Qingping Market 清平市场
Guangzhou 广州 1991 & 2013
The Urban Legend
Guangzhou Youth Hostel, March 1991, Shamian Island
The rumor going round the hostel was about an American tourist who had fled China in tears after only 2 days into her 1 month trip.
The unfortunate young girl had passed through Guangzhou’s notorious Qingping Market (清平市场) and seen two kittens kept in a tiny cage. The kittens were destined for the tables of Guangzhou’s restaurants. Thinking she would do the kittens a good turn, she negotiated a price for them. Expecting to save the kittens, she hadn’t counted on what would happen next. The store holder took the kittens out of the cage snapped their necks and handed their lifeless bodies over to her. She freaked out and was on the next express train back to Hong Kong.
Whether this is just an urban legend or a true story any visitor to Qingping Market in 1991 could believe it. The variety of animals waiting to be butchered made it feel like a zoo rather than a normal meat market. I remember Monkeys, Pangolins, giant salamanders, snakes, deer, dogs and even owls. The orangey color of dog meat roasting on spits was a common sight as were the restaurants with cages outside full of exotic fauna that made eating out a bit like dinning in a slaughter house.
However, we could never be certain that the cat story was true. Maybe it was just an urban legend.
Qingping Market Today
Today Qingping Market is a far mellower place. It is not that the Cantonese have given up their love of wild food. The famous Yeweixiang Restaurant (literally; the Wild Animal Restaurant) has a menu that reads like an A-Z on Fauna. It is said that it once served Tiger.
We saw plenty of snake and types of crocodile meat (土龙，鳄鱼) on the menus of the various restaurants we ate in. It seems that the authorities have moved the live animal market away from sensitive eyes and located it in Maoshan, out near the airport in the Baiyun district.
Strolling through the Qingping Market nowadays you’ll mostly find dried medicinal products.
These range from the strangest looking roots and fungus you’ve ever seen to dried Tibetan caterpillars, snake skins, deer penis, fish stomachs and unfortunately a huge number of dried sea horses. The huge quantity of this stuff is beyond belief.
One of the things that amazed us was how this area has survived the modernization drive in Guangzhou. There are tree lined streets with some lovely 1920’s colonial architecture, the typical colonnaded buildings with beautiful shutters above and the shops below.
Many of the narrow alleys of the market are still flagstoned. Dangling electricity wires and hectic market activity make the streets look colourful and chaotic and somehow plenty of Dickensian hovels have managed to cling on.
These alleys are dominated by the backdrop of towering skyscrapers that loom menacingly over them, as a warning as if to say that their stay of execution is only temporary.
Separated from the main body of Qingping Market by Liuersan Lu is the enormous fish market. It’s an vibrant place to visit early morning. Just about anything that can be taken from the sea is there in tanks and buckets.
The size of the Spider Crabs and lobsters were something to behold as were some of the wierdest shellfish we’d ever seen.
The buying and selling is frenetic and the astonishing sight of bicycles loaded meters high with polythene freezer boxes makes one’s eyes boggle as they weave in and out of the traffic.
The area for selling turtles is best avoided as conditions are terrible.
From Qingping Market you can continue on to other market areas and visit the numerous temples and churches in downtown cenrtal Guangzhou without ever having to enter the modern zones (see future article on Downtown Central Guangzhou).
If you are not staying on Shamian Island then the best way to reach Qingping Market is to take Metro Line One to Huangsha the Market is almost next to the exit.
If you staying on Shamian Island just cross the pedestrian bridge near the Victory Hotel.
The Fish market is just opposite Shamian Island’s western point where the ferries leave for Fangcun.