Million-dollar Mastiffs and Cosmetic Surgery for fishes: The Asian Obsession

In Asian culture, one’s status is paramount. Referred to somewhat colloquially as “Face” or  Miàn zi (面子), it represents one’s reputation, prestige, and respect he is afforded from his relatives to colleagues to even society at large, an intangible manifestation of one’s supposed ego. Perhaps this is why Asians, especially Chinese, are willing to fork out exorbitant sums for “status-boosting” household pets: the exotic Asian Arowana and the regal Tibetan Mastiff.

Known for its’ gargantuan size, long coat, and ferocious appearance, the Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient breed of dog used by the Tibetan nomads for thousands of years. Once prized as a symbol of wealth and prestige amongst the Chinese, a golden-haired pup that has “lion’s blood” once went for $2 million dollars to a property developer eager to do his own breeding.

However, like all fads, the craze for the mastiff came and went. Recently, it has transpired that Tibetan Mastiffs are no longer in demand, with mastiff breeders suffering from overcapacity as most buyers have vanished. The average asking price for the once-great mastiff is a far cry from its peak: now a mere US$2,000, although many desperate breeders are willing to go far lower. Tibetan mastiffs-once practically royalty-can now even be found at the back of meat trucks, sold at a pittance of US$5 per head.

Conversely, popularity for the Arowana still blazes hot and bright. Blowing $100 to give a fish an eyelift is infinitesimal to their owners-$US300,000 has been spent by a Chinese Communist Party official while a Singaporean elite shelled out S$326,922 super red Arowana named Valentino. While prices for the fish remains exorbitant, the fish’s enchantingly divine features could offer a brief insight into the madness. Thanks to its’ prominent, shimmering scales and dragon-like whiskers, it bears a mild resemblance to the mythical Chinese dragon-a purveyor of luck and wealth in Chinese culture-making it incredibly popular amongst Chinese businessmen.

As the Arowana ascends and the Mastiff wanes, the ethical aspects of treating animals as a form of commodity, a display of wealth are most intriguing. While owners often do provide a rather comfy life for animals in captivity compared to their lives in the wild, the issue of abandonment and such remains a pertinent problem yet to be resolved. What do you think about such fickle ownership?

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