China’s Rosewood Boom: A Cultural Fix to Capital Overaccumulation

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Abstract

Rosewood has become the world’s most trafficked group of endangered species, with global seizure values surpassing that of ivory, rhino horn, and big cats combined. This is almost entirely attributable to growth in demand from China over the past two decades. Since 2000, classical rosewood furniture that dates back to the Ming Dynasty has been revived as a hot cultural commodity. This article explores China’s recent rosewood renaissance, which has brought annual market sales up to nearly $26 billion. In contrast to accounts that attribute Chinese demand for endangered species to the conspicuous consumption of a rising elite, I focus on the speculative aspect of the demand. I argue that China’s rosewood boom is largely the result of speculative investment that functions as a “cultural fix” to the country’s growing problem of capital overaccumulation. As with Harvey’s spatial fix, a cultural fix pioneers new productive outlets for the accumulation of surplus value. Unlike Harvey’s spatial fix, however, a cultural fix seeks these new productive outlets in cultural realms—specifically, through the mutual convertibility of cultural and economic capital, as defined by Bourdieu. Given the oversaturation of more conventional investment avenues, Chinese investors have increasingly turned to rosewood and other culturally important endangered resources, such as ivory, rhino horn, and tiger parts, as a new outlet for the accumulation of surplus value. More than conspicuous consumption, China’s rosewood boom is the result of rampant financial speculation resulting from a cultural fix. Key Words: China, cultural capital, endangered species, overaccumulation, spatial fix.

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Zhu, A. L. (2020). China’s Rosewood Boom: A Cultural Fix to Capital Overaccumulation. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 110(1), 277–296. https://doi.org/10.1080/24694452.2019.1613955

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