Flat Earth: Greens gauge

ONE sure sign that China is changing could be found on the pavements of Peking last week. Piles and piles of cabbages, the traditional winter staple during the country's socialist transformation - or brutal decline, many Chinese would argue - were gathering frost and few buyers. On average, a Peking family used to buy at least 100 kilos of cabbage to see them through to spring. Day in, day out during the bitter winters of northern China, there was cabbage and nothing but cabbage in everyone's rice bowl. Pickled, boiled, fried, raw - that was it.

Now the fruits, or rather the vegetables, of China's economic miracle have reached the capital. The cabbage market is in a state of turmoil after two years of steady decline.

According to my trader in his end-of-line, padded-nylon jacket, the 'Cabbage Prosperity Barometer' is falling sharply. Peking's increasingly affluent citizens have discovered the delights of eating such out-of-season vegetables as cucumber, tomatoes, cauliflower and celery, which capitalists have been shipping in bulk from the temperate south. By next winter those yuppie staples, rocket, radicchio and zucchini will no doubt be added to the list.

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