At the end of autumn, in the middle of a residential area, a handful of people gather around several sheep carcasses, hanging upside down with their head removed. Blood is dripping from their broken necks and tails.
The man who sells the mutton is boasting to consumers the high quality and freshness of his sheep. According to him, all the sheep were transported from Inner Mongolia, constantly in frozen condition.
The mutton is sold for 22 RMB per “jin” (half a kilo) with skin and 21 RMB without the skin. Some costumers doubt the freshness of the meat, for the price is quite cheap.
This year, the man has purchased 50 tons of Mongolian sheep. He estimates that they can be sold out before the Spring Festival.
He is from Anhui, but speaks with a pure Nanjing accent. He explains that he has moved here more than a decade ago. He started the sheep trade a couple of years ago.
We visit a wholesale market for meat at BaoTaqiao Street, located on the east side of the Yangtze River. The place is deserted on the Sunday afternoon, except for the chaotic howling of livestock coming from one of the large, warehouse-like, buildings.
We enter the building. Once we get adjusted to the darkness, we see dozens of pigs crowded in iron cages.
We meet Mr. Wu, the owner of the pigs, and a colleague. Mr. Wu bought the pigs from Anhui Province and will sell them to butchers and supermarkets for 2,000 RMB each. Every day, he purchases and sells out 40 to 50 pigs, he says.
Behind an area of new apartments, next to the Dongfeng park, there is a small village with cottages; a so called “chengxiangjiehebu” (village in a city).
The area originally was a cemetery in the late Qing dynasty. At that time, the people who lived here were guarding the graves. With the foundation of the Peoples Republic, the land was turned into farmland for growing vegetables and crops.
When we walk through the streets in this area, we see many gambling rooms. We stop by a group of men playing cards. They play a very serious game with high stakes.
The men are descendants from people from Jiangxi province who came to Beijing several generations ago when there was a shortage of fresh meat in Beijing. The Jiangxi traders set-up a business for slaughter and sales of meat, providing Beijing citizens with the needed supply of fresh meat. During those days, many of the men gambled and played card games during the day, while at night they slaughtered and ran their meat business. A government ruling in 1994 ended the slaughter business; as of then individuals were not allowed to slaughter livestock anymore.
Many of the Jiangxi people stayed in the area after the ruling and are still active in trading meat.
Residents in the area do not expect that the village has to make way for development projects any time soon. The land is worth a lot of money and it would cost the government too much money to buy the land and relocate the residents.
The living conditions in the area are simple, but the rent is high. The owner of the gambling room pays 800 Yuan per month. With his child at an age to enter school soon, the high rent is a burden for him.
Mr. Fu is originally from Cangzhou in Hebei province. He moved to Beijing two years ago and sells meat on the street.