China’s role in the global food system has expanded immensely in recent years. In the seafood sector, it is now the largest consumer of seafood products in the world, making the Chinese market highly significant for global fisheries. Drawing on ethnographic- and interview-based research in the largest seafood market in Beijing, this paper analyzes the social context of Chinese consumption and trade. We broadly conceive of this social context as encompassing a range of social norms and practices that include culturally and historically generated consumer preferences, and distinctive forms of governance and business practice. We find that the social context of China is a key driver of patterns of consumption and trade, and provides challenges and opportunities to improve governance for environmental sustainability. We highlight the need for greater policy and academic attention to these characteristics of seafood consumption and trade within China.