For years it has been a byword for luxury and wealth – a bowl of shark-fin soup at a banquet attended by the rich and famous.
Beijing apparently consumes 100 million yuan (£10m) worth of shark fin every day and one factory owner got into deep water this week after he didn't offer shark-fin soup at a dinner with officials.
The shark fin is cherished as an expensive luxury food and is treasured by the newly wealthy as a way of showing off freshly acquired riches. More than 95 per cent of the annual harvest of shark fin is consumed on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The sharks are often "finned", which means they are caught, shorn of their fins and then thrown back alive into the water to die – and this has angered animal-rights activists.
But public opposition is growing to the consumption of shark fin, especially since basketball star Yao Ming, who has remained a national hero since his retirement, called on the business community to lose its fondness for the delicacy.
"Unless we act now, we will lose many shark populations, impacting our oceans worldwide," Mr Yao said. "When the buying stops, the killing can too."
In July, the state council said it was planning a ban on shark-fin soup at banquets in the next two or three years. Many big Asian hotel chains have already phased out shark fin because of the growing public anger at the practice and the Hong Kong government banned "exorbitant food materials and endangered species such as shark fin" at state banquets last year.