Actually, There Are Those In Hong Kong And Shenzhen Who Challenge Traditional Food Culture

Shark fin soup

Traditional ideas of what animals should be eaten are under pressure in southern China, a region where it’s often said anything that walks, flies or swims is fit for the dinner table.

In Hong Kong, the controversy centers on shark fin soup, which has long been one of the city’s most popular dishes, especially among the city’s image-conscious elite who serve it at banquets and weddings as a conspicuous symbol of status and wealth.

In times past shark traders in Hong Kong felt free to set fins on the street to dry in the sun. But thanks to videos like this, environmental activists are beginning to convince ordinary citizens to object. The killing of sharks is especially cruel, they say – the fins are cut off and the animal is tossed back into the water; unable to swim, it slowly drowns – and many countries have already banned the practice.

But resistance to change can be fierce. Hong Kong is the world’s epicenter of the shark trade, accounting for an estimated 50-80% of the 73 million sharks killed for food per year. Thanks to China’s economic boom, the trade is estimated to be growing at 5% per year.

The extra scrutiny has simply pushed the trade above ground, specifically to the rooftops where the fins can prepped for sale without the disapproving eyes of Hong Kong’s public or nosy foreign tourists.

Shark's fin on roof

In addition, many see no good reason to stop eating shark. For them, the issue is much bigger than a simple bowl of soup. They see it as an assault by foreign thinking on traditional Chinese culture. Via a Forbes article from earlier this year:

Confronted with a rising tide of bans and boycotts, the outfits that sell shark fin are fighting back – just this week, with a high-profile onslaught of ads in the industry’s epicenter that says sharks aren’t endangered, and charges that Western cultural supremacy lies behind the global campaign to shun this unlikely delicacy.

Much like Japan’s sometimes puzzling determination to keep hunting whales, some Chinese feel it’s their nationalistic duty to eat whatever they want. And if foreigners can eat chickens and cows in massive numbers, why can’t Asians eat the animals they like?

Similar tensions are also evident in the massive city directly adjacent to Hong Kong.

Many of the new residents of Shenzhen are migrant workers who, away from their families, have taken dogs as companions to cure their loneliness. Add to that a rapidly growing middle class who view their expensive pure breed retriever, labrador or poodle the same way some Hong Kongers see eating shark – as a highly visible symbol of status and wealth — and what you end up with is a city where people who love dogs as pets mix with people who love them more for supper.

These paradigms sometimes clash: recently a mini-controversy erupted when Shenzhen University decided to serve a dog hot pot dish in one of the school canteens. In years past, such a move wouldn’t have attracted much attention, but this time many students objected and sent letters of protest directly to the president of the school. Without resistance the university abandoned the idea.

Protest letter to dog hot pot

Letter of protest over dog hot pot

However, this anecdote doesn’t mean dog isn’t widely available in other parts of Shenzhen. And it’s unlikely that such traditional foods will disappear from South China dinner tables anytime soon.

For the meantime, environmentalists and pet lovers will just have to take solace in this, via AP:

“With the middle class becoming more affluent, the demand is definitely growing” in mainland China, [environmental campaigner Gary] Stokes said. “But in Hong Kong it’s actually decreasing. I think that in Hong Kong people are starting to realize that it’s not that cool.”

Traditions might die hard, but at least perceptions can — and do — change.

10 Responses to “Actually, There Are Those In Hong Kong And Shenzhen Who Challenge Traditional Food Culture”

  1. TGT G

    “Traditions might die hard, but at least perceptions can — and do — change.”
    It is delightful to see changes like this in mainland, from bottom up, even though it is just a tip of iceberg. Human beings should not indulge in such eating habits over the cost of lives of endangered species like sharks and whales. And yea DOGS are our dear friends!

    Reply
  2. Sea_Horse_Mirror

    Sharks are endangered.

    Dogs are not.

    The obtaining of Shark fins result in the torture of an animal.

    The eating of dog flesh is just as ‘humane’ as eating a cow or a pig.

    I am Cantonese, and I want to put my two cents in. I won’t eat shark fin because the method is cruelty. I’ll eat a shark if you caught it and it was not an endangered species. It is just like any other fish or sea mammal I eat. I’d eat a dog too even though it’s not my favourite meat.

    Anyone who eats meat and go around saying but we shouldn’t eat dog because it’s our ‘friend’ should get themselves a reality check and realize chicken are alive to. I can eat dog because I’m not a hypocrite, in my opinion only vegetarians have the right to criticize my dog eating because they can’t eat any animals at all period! It’s one thing if you don’t like dog or you have one yourself. I knew a person who wouldn’t eat pigs because they once kept one as a pet. However I hate it how people, both foreign and Chinese from other parts treat me like a barbarian when they’re happily chowing down on Babe the pig and Moo Moo cow. Screw hypocritical middle class people, if you eat a cow it’s the same as eating a dog!

    Reply
    • James

      Sharks are not, in fact endangered. Some are “vulnerable”, but definitely not “endangered” and the ones targeted by fisheries tend to have a global distribution anyways. Good job for falling for trite propaganda I guess… next you’ll be saying that “fish are cute” or other such nonsense. Shark = fish, nothing more. I honestly don’t care if they are “suffering”, because they are just stupid fish.

      Reply
      • Sea_Horse_Mirror

        I don’t think fish are cute since I eat them. Not that it would matter if they were cute, I eat rabbits too and they’re plenty of cute. And I eat sharks. What I am saying is I don’t agree with the methodology used by some fisheries. I’ve eaten shark flesh before and I think simply eating the fin and nothing else is just showy when there is still so much perfectly good flesh.

        So maybe next time you should read my post where I admit to not only eating sharks but dogs as well. I also eat donkeys, urchins, gooey ducks, pigs, cows, sheep, turtles, salmon and other fish species, sometimes raw and cooked. There are very few people in the world that have eaten more animals than I have my friend. So please read carefully.

        Reply
      • Sea_Horse_Mirror

        P.S Dalmations are known for being fired from the fire department because they have a taste for charred human flesh. Why the double standard?

        Reply
    • jack

      The day when a cow can guard my house, save my family from a fire, be loyal to my children, sniff out bombs, help blind humans walk around and have a normal life, and be a good friend a companion to me for my whole life – that will be the day I stop eating cows.

      And the next time I hear a local brag to me about “China has 5000 years of glorious history and civilization” my response will be “and you guys still eat dogs, really? perhaps next time just say China has 5000 years of history, leave the other word out.”

      Reply
      • Sea_Horse_Mirror

        Specifically certain groups in China eats dogs. Including where my family was originally from. Even other Chinese people call us barbarians, and seriously screw them.

        A dog has not guard my house, save my family, loyal to my children, and sniffed bombs for me. I never had a dog as a pet. I had a guinea pig though so I would be iffy about eating those but Peruvians originally breed them for food and still eat them today. LIke seriously you can train a pig to be a seeing eye dog, they’re pretty clever creatures if you teach them. Rats have been used to detect bombs and test medicine. A dog may be your friend but it ain’t mine. Also I find it ironic you’re cool with SENDING DOGS TO WAR AND USING THEM TO LOOK FOR BOMBS RISKING THEIR LIVES but not cool with eating them. Seems to me you value dogs because they put their necks out when humans don’t want to risk another human to do the job. There are certain specific dog individuals which I am friends with, but I don’t think of them as humans.

        Cows in China pretty much go to work with you if you’re a rice farmer in the south, which may explain the lack of beef in some parts, cows are more valuable alive and take too long to fully grow.

        As I said: If you aren’t a vegetarian, you’re a hypocrite to criticize other people’s eating habits. The French eat horses and doves but no one calls them names because they’re ‘civilized’, not even Mongolians who traditionally grow up with a horse practically in the house and even drink their milk.

        Reply
  3. Abraham Lincoln

    “In addition, many see no good reason to stop eating shark. For them, the issue is much bigger than a simple bowl of soup. They see it as an assault by foreign thinking on traditional Chinese culture.”

    Look how much we can have fun with this type of thinking:

    “Opposing slavery is an assault by abolitionist thinking on traditional gloabl culture.”

    “Opposing anti-Chinese racism is an assault by Chinese thinking on traditional Western culture.”

    Reply
    • James

      The US form of slavery was the most extreme in the world, most other countries didn’t base it on race, and had ways out of it.

      Western culture is in general, rather shit.

      Reply

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