The promise of 黄 to come

In back-alley Shanghai, a goods display technique designed to prove the quality of one’s goods at the cost of “sacrificing” one of those goods for display purposes.

Hairy crabs (or “Chinese mitten crabs”), like the ones shown here, are serious business, with some running up to US$100 a kilo.

While the crabs shown here hail from Tai Lake, the hairy crabs harvested from Yangcheng Lake are the most prized as the females tend to have particularly high amounts of roe, known colloquially as huang 黄 (also the word for “yellow”), seen here in abundance in the displayed crab. This is so much the case that there are annual problems of “counterfeit crabs“, an elaborate barcode system developed to authenticate genuine Yangcheng Lake crabs (which was counterfeited even before the official hairy crab-selling season officially opened), and reports of “bathing crabs”, where crabs “spend a short time – several hours to a couple of weeks – in Yangcheng Lake before being passed off as the genuine article.”

Implied in the goods display strategy for this high-stakes market is that all of the crabs in this bucket are packing just as much 黄 as the sacrificial crab displayed on top. The challenge lays in that he amount of 黄 is only discerned post-purchase, at home and after the crab has already been cooked. This begs the question: was this the very first crab this stall-owner cracked open? Or the fifth? Are the crabs in this bucket all from Tai Lake? Are they truly even “from” Tai Lake, or just momentarily immersed in it?

For other potentially ethically fraught goods display approaches, see how Myanmar noodle vendors work their craft.

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