And Finally

Gualu gold

Why a historic variety of lychee from Guangdong has set record prices


The prized Gualu lychee

In Japan the Ruby Roman is a red grape the size of a ping-pong ball. It is also one of the world’s most expensive fruits: a single bunch was sold for $12,000 at an auction two years ago, which averages out at about $400 per grape.

The reason Ruby Romans are so expensive is because only 24,000 bunches are harvested each year. These sweet and low-acid varietals are grown only in Ishikawa prefecture, where farmers control each step of the growing process meticulously to ensure that each grape looks identical.

In China a type of lychee has been making headlines for setting new price records as well. According to, the lychee were priced as high as Rmb1,049 ($155.50) for each catty, or around Rmb60 for each piece of fruit. The most expensive of the crop went for Rmb100 each – admittedly a lot less than the Ruby Roman but very pricey by lychee standards.

Netizens were shocked: “After eating these will I gain some kind of super power?” one asked.

These special types of lychee are only grown in Zengcheng, a small city in Guangdong province. Called Gualu lychee, they come in immaculately wrapped boxes, signifying their luxury status. And despite the exorbitant prices, there were no shortage of buyers after the latest harvest.

All the lychee sold out within two days in Beijing, reported. “Gualu lychees are extremely rare and they need to be harvested almost immediately as they ripen, so it is hard to predict delivery time. Usually they ripen in late June, so now it is almost the end of the season and all the orders must be placed and shipped,” one merchant explained. “The expectation is that there will be no more supply by the end of July. The fruit is so rare that even the people in Zengcheng haven’t tried it themselves. Almost all of them are for sale.”

Lychee first appeared in historical records in China around 2,200 years ago, when the summer fruit was presented to Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty.

It was also very popular with emperors in the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), when an elaborate delivery system saw horsemen transport the lychees all the way from the south of the country to the imperial court in Chang’an (today’s Xi’an). Yang Guifei, the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, was believed to have been a major fan of the fruit too.

Even though a lot of places in China now grow the fruit, Gualu lychees are reckoned to be the highest quality. Some of their rarity is believed to date back to the Qing Dynasty when local officials were so anxious to get the lychees to the emperor that they put unbearable pressure on farmers to cultivate them. Annoyed with the harassment, farmers burned down their lychee trees – the legend is that only one survived.

It is claimed that there are now 4,000 Gualu lychee trees in Zengcheng in total, but most are offshoots of the one tree that didn’t perish.

The Zengcheng government has hosted charity auctions for the coveted fruit, selling off lychees that it claims to come from the ‘mother’ tree at the highest prices. The most expensive lychee was sold for Rmb555,000, breaking the Guinness record at the time as the most expensive fruit sold anywhere in the world.

As prices for Gualu lychees climb, farmers are eager to cash in on the craze. “With the improvements of peoples’ income levels, demand for agricultural products has grown rapidly. However, some consumers also crave novelty and that usually means high prices,” Qiao Jinliang, an economist, noted.

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