Take a look at the photo above. I took it at a “pharmacy” in a tourist-y district of Beijing, near Tiananmen Square.
It’s a photo of a box inside a glass display counter. In the box, there’s a massive root. That’s a ginseng root. According to the labels on the bottom right, the root is from a plant that grew lived for 65 years in the wild. Also according to the labels on the bottom right, the root costs 3,580,000 RMB to buy. That’s about $US588,000 USD.
There are two reasons its so expensive.
Some Chinese people believe ginseng roots are good medicine — even an aphrodisiac. They think roots that lived in a nature for a long time are much more potent than farmed ginseng, which costs a tiny fracture of this amount.
It’s an investment commodity. In January 2012, the WSJ’s Dinny McMahon wrote “With Chinese stocks falling, real-estate markets flat and bank deposits offering measly returns, Chinese investors have been looking for help in strange places. Besides traditional medicinal products, they are plowing money into art-based stock markets, homegrown liquors, mahogany furniture and jade, among other decidedly non-Western asset classes.”
If you ever want to see expensive ginseng like this for yourself, look for this building off Tiananmen Square: