecosystem, ed. P.F. Sale , pp. 391420. San Diego, CA, USA: Academic Press.

E. Tagliacozzo & W. Chang (2011) Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities and Networks in Southeast Asia. Durham, NC, USA and London, UK: Duke University Press.

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Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
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