China Bans Shark Fin Soup at State Banquets—but Not for the Shark’s Sake

A new regulation on the controversial dish is all about presenting an appropriately Communist image at official dinners.

(Photo: Sami Sarkis/Getty Images)

Dec 16, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

If you have plans to attend a state banquet in China anytime soon, don’t expect to have shark fin soup served to you. The Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council announced on Sunday that the controversial dish has been banned from official dinners, according to the state-owned news agency Xinhua.

The Party's reason for the ban, however, has nothing to do with animal welfare­—it’s all about money.

In 2011, Juliet Eilperin wrote a piece for Slate about the fate of sharks and how it has changed as Chinese politics has evolved over the centuries. Things first got bad for the sharks when the soup became popular among the elites of the Sung Dynasty (960–1279) and then got worse during the Ming Dynasty, when it became a standby at formal dinners.

But after Mao brought the Chinese Communist Party to power in 1949, shark's fin soup fell out of favor. As a delicacy enjoyed by elites, it became politically toxic during the Cultural Revolution. "Although it was never outlawed, it was frowned upon," is the way Susie Watts, an adviser to the Humane Society International based in Britain, puts it.

Once China became a uniquely capitalist-minded Communist country, following the market reforms instituted in the 1980s, shark fin soup consumption boomed just as the economy boomed. At its peak, the demand spelled death for as many as 100 million sharks per year—sharks that are dumped back into the ocean to die after having their dorsal fins sliced off.

A conservation-minded ban in California and a statement from Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming have brought the issue of shark finning more attention; consumption has decreased in China, and last year the government announced that a ban on the dish was forthcoming.

The intent of the regulation, which extends to bird's nest and other wild animal products, “is to regulate the use of public funding on receptions by local authorities to receive visiting Party or governmental officials.” Additionally, Xinhua reports that “the regulation said cigarettes and up-market liquors are not allowed to be served at official dinners.”

So all of that expensive cabernet the Chinese have been buying in recent years will have to be swilled at non-Party affairs.