Advertisement

Caterpillar Fungus and Transforming Subjectivities

  • Gillian G. Tan
Chapter
Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 10)

Abstract

As a hybrid of the mycological and larval, caterpillar fungus is highly valued as a commodity on the eastern seaboard of China because, according to traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought to maintain overall health and treat illnesses of the liver and immune system. For Han Chinese, the potency of caterpillar fungus is augmented by representations of the Tibetan grasslands as natural (Ch. tian ran) and the only place where a particular hybrid, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is found. This chapter explores the gathering and trading of caterpillar fungus by Tibetan nomadic pastoralists and how this connects them to a wider world of Hui traders and wealthy Chinese consumers. Taking up the argument by Tsing (HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3(1), 21–43, 2013) that commodities do not merely define the value system of capitalism, but rather have to be created, and often through non-capitalist interventions such as gifts and relationships, this chapter suggests that Tibetan nomadic pastoralists and middlemen themselves play an important role in creating and recreating the commodity value of caterpillar fungus. Because it is taken up by nomadic pastoralists themselves, caterpillar fungus is able to transform and supersede their relationships with each other and with others in a more profound way compared with many other “products of change.” The growing adoption of a different kind of thinking is viewed not as simple imposition of a global capitalist system but rather as a complicated ecology of relationships that has the potential to transform subjectivities.

Keywords

Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensisCommodity networks Value Tibetan medicine Traditional Chinese medicine Transforming subjectivities 

References

  1. Appadurai, A. (Ed.). (1988). The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Boesi, A. (2003). The dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu (Cordyceps sinensis Berk.): An important trade item for the Tibetan population of the Lithang County, Sichuan Province, China. The Tibet Journal, 28(3), 29–42.Google Scholar
  3. Boesi, A., & Cardi, F. (2009). Cordyceps sinensis medicinal fungus: Traditional use among Tibetan people, harvesting techniques and modern uses. HerbalGram, 83, 52–61.Google Scholar
  4. Faier, L. (2011). Fungi, trees, people, nematodes, beetles and weather: Ecologies of vulnerability and ecologies of negotiation in matsutake commodity exchange. Environment and Planning A, 43(5), 1079–1097.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gaerrang. (2012). Alternative development on the Tibetan plateau: The case of the slaughter renunciation movement. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado-Boulder.Google Scholar
  6. Gaerrang. (2015). Development as entangled knot: The case of the slaughter renunciation movement in Tibet, China. The Journal of Asian Studies, 74(4), 927–951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gruschke, A. (2008). Nomads without pastures? Globalization, regionalization and livelihood security of nomads and former nomads in northern Kham. Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (JIATS), 4, 1–40.Google Scholar
  8. Harris, T. (2013). Geographical diversions: Tibetan trade, global transactions. Atlanta: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  9. Huber, T. (2005). Antelope hunting in northern Tibet: Cultural adaptations to animal behaviour. Wildlife and plants in traditional and modern Tibet: Conceptions, exploitation and conservation. Memorie della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano, Italy, 33(1), 5–17.Google Scholar
  10. Jones, D. (2013). The miraculous caterpillar fungus: The Chinese demand for an unusual herbal medicine. M.A. thesis, University of Washington-Seattle.Google Scholar
  11. Lama, K. T. (2007). Crowded mountains, empty towns: Commodification and contestation in Cordyceps harvesting in Eastern Tibet. M.A. thesis, University of Colorado.Google Scholar
  12. Levine, N. E. (2015). Transforming inequality: Eastern Tibetan pastoralists from 1955 to the present. Nomadic Peoples, 19(2), 164–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Li, Y., et al. (2011). A survey of the geographic distribution of Ophiocordyceps sinensis. The Journal of Microbiology, 49(6), 913–919.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Liang, Y. (2011). Making gold. Commodification and consumption of the medicinal fungus chongcao in Guangdong and Hong Kong. Hong Kong Anthropologist, 5, 1–17.Google Scholar
  15. Norbu Rinpoche, N. (1997 [1959]). Journey among the Tibetan nomads: An account of a remote civilization. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.Google Scholar
  16. Powers, J., & Templeman, D. (2012). Historical dictionary of Tibet. Langham, MD: Scarecrow Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ramble, C. (2008). The navel of the demoness: Tibetan Buddhism and civil religion in Highland Nepal. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rockhill, W. W. (1894). Diary of a journey through Mongolia and Tibet in 1891 and 1892. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  19. Stewart, M. O. (2009). Exploring the rush for ‘Himalayan Gold’: Tibetan Yartsa Gunbu harvesting in Northwest Yunnan and considerations for management. In B. Dotson, K. N. Gurung, G. Halkias, & T. Myatt (Eds.), Contemporary visions in tibetan studies, proceedings of the first international seminar of young tibetologists. Chicago, IL: Serindia Publications.Google Scholar
  20. Sulek, E. R. (2009). In the land of checkpoints: Yartsa Gunbu business in Golok 2007, a preliminary report from the field. In B. Dotson, K. N. Gurung, G. Halkias, & T. Myatt (Eds.), Contemporary visions in tibetan studies, proceedings of the first international seminar of young tibetologists. Chicago, IL: Serindia Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Tan, G. G. (2016). ‘Life’ and ‘freeing life’ (tshe thar) among pastoralists of Kham: Intersecting religion and environment. Études Mongoles et Sibériennes, Centrasiatiques et Tibétaines (EMSCAT) 47.  https://doi.org/10.4000/emscat.2793.
  22. Tsing, A. L. (2013). Sorting out commodities: How capitalist value is made through gifts. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3(1), 21–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wang, X., & Yao, Y. (2011). Host insect species of Ophiocordyceps sinensis: A review. ZooKeys, 127, 43–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Winkler, D. (2004). Yartsa Gunbu—Cordyceps sinensis: Economy, ecology and ethno-mycology of a fungus endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. In A. Boesi & F. Cardi (Eds.), Wildlife and plants in traditional and modern tibet: Conceptions, exploitation and conservation (pp. 69–85). Milan: Memorie della Societa Italiana di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano.Google Scholar
  25. Winkler, D. (2009). Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) production and sustainability on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas. Asian Medicine, 5(2), 291–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Winkler, D. (2010). Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) production and sustainability on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas. Chinese Journal of Grasslands, 32(Suppl), 96–108.Google Scholar
  27. Yeh, E. T., & Lama, K. (2013). Following the caterpillar fungus: Nature, commodity chains and the place of Tibet in China’s uneven geographies. Social and Cultural Geography, 14(3), 318–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Zhu, J., Halpern, G., & Jones, K. (1998a). The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese regimen: Cordyceps sinensis Part I. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 4(3), 289–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zhu, J., Halpern, G., & Jones, K. (1998b). The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient chinese regimen: Cordyceps sinensis Part II. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 4(4), 429–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Tibetan Language Sources

  1. Dorje, G. (1998). Khrungs ped dri med shel gyi me long (The immaculate crystal mirror of source and identification). Beijing: Nationalities Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gillian G. Tan
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social SciencesDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia

Personalised recommendations