Transnational Matsutake Governance
ENDANGERED SPECIES, CONTAMINATION, AND THE REEMERGENCE OF GLOBAL COMMODITY CHAINS
Michael J. Hathaway
AT dawn during the late summer and early fall, one can stand on a hillside in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands and look down as hundreds of lights flick on in valley villages, like the stars emerging, but in reverse, for the night is ending rather than beginning. Unlike stars in the sky, these points of light are moving. They are flashlights, carried by villagers walking up into the mountains to hunt for a mushroom the Japanese call matsutake and the Chinese call song rong. People collect all morning and return home when the dealers arrive at a village market or drive along the roads, buying from mushroom hunters as they go, for the matsutake is highly valued in Japan. The mushrooms are carried in a shoulder satchel, often hand-fashioned from fertilizer or pig food bags, the durable everyday sack of rural China. The mushrooms are carefully cushioned in these satchels, as they can be easily damaged during a long hike over steep terrain. When hunters find a prize specimen, they wrap it in a layer of thin plastic film, or they may snap off the tip of a rhododendron branch, place the mushroom against it, and wrap grass around the mushroom, cinching it snugly, like a baby in a cradle. Over the season, millions of the mushrooms travel from these borderland villages to local buying centers and bulking stations, and then to Japan, all within forty-eight hours, for they are very delicate and insects are already starting to eat them.
How did matsutake, barely known in Yunnan’s markets thirty years ago, become the province’s largest agricultural export crop, now providing employment for well over half a million people (Yang et al. 2008, 270)? What does the rapid rise of Yunnan as the most important production site for the matsutake trade, globally worth billions of dollars a year (Amend et al. 2010), tell us about the changing dynamics of nature and society in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands? The Chinese state’s position toward the environment has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past half century (Hathaway 2013), from the Mao-era “war against nature” (Shapiro 2001) to the goal of building an “environmental state” or “ecological state,” one that actively pursues a number of environmental priorities (Goldman 2001; Lang 2002; Mol and Buttel 2002).
The matsutake economy reveals important aspects of environmental governance and the workings of an environmental state. Forms of governance are often regarded as a set of rules created and enforced by states. Many scholars of governance incorporate perspectives from Michel Foucault, who argued that power is not wielded by leaders but is diffused widely through capillary networks, yet many still often imply that the state is the source of new forms of discipline and management (Brown 2006). However, it is clear in the matsutake economy, and in many other cases, that governance is shaped by a range of actors, both domestic and transnational.
Studies of the ecological state can be generally divided into two groups, normative and critical. On the one hand, motivated by the need to achieve environmental sustainability, normative scholars focus on how states become more environmentally friendly (Dryzek et al. 2003). Critical scholars, on the other hand, are concerned about the negative outcomes of state-based conservation programs, particularly for rural subaltern communities in the Global South. They ask how conservation may dispossess such groups of land and resources needed for a decent living, such as firewood, water, or agricultural land (Goldman 2001; Peet and Watts 1996; Peluso 1993). Although both groups take distinctly different positions, each tends to view the state as the main social actor and citizens either as relatively powerless to enjoin the state to assume greater ecological responsibility or as resistant subjects working to lessen the blow of state-led conservation efforts.
In order to understand the dynamics of environmental management in contemporary China, we need a broader view that goes beyond the “state as container” model and explores how management policies and activities are affected by other states and a range of private and private-public engagements, including international conservation organizations, networks of traders, and scientists. For example, Chinese scientists’ concerns that matsutake is threatened by overharvest led to its inclusion in international legislation for endangered species, and Japanese consumers’ fears about matsutake being contaminated by pesticides have led Chinese nongovernmental organizations to initiate campaigns to reduce the use of chemicals in rural Yunnan. In other words, a transnational perspective provides greater insights into how and why environmental management is changing in contemporary China, particularly in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, where these connections are deeply shaped by particular historical and social conditions. Rather than seeing resource governance as engineered by the state, we can deploy a perspective that shows how demarcations of nature-as-commodity are dispersed, multiple, and overlapping. The network of state and non-state actors in the matsutake trade links an international commodity chain with local resource management practices in a region that was embedded within expansive overland trade networks before 1949. In this context, contemporary international laws regulating traffic in endangered species, efforts to enhance matsutake growth in Japan by decreasing air pollution levels in China, and techniques for reducing pesticide contamination in mushrooms are among a panoply of environmental governance practices that affect people and nature in a region that is often thought of as “remote” but is experiencing the reemergence of global trade.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRADE AND RULE IN THE SINO-TIBETAN BORDERLANDS
A transnational approach is not only helpful for understanding the contemporary period but also useful in looking at the past, even before the rise of the nation-state itself. The very fact of calling these areas “borderlands” hints at problems with the “container model” of the state. The term suggests that rather than projecting the boundaries of contemporary nation-states such as China, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and so forth back into time, we might look instead at how these areas have been historically influenced by several sources of imperial power that radiated outward in uneven ways (Winichakul 1997). Rule was less singular and absolute than plural and frequently challenged, in part because identities and loyalties were multiple and in flux (Giersch 2006).
Before officials in the People’s Republic of China severed many informal connections with neighboring lands, the Sino-Tibetan borderlands were a thriving zone for the movement of people, goods, and ideas. For centuries, caravans of mules, horses, and yaks have plied these routes, stretching from lowland tropical rain forests to some of the highest places on earth.1 Located near the Southern Silk Road that brought goods east and west, the area was also transected by a route running north and south called the “Ancient Tea-Horse Road” which connected southern Yunnan and Southeast Asia with the Sino-Tibetan borderlands and India (Hill 1998; Mu 2001; B. Yang 2004). In addition to the traffic in horses and fermented tea, there was a vigorous trade in silver and other metals, wool, musk, and medicinal plants (Lu 1997). It was also the site of much military activity, with many battles fought among diverse groups such as imperial armies, local warlords, and religious factions.
Some scholars argue that these borderlands can be thought of as belonging to Zomia, a zone created by people who fled centralized imperial power and strove for local autonomy (Scott 2009). There is evidence that some groups arrived in this region while fleeing coercive rule, but for many, their actions were less motivated by the desire for isolation and are better understood as active efforts to forge selective connections (Jonsson 2010). Groups were part of multiple and shifting trade, governmental, religious, and military relations, with overlapping alliances and lingering disputes.2 These groups were often dispersed, working with and against various incursions of imperial armies and officials, which ebbed and flowed with cycles of power, and were often devastated by disease and the high cost of ruling at a distance.
The story of matsutake reveals that the Sino-Tibetan borderlands are currently undergoing forms of re-internationalization. Since the 1980s, one of the many remarkable transformations in this region has been the important role of long-distance social and economic relations, which are not new but reemerging. In particular, transnational connections in the realms of trade, tourism, and nature conservation are increasingly shaping people’s everyday lives. Japanese consumers and businesspeople play a significant role in these changes, as they import large amounts of matsutake and other foods (such as trout, wasabi, and konjak) and actively participate in tourism and tourism development.
THE RISE AND FALL OF JAPAN’S DOMESTIC MATSUTAKE PRODUCTION AND THE GLOBAL SEARCH FOR IMPORTS
Yunnan’s participation in the worldwide matsutake economy was fostered by Japan’s passion for the mushroom. Over the centuries, matsutake in Japan transitioned from an elite domestic food to an increasingly cheap product that is mainly imported. Historically, matsutake was a sumptuary good in Japan, and there were laws against it being eaten by commoners—it was considered a food fit only for the imperial court (MacMurray 2003). Japan’s production peaked in 1940, at a time when wartime victory in the Pacific seemed likely and a year before its forces attacked Pearl Harbor. By this point, matsutake had become an increasingly common luxury food for many people, but then Japan’s production began to plummet. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, domestic production dropped approximately fivefold every fifteen to twenty years.3
Matsutake’s precipitous decline in Japan was considered a national tragedy, and many tried to explain why the mushrooms were disappearing. Biologists discovered that forests were in decline, and it took scientists another decade to find that acid rain was damaging trees. Although they had long known about domestic air pollution, in the 1990s they showed for the first time that pollution was coming from abroad, mainly from Chinese coal-burning factories (Wilkening 2004).4 Subsequently Japan, already China’s most important trade partner and source of international development aid (Muldavin 2000), poured massive funds into retrofitting Chinese factories (Wilkening 2004).
Thus transnational connections shaped trade and environmental management in China and Japan and influenced their governmental and nongovernmental relations. In part, the expansion of the matsutake economy from a domestic to a global network was precipitated by the spread of pollution from China to Japan, which undercut Japan’s ability to provide for itself. Second, Japan’s knowledge of pollution and pollution abatement, as well as its financial and technological support, stimulated a greater attempt by the Chinese state to document and ameliorate pollution.
As late as the 1970s, almost every matsutake eaten in Japan was produced domestically, but then imports began to explode. In 1980, Japan imported 362 metric tons; domestic production and imports were roughly equivalent, and soon after, imports increased. Within nine years, imports had increased almost sevenfold to 2,210 metric tons (Bracey 1990, cited in Redhead 1997). It was not that existing markets in other countries were redirected to Japan but instead that Japanese scientists and businessmen traveled abroad to search out new matsutake populations. Starting in 1978, Canada began shipping matsutake from British Columbia to Japan. Some pickers reportedly earned $1,000 in a week, even with the relatively low value of about C$10 per kilogram (Redhead 1997). In the same year, two Japanese researchers published a paper showing matsutake’s distribution in the United States and Canada, revealing new places that pickers in Canada did not know about (Kinugawa and Goto 1978) and encouraging the development of a U.S. market.5
We do not have equally detailed accounts of the origins of the Chinese matsutake trade, but the Japanese colonial legacy stimulated China’s first trade in the northeast in the late 1970s. Japan had known about matsutake there since its invasion of this region in the early twentieth century, when researchers surveyed exploitable natural resources, including minerals, timber, and mushrooms. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, it pulled out of China, and until the 1970s, the rest of China, including the southwest region of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, was terra incognita for Japanese scientists.
A number of stories tell of the origins of Yunnan’s matsutake trade. I heard several times in Lijiang that Yunnan’s matsutake were first brought to international attention in 1987 by a team of visiting Japanese scientists, who, posing as butterfly collectors, were actually searching for matsutake. They discovered it growing on the side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulongxue Shan) and filled their sacks. Coming off the mountain, they were stopped and questioned by police and forced to reveal their true purpose.
In Japan, however, I learned that as early as 1981, three Japanese scientists—Yasuto Tominaga, Ryoko Arai, and Toshio Ito—traveled in search of Yunnan matsutake. They found it growing in the autonomous prefectures of Chuxiong, Dali, Lijiang, and Diqing and published their findings in the Bulletin of the Hiroshima Agricultural College (Tominaga, Ami, and Ito 1981). Their article does not reveal how they established contacts with Chinese, and it is nearly certain that they relied heavily on Chinese hosts as guides. In fact, much of the region north of Lijiang remained off-limits to foreigners until much later, so travel may have been quite difficult. They found that trade with Japan already existed but at a low level.6 The mushrooms were driven to Kunming, flown to Beijing, and then proceeded onward to Japan. Word about China’s matsutake quickly spread in Japan, as there are strong links between dealers and scientists, and Tominaga was one of Japan’s prominent researchers.
By the mid-1980s, trade between the Sino-Tibetan borderlands and Japan became well established, mainly through a Chinese state-run system. The system used one of the enduring features of the Mao era, thousands of collection sites called “foreign trade stations” (waimao zhan), which had been built during the 1950s. Rural products were collected there and then sold by the national government, which controlled foreign trade.7 Discussions with older matsutake pickers in the borderlands suggest that these stations exercised a virtual monopoly on matsutake purchases through the 1980s. Some of the stations tried to ship fresh mushrooms, but the mushrooms often suffered during their travels. The stations had few trucks, and these were mechanically unreliable on the rough roads to Kunming. Consequently, the stations dealt almost entirely in dried goods, such as herbal medicines and animal hides, which were sturdy and could be stored for long periods of time, unlike fresh mushrooms, which are quite perishable and delicate. Thus, mushrooms were pickled and shipped without refrigeration. They were washed and packed in salt water in plastic vats and fitted with tight-sealing lids so that they could last for weeks, if not months, but their value was low. By the 1990s, more independent buyers entered the fray, often first as petty traders. They would crowd into the back of a truck with other traders and sell a large basket of matsutake at a regional trade center, such as Zhongxin Town in Shangrila (see map 1, C) or Nanhua County in Chuxiong Prefecture.
During the 1990s, as the government slowly relaxed its monopoly on foreign trade, some private exporting companies started to specialize in matsutake, trading in other goods during the ten-month off-season. In some cases, the head managers for the Kunming-based private companies were former staff of the foreign trade stations and were able to use their contacts in China and Japan to cultivate relationships for their new company. This was part of a wider phenomenon, in which Chinese companies hired former government employees for their bureaucratic knowledge and social connections.
It took sustained effort and time, along with massive infrastructure change, before fresh Yunnan matsutake could predictably arrive in Japan in good condition.8 This infrastructure included both hard and soft aspects, an organized system of people, markets, refrigeration, good roads, and coordinated airplane transportation. Even into the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, sections of the main arterial road connecting northwest Yunnan and Kunming were still unpaved and fitted with hand-laid cobblestones. As the matsutake season overlaps with the end of the monsoons, dealers face landslides that block high-mountain roads. These were some of the same roads used for centuries by mule caravans transporting goods within and beyond the Sino-Tibetan borderlands.
As matsutake has become increasingly important in the lives of people in northwest Yunnan, resource governance has intersected with changing social relations. The matsutake economy has fostered forms of intervillage conflict, but it has also stimulated a resurgence in the construction of Tibetan houses with vernacular art and architectural features that express new forms of cultural identity and wealth. Conflict was motivated by the high value of the mushroom as well as the history of shifting and ambiguous property rights and village boundaries, which has led to clashes over rights to especially productive areas (Yeh 2000). Such conflicts create a number of challenges; even when villagers devise management systems on village lands (see ch. 7 in this volume) or make agreements with their neighbors, more guards are sometimes required when matsutake’s price skyrockets.
At the same time, however, the matsutake economy has allowed some families to earn salaries many times higher than those of city-based workers (Arora 2008).9 The influx of cash into matsutake-wealthy areas has sponsored a building boom of “matsutake mansions” that has continued through 2011: large Tibetan homes made of massive structural posts, with intricate window carvings and colorful interior paintings.10 Older women state that new homes and vehicles are the most important purchases they make with matsutake money and worry that their husbands squander money by gambling, which has increased with these new flows of cash. As people usually do not sell their homes,11 houses represent a relatively safe and permanent investment, yet homes are rarely able to create wealth, unlike investments in vehicles. Some use their new vehicles to engage in matsutake trade or the tourism economy, but the latter often requires personal relations beyond the village and competition with more tourist-savvy operations in places like Shangrila and Deqin.
In 2007, the highest price for Japanese matsutake rose above $4,000 per kilogram (Murata et al. 2008), but prices fluctuate quickly, even within a single day. Such fantastically high values, now almost mythical, breed stories of fortunes won overnight. These stories help fuel the continued interest in picking and trading matsutake, even though prices in North America were closer to $60 per kilogram in recent years, while the price tends to be much lower in China.
Northwest Yunnan has been recently envisioned as both a new center for tourism and an ecological hotspot. In many ways, the expansion of trading networks has piggybacked on the infrastructure designed to facilitate tourism (such as improved roads, cell phone coverage, airports, and so forth), and so, too, has the growth of the conservation economy. Especially since the logging ban in 1998, regional officials and conservationists have been increasingly interested in fostering alternative sources of income; compared to long-established livelihoods such as pastoralism, matsutake has received disproportionate interest as an ecologically friendly possibility (see also Fedor 2006). International conservation organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Conservation International (CI) took different approaches but often devoted their energies to creating official protected areas, such as Pudacuo National Park (see ch. 4 in this volume). These organizations often regarded human activities as environmentally detrimental and tried to restrict activities such as collecting fuelwood and medicinal plants in protected areas (Hathaway 2010a; Law and Salick 2007; Litzinger 2004).
TNC, which had often focused on promoting nature tourism as a way of providing local incentives for environmental conservation in areas south of Shangrila, fostered the idea of “sacred lands” in areas to the north. Especially given the stimulus of Bob Moseley’s efforts (see ch. 5 in this volume), the organization documented, mapped, and supported official recognition of such lands. It argued for parallels between its own interest in official protected areas and long-existent practices of protecting certain sites, especially around temples or sacred places, from hunting and plant gathering. TNC staff spoke with disapproval of the ways cultural tourism operated as “song and dance shows” in Yunnan, such as Kunming’s Ethnic Minority Village, and were concerned that such formats would be duplicated in Shangrila. TNC’s efforts at ecological and cultural tourism included Yubeng, a relatively remote village located near a sacred waterfall on the Khawa Karpo pilgrimage circuit, which subsequently received international press, including a New York Times article and a show on National Public Radio (see the introduction to this volume).
In 1995, a few years before TNC’s official opening in Yunnan, WWF left its initial project site in Yunnan’s southern tropical rain forests (Hathaway 2010b) and established studies and projects in the northwest centered on the White Horse Snow Mountain (Baimaxueshan) Nature Reserve (see map 2). WWF staff worked with reserve staff to advocate the formation of village-based management committees that would create a list of village-based rules around environmental sustainability and social equity, such as where and when to graze animals, collect firewood, and gather medicinal plants or matsutake. The rules tended to be relatively similar among villages, which were working off a fairly standard template.12 By 2005, such rules had spread to more than fifty villages near White Horse Snow Mountain alone (Fedor 2006), yet a number of these rules proved difficult to enforce or were not always followed. Some rules, such as creating a “slack day” when no one was allowed to gather, have been largely abandoned (see ch. 7 in this volume). This was especially true for villages that are well endowed with matsutake and can have regular village-based markets. Dealers prefer to travel in a circuit to buy and sell, finding a route that is relatively efficient and profitable, and some said that village slack days make coordinating their stops more challenging. Furthermore, villagers, who have competing demands on their time, tend to gain and lose interest in matsutake in relation to its fluctuating value, another challenge to local management (Robinson 2012) (but see ch. 7 in this volume on different considerations for caterpillar fungus).
Key state programs that indirectly stimulated interest in matsutake through a reduction in other economic alternatives were the Sloping Land Conversion Program, which reduced grazing and set aside agricultural lands for reforestation, and the Natural Forest Protection Program, which imposed a logging ban. Logging revenues reached a peak in the early 1990s in Deqin, where it constituted as much as 80 percent of local government funding, earning more than ¥50 million annually (Xu and Wilkes 2004).13 Permanent employees at government-run logging centers were promised new jobs, such as in tree-planting, whereas the temporary workers, often villagers, were not compensated for their loss of employment. In northwest Yunnan, temporary work with logging companies was one of the few wage labor opportunities before the development of the tourism economy. Soon after the logging ban, WWF conducted surveys near the White Horse Snow Mountain Nature Reserve in Diqing Prefecture and found that almost 95 percent of village income came from the sale of non-timber forest products; 80 percent was from matsutake alone (Chen 2001; Menzies and Li 2010).
The reduction in grazing and agricultural lands also changed social and natural landscapes. Officials enjoined villagers to plant seedlings in grasslands and cracked down on their use of fire to stop the spread of trees into grazing areas. Villagers were paid with grain and money to replace their farm plots with trees.14 These actions worked against farming and grazing and unintentionally promoted the mushroom economy, but a new set of laws that made the matsutake an officially protected species had other effects.
ENDANGERED SPECIES AS A NEW FORM OF ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE
One of the ways post-Mao China engaged the world was through participation in global environmental governance. In 1973, eighty countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the first international agreement to manage the trade in endangered species. In 1981, China signed CITES, one of its earlier commitments to international legislation. For some time, China was largely passive, affected by CITES regulations that banned or reduced the flows of animals and animal parts (used as medicine, for food, or in making other products) from other countries. It established a CITES office in Kunming that specialized in policing the importation of endangered animals from Southeast Asia into China.15 Eventually, plants began to be listed and policed as well.
Yet fungus was generally ignored by protected species rules, so it was quite surprising to many observers when in 1999, some Chinese scientists petitioned to have matsutake included on China’s “Second-Class Protected Species” list.16 After the inclusion was approved, matsutake were brought within the ambit of new forms of governance. The effects of this designation in terms of trade are not entirely clear—contrary to popular belief, the listing of a species as endangered or protected does not stop all trade. Instead, the key to CITES is the regulation of transnational trade: legally, traders must obtain official permits from the host country and may also need to negotiate permits with the recipient country. Thus, in Yunnan, matsutake-exporting companies must now obtain permits from the Chinese CITES office. One of the main effects of CITES status has been to ban international trade in small matsutake (less than five centimeters across), but Kunming-based dealers are now trying to create a domestic market in these smaller mushrooms.17 Although a number of villages have rules against collecting small mushrooms, many still end up in Kunming, where they are often washed, frozen, and shipped domestically.
The threat of pollution and contamination influences regimes of environmental governance, especially those connected to trade goods. As mentioned earlier, Chinese air pollution damaged Japanese forests, prompting Japan to offer aid in remediating China’s factories. One of the most challenging issues for Yunnan’s matsutake trade concerns the possibility of contamination; this threatens to stop the entire industry, which has more than half a million participants. In 2002, Japan found pesticide on a shipment of Chinese matsutake and banned that importer for the rest of the year.18 Since that time, pesticide detection machines have been installed at major export companies so that shipments of contaminated mushrooms can be identified before they leave China. These screenings now also include metal detectors, as villagers and dealers would add slivers of iron to the matsutake in order to increase their weight and, hence, their value.19 Japan’s suspicion that China is more generally an unreliable and unsafe source of food was reinforced in 2008, when Japan experienced what some called “global food terror” after a number of people were sickened by Chinese pork dumplings (Rosenberger 2009). The incident stimulated some public acknowledgment that Japan relies heavily on cheap imported foods, and many consumers were shocked to hear that China, as a single country, provided more than half of their total vegetable imports from around the world (Dyck and Ito 2004). Media reports emphasized that Japanese food is relatively safe but also acknowledged that it was too expensive for most ordinary citizens to rely on; likewise, as toxics-laden goods from China are discovered in other places, such as North America and Europe, there is a growing wariness of Chinese goods and at the same time a sense of resignation (Chinoy 2009).
While people in other countries may feel powerless to combat this threat, a number of people in China are proactive in dealing with potential problems stemming from both intentional pesticide use and unintentional contamination of mushrooms. Pesticides are widespread in China; for decades, the country has prided itself on the manufacture of agricultural chemicals and made significant efforts to encourage their use. The vast majority of rural households farm using agricultural chemicals, including on crops for their own consumption; there are few organic farmers. Pickers or dealers may apply chemicals to protect the matsutake from insects.
Most cases of contamination, however, likely occur unintentionally. In Yunnan, most agricultural plots are small and widely dispersed. The forests where matsutake are found are often relatively close to fields—unlike the vast matsutake forests in places like North America, which generally are found far from farms. As many farmers in China use pesticide sprayers, the chemicals can drift on the wind and enter the forests. Pesticides may also enter the commodity chain through the cloth sacks that pickers use for both matsutake and farm products.
Although many animal species, such as deer, pigs, and birds, seek out and enjoy matsutake, insects are the most common and serious threat. Indeed, it is quite rare to find mature matsutake without any insect damage. Although relatively large pests such as slugs chew slowly on the fungus and are easily removed, other pests search out the mushroom by crawling though soil and/or flying through the air. In many cases, insects lay eggs in the mushroom, and the larvae hatch and create small tunnels in the soft flesh. They are impossible to physically remove without destroying the mushroom itself. Thus, pickers and dealers have a strong incentive to reduce insect damage. Not only do insects harm individual mushrooms, but when dealers are bulking their goods, sometimes for more than twenty-four hours, thousands of mushrooms can be packed in close quarters, and the whole shipment is at risk of damage. Some told me that they use a “secret formula” to keep the mushrooms looking fresh but insisted that it was perfectly safe.
Thus, the dynamics of environmental governance include harvesting rules based on concerns for the mushroom’s sustainability, as well as standards on pesticide contamination originally devised in Japan to increase food safety. Such standards now motivate the work of domestic NGOs promoting organic agriculture, which hope to leverage this threat to the province’s most important export crop (Yang Xuefei et al. 2008) and shape agricultural practices throughout Yunnan. Chinese citizens, from scientists, to NGO activists, to villagers, are responding creatively to these regulations by developing methods that will foster chemical-free farming or reduce the risk of mushroom contamination.
For example, villagers use a variety of techniques to deal with insects. One innovation, said to have started in the region around Lijiang and Dali, has been to sprinkle a bucket of sand over the mushroom. This covering poses a challenge to flying insects, which have little ability to dig. Another option, more widely practiced by 2009, is to place a clear plastic tent over the mushroom, weighting it down around the sides to prevent flying insects from crawling under the edge. Some pickers say that the tent increases the internal humidity and warmth, making the mushroom grow faster. The use of either sand or plastic, however, increases the mushroom’s visibility to other pickers. In most places, matsutake-picking grounds located close to villages are extremely well traveled and searched, with many people covering the same ground every day during the growing season. Although pickers often disguise their prize by sprinkling duff over sand- or plastic-covered mushrooms, they are more reluctant to risk discovery by other pickers in highly traveled areas.
The nonchemical techniques villagers use to protect their mushrooms from insects are also influenced by the kind of tenure regime that exists. In some villages, gathering rights for productive matsutake mountains are auctioned off to the highest bidder, and guards patrol the land. During the 1990s, there was a campaign to divide village forest lands into family plots, but in many cases, even where this happened, villages with more widely distributed matsutake decided to recollectivize the land, at least for the purpose of matsutake gathering. Where this has happened, it is acceptable to harvest any mushroom on village lands, and only rarely can one claim a growing (but not yet picked) mushroom as one’s own.
Another major force advocating change in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands is the Yunnan Matsutake Association, which comprises the province’s major exporting companies. The provincial government now limits the number of exporting companies, and they in turn have created a matsutake consortium. By 2006, only twenty companies had export licenses, and a number of these companies were led by people with extensive governmental networks, sometimes with a history of working at foreign trade stations in the 1980s. In 2011, the association’s leaders expressed increasing interest in creating a “Yunnan Brand” for matsutake that is associated with purity but admitted that there are several weak points in the commodity chain. The sheer proliferation of sites and people who pick matsutake, as well as the frequency with which the mushrooms change hands,20 means that tracing a particular mushroom “from field to table” has been nearly impossible. In contrast, vegetables grown for export on large commercial farms are often easy to trace.
Without a method for tracing mushrooms, it has been quite difficult to assign responsibility for pesticide contamination in the mushroom commodity chain. Some dealers blame villagers, many of whom are aware of this accusation. During my fieldwork in Tibetan villages in 2002, 2009, and 2010, many villagers declared that they never used pesticides, arguing that it was not part of their custom. Some even pointed to a widespread fungal blight on barley fields and claimed its presence as evidence that when problems arise, they do not turn to agricultural chemicals but instead just accept fate. Others suggested that the problem lay in the proliferation of petty matsutake dealers who briefly jump into the business, unconcerned about their reputation over the long term or the morality of their everyday actions over the short term. Indeed, numerous matsutake dealers at different scales have turned to new careers such as driving taxis, operating vegetable stands, or cutting hair.21
When the matsutake arrive in Kunming, most are sold wholesale in city markets, especially in those specializing in mushrooms, or brought directly to one of approximately a dozen major exporting firms that constitute the Yunnan Matsutake Association, all funded mainly by domestic support but with strong ties to Japan. The association supports the work of some scientists and helps fund international workshops, such as the one I helped organize in 2011, with researchers from North Korea, Japan, China, the United States, and Canada. Members of the association are quite interested in increasing Yunnan’s matsutake yields, in part as they are under pressure from scientists and officials who worry that the mushroom may be overharvested. One of the association’s major projects involves teaching villagers and local government officials how to borrow techniques from Japan that will increase matsutake production. To this end, the association paid for the translation of a key book from Japan that offers theory and methods for creating “matsutake mountains”; it instructs people on how to modify trees, forest duff, and soil to increase levels of production. After the book was translated into Chinese, the association printed and distributed it to officials and villagers in some of the main matsutake areas in northwest Yunnan. The association brought the author, Dr. Yoshimura, to the 2011 international workshop in Yunnan, where he gave a talk and offered suggestions during a field trip to some major matsutake sites.
The Yunnan Mushroom Association is also addressing the main concern of its member companies, the threat of pesticide-contaminated matsutake arriving in Japan. They are trying to build chains of responsibility, in which individual dealers are accountable for the mushrooms they deliver to the export companies. However, many of these higher-level dealers also buy from lower-level dealers, who buy from potentially hundreds of pickers. One effort, begun in 2009, was to make and distribute mushroom-picking bags with a set of rules printed on them and convince villagers to use these bags only for mushrooms, thus reducing the chances of accidental contamination at this level in the commodity chain.
In addition to reducing the risk of contamination within Yunnan, the Yunnan Mushroom Association is hoping to improve business in several ways. First, its members are trying to better understand Yunnan’s position in the world market. They are keen to grasp Yunnan’s place among its international competitors, and a number of Chinese scholars have begun to investigate Japan’s trade with Korea, the United States, and Canada in order to create new trade strategies. They have been asking such questions as, when are these other mushrooms produced, what kinds of prices are they receiving in Japan and why, and how does the price change over the season? They are also trying to better understand diversity within Japan: Do various markets demand different kinds of matsutake? Within the global ripening cycle, Yunnan’s mushroom season is neither the earliest nor the latest; mushrooms that ripen earliest often fetch higher prices, as do those at the end of the season, when supplies are more limited. The association has also been trying to foster domestic interest in matsutake. For example, some dealers now sell frozen packs of matsutake that are too small for CITES approval to Chinese urban markets.22 Some of these small frozen mushrooms travel on the same flights to Shanghai as the larger mushrooms bound for Japan that are shipped fresh, never frozen. Thus, while it is not clear that CITES has necessarily led to a reduction in the matsutake trade, it has unintentionally created a bifurcated market and fostered interest in stimulating domestic sales. CITES regulations have also given the state more control over exports, created a source of revenue, and ended up reducing the number of exporting companies.
The Chinese state remains powerful and has not been “hollowed out”—that is, weakened—by transnational corporations and nongovernmental agencies. In its emphasis on efforts to address desertification, flooding, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, and so forth, the Chinese state has become increasingly “ecologized.” The Sloping Land Conversion Program inspired many local government leaders to encourage the matsutake trade and has increasingly pushed villagers to turn away from logging and toward collecting non-timber forest products. Yet, forms of environmental governance are not simply monopolized by the Chinese state. These days, almost everyone involved in the harvest is aware that pesticides constitute a major problem, a far cry from China’s celebratory posters of the 1960s, which showed young women proudly using insecticide foggers in large fields. A wide range of actors, Chinese and Japanese, including scientists, dealers, pickers, and customs inspectors, contributes to the working out of environmental governance.
This panoply of actors coming together in the governance of matsutake as a market resource in turn contributes to significant socio-ecological change in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. At the same time, however, matsutake markets do not represent the first arrival of long-range trade in the area. They often utilize ancient trade routes formed over centuries of movements of a wide variety of goods and a wide range of people—not only traders but also pilgrims, soldiers, and officials. The shape of this economy, in turn, has been affected by recent developments in tourism and conservation—that is, by the processes of shangrilazation and the ecological state—which are bringing new constraints and opportunities to the region, but in ways that do not always unfold as predicted.
Even though matsutake prices have fallen since early in the first decade of the 2000s, hundreds of thousands of people still regularly participate in the matsutake market and invest their profits widely, such as by buying new homes or motorcycles or, in a few cases, sending their children to college in the United States. During the matsutake boom, a number of families started to sell off their herds of cattle, cattle-yak hybrids, and yaks, whereas now, herding may be on the rise, as people are warier of the vicissitudes of the market and as tourist demand increases the value of yak meat and butter. The region’s rising wealth has also contributed to a growing connection with the larger Tibetan diaspora, and it appears that more Tibetan young men, especially, are coming back from their sojourns in India, where they studied Buddhism and learned different languages, including English. They are joining a diverse set of actors in this rapidly transforming social terrain, creating new ecological and economic landscapes and working to foster stronger connections to Japan and beyond. These borderlands are not created through their separation from other zones of political and economic power but are constantly being remade through their ongoing connections.
6. TRANSNATIONAL MATSUTAKE GOVERNANCE
This chapter stems from my participation in the collaborative Matsutake Worlds Research Group, with Tim Choy, Lieba Faier, Miyako Inoue, Shiho Satsuka, and Anna Tsing.
1Scholarship on the “Tea and Horse Caravan” trade, often across present-day borders, includes Atwill 2005; Giersch 2006, 2010; Gros 2011; Lu 1997; Mu 2001; and B. Yang 2004.
2Chinese accounts of border areas have often portrayed these places as isolated and “opened up” by China for the first time, as though they were too far from major imperial centers (Berman 1998; Lü Yiran, Ma, and Xin 1991; Ma Ruheng and Ma 1990; Wade 2000). James Scott (2009), in contrast, reads such distance as the result of conscious intent, viewing Zomia as a zone of escape from governmental domination, a place where people practiced the “art of not being governed.” Influenced by work such as Thongchai Winichakul’s Siam Mapped (1997) and C. Patterson Giersch’s Asian Borderlands (2006), I am less inclined to view this as a place of unintentional or intentional isolation and more inclined to read these borderlands as places of overlapping and complex engagements (see also Sturgeon 2005). For a critical discussion of James Scott’s use of the term “Zomia,” see Jean Michaud’s edited collection in the Journal of Global History (2010).
3In 1940, Japan produced and marketed more than 12,000 metric tons of matsutake, but within a decade, the amount had decreased by almost half, to 6,448 metric tons. Japan’s consumption has never recovered to its 1950 levels, even with massive imports from a number of countries. By 1965, domestic production fell to 1,291 metric tons, and in 1984 it was less than 200 metric tons, a number that remained relatively stable over the next few decades. These figures are approximate. Unlike manufactured goods such as cars that are produced in large factories and are easily quantified, quantities of wild products such as matsutake are known only by those goods that appear at major markets and are subject to regular and reliable surveys. China’s export figures and Japan’s import figures rarely match. Only in 2000 did the Yunnan government begin to actively aggregate data on matsutake production; previously, such data were generated by different government sectors and offices, and mushroom species were often combined or mixed with other non-timber forest products such as bamboo shoots.
4Another explanation for the forest decline points to Japan’s rural exodus: rural people had regularly cut hardwood trees for fuelwood and raked away forest duff for animal bedding, activities that created excellent matsutake habitat. Pine trees, already aging and weakened by acid rain, also suffered from an introduced insect pest, a nematode, which further diminished production (Amend et al. 2010; Faier 2011; Saito and Mitsumata 2008).
5As in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, there was earlier interest in North American matsutake before active trade began in the 1970s. In the United States, Japanese Americans hunted matsutake in places like Oregon’s Mount Hood by the 1930s, and Japanese Canadians discovered matsutake at World War II internment camps (Togashi and Zeller 1934; Shiho Satsuka, pers. comm., 2011). Although some mushrooms were shipped back to Japan, they decomposed long before reaching their destination.
6Most scholars concur that before the 1980s, matsutake generated little interest or worth in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, either for domestic use or for export. Daniel Winkler found mention of one exception in the Forestry History of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which claims that “between 1909 and 1912 ten tons of matsutake at a total value of four hundred kilograms of silver were exported from Kangding [in present-day Sichuan]” (Winkler 2008a, 9). To my knowledge, this is the only citation on China’s matsutake trade before the 1970s. I am not completely convinced, however, that this song rong is indeed Tricholoma matsutake. We have no further details, such as where these mushrooms were sent, but the shipments would have likely been dried, as fresh ones deteriorate quickly.
7There has been little written about the foreign trade stations, in part because of the widely repeated perception that Mao-era China was an autarky with almost no foreign trade. However, rural stations were actually vital in providing the state with foreign exchange. For exceptions, see studies on the role of waimao zhan in wildlife harvests by Chris Coggins (2003) and Peter J. Li (2007). Li reports that by 1978, China legally exported US$150 million worth of wildlife products annually, a substantial part of foreign trade. This was equivalent to the combined value of all of China’s exports in mutton, beef, sheep hides, and products from ten other farm animals. Some of these goods were quite lucrative. For example, the glands of musk deer (used in making perfumes and industrial scents) were highly desired in Japan. It is estimated that between 1978 and 1986, smugglers brought more than forty-five thousand ounces of Chinese musk to Japan (P. J. Li 2007).
8Compare the commodity chain for matsutake with that for caterpillar fungus discussed by Michelle Olsgard Stewart, in chapter 7 in this volume. The latter can be dried and stored for a long time, while the matsutake retains its high value only if fresh. Caterpillar fungus is sold mainly to Chinese, whereas almost all of the marketable matsutake is shipped to Japan.
9Åshild Kolås, who carried out fieldwork in 2002 and 2003, provides some information that puts these earnings in perspective. During the August–September peak season in some areas, a household could make at least ¥100 a day, or ¥4,000 a year, from matsutake. With an exchange rate of ¥8 per U.S. dollar, this would be less than US$500 for a family of perhaps six a year, not a substantial sum, but when compared with selling a cow for ¥300, it is lucrative indeed (Kolås 2004,123).
10The resurgence of traditional Tibetan architecture is also occurring outside key matsutake areas, often spurred by attempts to stimulate tourism. Few matsutake villages, however, have become part of tourist circuits, so these transformations are not necessarily motivated by interest in tourism.
11My fieldwork outside Lijiang early in the first decade of the 2000s indicates an emerging market for selling homes, not as property, but for materials (mostly wooden posts and beams). The buyers were mainly based in Lijiang’s “Old Town,” where the demand was exacerbated both by UNESCO World Heritage regulations stipulating that building restoration should use “traditional materials” and by a logging ban, which made fresh timber more difficult to acquire.
12These matsutake collection rules are elaborated from village rules and popular contracts (xianggui minyue), which were aimed mainly at protecting village forests and water sources and centered around harvesting forest goods such as fuelwood and animal bedding materials. Other rules include not digging up patches of mushrooms and not harvesting them when they are too small or when the caps are fully open (with the notion that maintaining mature mushrooms will provide spores and enable future production). More village rules are described in Menzies and Li 2010.
13While estimates of losses from logging revenue are widely quoted, and likely generated by county leaders eager to gain compensation for their financial losses, Stedman-Edwards (2000) notes that these counties were already receiving support from Beijing (as poor and frontier places), and so logging revenue may be actually have been closer to 20 to 40 percent (9).
14The program’s “carrots and sticks”—the offer of grain as compensation and the threat of punishment—were not carried out vigilantly and uniformly but operated quite unevenly in Yunnan and elsewhere (Fedor 2006; Lang 2002; Y. Yang 2001).
15The illegal wildlife trade occurs on a large scale. One journalist found that in Yunnan, forestry police and customs agents seized twenty-five tons of wildlife products in 2003 alone. China Daily, “Confiscated Contraband Poses Dilemma” March 4, 2004, (accessed May 29, 2012).
16Three years later, in 2002, when Chinese delegates attended the international CITES conference, they joined with Japanese delegates in opposing the inclusion of fungus under CITES, arguing that it was too difficult to determine if fungus was threatened by trade (Thomas 2005). Subsequently, China agreed that CITES should continue to consider adding fungus, but Japan registered an official reservation against the plan. Based on these actions, it seems as if Japan and China wish to manage the mushroom themselves, but not necessarily through international oversight.
17This ban on smaller mushrooms is inspired more by economic than ecological considerations, as there is no net ecological difference between removing small and medium-size mushrooms that are not yet producing spores. Spores should not be confused with seeds. Mushrooms are more like apples than apple trees; mushrooms are fruiting bodies that come from vast underground networks of mycelia. They spread through the release of spores, although it remains largely unknown what allows spores to change into mycelia and what triggers mycelia to produce matsutake fruiting bodies.
18Japanese reports did not specify where the matsutake were from. Chinese officials are also unclear, and those in the southwest often point to northeast China. Japanese quarantine officials found 2.8 parts per million of dichlorvos, an organophosphoric agent used in fumigation and pesticides; the limit is 0.1 parts per million (“Chemical Residue Found on ‘Matsutake’ Imports,” Japan Times, August 30, 2002). This discovery led to decreased Japanese demand for Chinese mushrooms and increased interest in matsutake from places deemed “safe,” such as Canada and Sweden.
19The addition of other ingredients that cut the purity of valuable goods or increase the heft of objects sold by weight—for example, of bundles of wool or medicinal roots—is a common technique elsewhere in China and around the world (Laveaga 2009; Williams 2002). Many of these common adulterants (sand, water, dirt) create no real threat to consumer health, but contamination with pesticides raises serious issues.
20David Arora once watched a basket of matsutake change hands six times at a market in the course of several hours (pers. comm., 2008).
21In twenty-first-century China, entrepreneurialism is common and trading in matsutake is just one of the many possibilities for “business,” made necessary by soaring unemployment.
22Although a number of village rules stipulate that no mushrooms with caps smaller than five or six centimeters across are allowed to be sold, a number are sold anyway. As Nicholas Menzies and Li Chun (2010) report, regional officials in northwest Yunnan are trying to clamp down on these sales by rewarding prefectures that obey these regulations and denying permits to dealers that truck in these small matsutake. Nonetheless, in 2009 and 2011, I saw dealers in Kunming offering many small matsutake for sale.