Marketing China's pet culture

Ong Jing Yi
Flower markets are undersold by the name. From cuddly kittens to fighting crickets, there is something for everyone with an interest in pets.
Ong Jing Yi
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Although the uproar of established pet exhibitions in recent years seems to be shifting the definition of pet culture in China ─ this namely, the canine ─ the number of visitors to the flower markets is in decline. Last year, one of the largest such markets in Shanghai, the Caojiadu Flower Market, shut its doors. The area in Putuo District began developing into an electronic and entertainment hub early this year.

Flower markets are understated by their Chinese name, huaniao shichang, or literally “flower and bird market.” Usually, the sale of pets and planting supplies, along with cultural collections such as the traditional walnut accessories and natural ornaments, take place under the flower market banner. 

Some markets are known for their specialized stalls. 

The Wanshang Flower Market is best known by lovers of “exotic” pets. It is a complex hidden on Xizhang Road S. Stalls sell household necessities, and there’s a wet market.

But there is more to the Wanshang. 

The Chinese cricket culture can be seen here. Sales of the insects are dispersed throughout the indoor market, while other stalls sell kittens, puppies, fish, plants and traditional walnut and beaded accessories. 

“It is small, but fully resourced for the cricket culture,” said Bai Zixiao, a stall owner.

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A frequenter visits a guoguo (katydid) stall at the Wanshang Flower Market.

Ong Jing Yi / SHINE

Some guoguo are kept in wooden boxes.

The cricket business can be classified into two extreme types — the noisy and the silent.

The “noisy” stalls are hard to miss. Especially at certain times of the day. Now that it is in summer, the chirping of crickets blast out when you walk by. The larger crickets, known as guoguo (katydids) for the sounds they make, are kept in palm-sized, plastic baskets suspended in bunches. Others are contained in wooden boxes or plastic bottles. The smallest are kept within flat cases. All had grills or other amplifying equipment to make them audible.

The sights and sounds may not be for all. “I found it annoying,” Lisa, a visitor from France, admitted. It took her a while to get used to it. But after learning about the history and art of insect culture, “it began to sound almost pleasant.”

Lisa’s friend was there to buy something for his girlfriend — two terrapins.

In quieter spots of the complex, dogs and cats lay in their cages resting, like the stall owners. Of the few patrons, many are attracted by the purrs of kittens. A stall owner let out two puppies for young visitors to play with.

Further into the market, many stalls have no animals, just stacks of ceramic cases stacked within and out of the stalls. Visitors passed by after a few glances without much to see.

The owners of the ququ, or a species of fighting crickets, answered the mystery. The numbered ceramic cases each contained a cricket, not to be confused with the guoguo meant for producing sound. Two tiny ceramic plates serve the insect water and food.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A visitor studies various ceramic cases for the ququ (fighting crickets).

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
Ong Jing Yi / SHINE

Ququ are fed with a blended paste made of several ingredients and herbs.

The nourishment received by the fighting breed will surprise many. While guoguo are seen to be fed with fresh beans, the ququ are fed with a blended paste made of several ingredients and herbs — ginseng among them. It is claimed this provides strength for fighting, “so that it can win,” said Guo Paixiu, who sells the “autumn bugs” — an alternative name for the cricket — in addition to pot plants. A fight usually takes “a few seconds.”

“Customers from other cities including Beijing, Ningbo, Hangzhou come here to buy,” said Ma Zhenlong. He and his wife own a cricket farm in Shandong Province, their hometown. They have bred a batch of crickets themselves in winter under varying temperatures, before bringing them to Shanghai. 

“Some buy it for leisure, some for gambling,” Ma’s wife said. “Depending on the customers, they would buy two to eight at a go.”

A man in his 50s strolled past, greeted the couple and lifted a few lids. Guo pointed to him and said: “He comes here every day; we all know each other.

“Young people do not play this, they play with the mobile phone,” Guo said.

Wanshang Flower Market

Address: 417 Xizang Rd S. (by Dongtai Rd)
Opening hours: 8am-5:30pm
How to get there: Metro Line 10 Laoximen Station and the market is about 400 meters away.

Other options in town

Although flower markets in Shanghai usually sell pretty much the same stuff, some do distinguish themselves in terms of varieties and quantity.

  • Qinqing Flower Market

Ong Jing Yi / SHINE

Qinqing has a rich variety of flowers, but what makes it stand out are the potted vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, peas, basil and lemons. Or you can buy seeds and grow them at home.

Address: 637 Qinzhou Rd, Xuhui District
Opening hours: 8am-6pm
How to get there: Metro Line 12 Caobao Road Station and then walk about 15 minutes.

  • Lanling Flower Market

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Besides the popular flowers, birds, cats and dogs, Lanling is known for its various kinds of tropical fish and related equipment and tools.

Address: 1539 Lingshi Rd (by Xincun Rd), Putuo District
Opening hours: 8am-6pm
How to get there: Metro Line 7 Xincun Road Station and then walk about 500 meters.


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