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China and Inner Asia
In Session: The Business of Chinese Science: Global Engagement and Nationalist Imaginaries
4: The High-tech Dreams and Hybrid Realities of the Butterfly Tail: Genetics and Production of Goldfish Varieties in China since the 1980s
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Colby College, United States
Envisioned as an ideal experimental animal for developing genetics and embryology in the 1920s, the goldfish has become the focus of intense studies in a handful of biology laboratories within China. With the frequent political turmoil before the economic reform, however, its research had developed by leaps and bounds. In the 1980s, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, scientists, breeders, and businessmen started to revive their respective enterprise focusing on the goldfish. In this process, they experimented on collaborations aimed at using new genetic or other biotech interventions to create and improve varieties. Geneticist Wang Chunyuan (王春元, b. 1933) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, for example, initiated projects on surveying all extant varieties of the goldfish in China and piece together a clear evolutionary tree between them using advanced molecular analytical tools. At the same time, some breeders insisted in employing traditional crafts of fish feeding, maintenance, and breeding. The newly established Hong Kong company for goldfish production and exportation Tung Hoi, led by Jackie and Luis Chan, however, hired both kinds of experts for their work, including independent researchers for developing genetically engineered goldfish types. By showing the dances between hyped biotech dreams, traditional crafts, frustrated research processes and clashing professional goals, this paper illuminates the particular allure of biotech and resistance against it in the transformation of a commercial sector that has been heavily based upon traditional crafts and labor.