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Constructing Freshness: The Vitality of Wet Markets in Urban China

Zhong, Shuru; Crang, Mike; Zeng, Guojun

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Shuru Zhong

Guojun Zeng


Wet markets, a ‘traditional’ form of food retail, have maintained their popularity in urban China despite the rapid expansion of ‘modern’ supermarket chains. Their continued popularity rests in the freshness of their food. Chinese consumers regard freshness as the most important aspect of food they buy, but what constitutes ‘freshness’ in produce is not simply a given. Freshness is actively produced by a range of actors including wholesalers, vendors as well as consumers. The paper examines what fresh food means to consumers in the Chinese market. It argues that wet markets create a sense of freshness that resonates with this culinary culture through their sensoria, atmosphere, and trust between food vendors and consumers. Together these respond to desires for and reproduce criteria used to evaluate freshness. Within a fragmented food trade system, wet market vendors have an advantage in offering ‘freshness’ through their ability to connect various wholesalers, agencies, and middlemen, and shorten supply chains. The paper is based on participatory observation, a consumer survey and in-depth interviews of various stakeholders in southern China, especially Sanya in Hainan and Guangzhou in Guangdong. This study suggests that this cultural construction of freshness creates a niche for small-scale players and ‘traditional’ markets in an increasingly concentrated global food system.


Zhong, S., Crang, M., & Zeng, G. (2020). Constructing Freshness: The Vitality of Wet Markets in Urban China. Agriculture and Human Values, 37, 175-185.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 18, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 17, 2019
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date Sep 25, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 18, 2019
Journal Agriculture and Human Values
Print ISSN 0889-048X
Electronic ISSN 1572-8366
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Pages 175-185


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (645 Kb)

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Advance online version © The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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