“We are recession-proof because we are in the luxury goods business,” says Mr Suen.
But Suen doesn’t work for Louis Vuitton or BMW. He is the owner of a shop that sells red dragon fish in Beijing’s Guanyuan Market.
The red dragon fish is the latest status symbol in China. Locals believe the fish are descendants of a mythical dragon and place a high value on this symbolism.
The fish’s red and gold colouring is traditionally lucky too and they are also reckoned to have excellent feng shui, because they attract qi, or energy.
Like the country’s resilient luxury goods market, sales of the precious fish have remained largely buoyant despite the global economic crisis.
So while the silver variety costs as little as Rmb60, red ones can fetch up to Rmb800,000 ($116,800), depending on their age and condition. At Suen’s aquarium, the most expensive red dragon fish costs about Rmb120,000.
Like a good wine, they can also become more valuable with age – they live for up to 25 years and can grow to a metre (3.3 feet) long. Silver dragon fish are sometimes used as a substitute, but they just don’t carry the same cachet.
“Their cost is reasonable because they are so rare and I can afford it,” Zhang Zhengqiang, a red dragon fish enthusiast, told the China Daily.
Supply is also struggling to meet demand. The fish is close to extinction and is listed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as an Appendix 1 animal, the highest classification. In some countries, including the United States, owners require a permit.
China is now one of the biggest importers, accounting for over 60% of the world’s sales. Anxious for good feng shui, sales have more than doubled since the economic downturn began, says the China Daily.
Most of China’s red dragon fish swim out their lives as prize exhibits in the homes of wealthy Chinese, although some peer out through acquariums in the lobbies of large corporations.
Property developers are the most superstitious, says Suen. He claims that 90% of the country’s real estate developers own at least one if not more. They often compete to see who has the bigger specimen.
Suen’s biggest client is a businessman who already has 60 red dragon fish. “He wants to raise that number to 100,” he says with a grin.
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