Global Asia

Trading Caterpillar Fungus in Tibet. When Economic Boom Hits Rural Area

Emilia Roza Sulek

Caterpillar fungus, often called the Himalayan Viagra, is a subject of the latest commodity boom which changed the economic fates of Tibetan pastoralists in China. This expensive medicinal resource made a spectacular market career in East Asia after the outbreak of avian influenza and SARS. Growing demand for this 'wonder drug' created for people on the Tibetan plateau where this fungus is endemic attractive income opportunities which they never had before. Tibetan pastoralists engaged in this new 'gold rush' and turned from subsistence-oriented yak and sheep breeders living in a cash-poor environment into local economic elite. This book tells a story of successful pastoralists high on the Tibetan plateau who take advantage of the economic boom in the Chinese market to accomplish their own goals. They emerge as far more sophisticated actors than most outsiders would give credit to before reading this book.


Emilia Roza Sulek

Emilia Roza Sulek, born and educated in Warsaw, received a Ph.D. from Humboldt University of Berlin, has been a visiting fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden and teaches at the Universities of Zürich and Bern. Her fields of interest include pastoral societies, economic and political anthropology, oral history and identity-making.

She has conducted long-term field research on the Tibetan Plateau, studying social and economic changes among the pastoralists. She is in the editorial board of Nomadic Peoples. Journal of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples. Among her numerous articles there are: "Fading Colors of the Tibetan Prayer Flag" (Himalaya 2017), "Caterpillar Fungus and the Economy of Sinning" (Études Mongoles & Sibériennes, Centrasiatiques & Tibétaines 2016), "Invisible Mongols" (Rocznik Orientalistyczny 2014) and "Disappearing Sheep" (Himalaya 2010).

Her next book project is a collection of anthropological short prose based on her many years of fieldwork in Tibet.

Also available as E-book.