Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beating a Dead Pig...

(originally posted on Murder is Everywhere...)

Shanghai is a pretty amazing city. A lot of it looks like this:

And this:

(these are a couple years old, taken right before the '08 Olympics, so trust me, it's even shinier now)

The city boasts one of the largest subway systems in the world, built mostly over the last decade. Shanghai is China's business and economic center, a global city. It really is not the kind of place where you'd expect to find 9000 dead pigs floating in a river that supplies the city's drinking water.

The pigs apparently came from a town upriver called Jiaxing, a center of pork production. Farmers there don't have the land to bury diseased pigs, so dumping is a common solution. The pigs supposedly died from porcine circovirus, which does not threaten humans. The water supply is perfectly safe, say city officials. In fact, the pigs being dumped actually is a step forward for Chinese food safety, according to the New York Times -- in the past, pigs that had died from diseases frequently ended up sold for meat on the black market and on peoples' tables. 

There have been so many food scandals in China in recent years (sewer oil, fake eggs, fake walnuts, adulterated baby powder, etc. etc. etc.), but this one seems to have struck a particular (gross) chord.

I'll spare you the disgusting photos and go right to the jokes.

A popular choice was parodying the recent Ang Lee film:

Tea Leaf Nation, a site that provides translations of Chinese social media, had this one: 
@淮安老蒋 tweeted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, “Shanghainese people are happy indeed. They pay for water but can drink pork soup!”
 A variation on that joke reported on Shanghaiist:
Beijinger: "We Beijingers are the most fortunate, we can open the window and have free cigarettes." Shanghainese: "That's nothing, we turn on our faucets and have pork chop soup!"
Managing to hit both this scandal and the horrendous air pollution that blanketed Beijing earlier this year.

In the past, the choice has been economic development at the expense of the environment, but now China's ecological crises are so severe that they not only threaten China's economic development, but the social stability of the nation itself. These are issues that unite Chinese across class, location and profession, poor farmers and wealthy urbanites alike. The new administration knows it has to take steps to improve food safety and the environment, yet somehow not throttle back development that keeps the masses employed. One good sign is the front-runner for the position of environment minister, Pan Yue, the former Deputy Director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration. Pan Yue used that office as a bully pulpit, taking on powerful state-owned companies and local governments that polluted with impunity before being shunted aside in 2008. Now he's back, and the question is, will SEPA be given the budget and enforcement power to actually do its job.

And it's a big job. You not only have to fight special interests with ties to the CCP leadership, you have to take on a society where far too many are willing to risk the health of others to make a profit. The lack of trust is frequently cited by Chinese as one of the biggest problems in Chinese society. I have to wonder, at what point are these social bonds frayed past breaking? As one China netizen put it: "The environment around us, and the society we live in, are rotting away just like these pig carcases.” The Central Government has maintained a broad popularity in China (unlike local governments, which are often despised for their more visible corruption), but faced with CCP members dressing up in Pucci, Burberry, Hermes and Armani for the annual "Two Meetings," I wonder also how well that popularity will hold up.

It will be interesting to see how incoming President Xi deals with all of this. 

By the way, his wife, Peng Liyuan, is a famous PLA folk singer and regular performer at the annual CCTV New Year's Gala. She apparently will take a more active role in Xi's administration than most Chinese First Lady's. One of her areas of advocacy in the past has been HIV awareness and education, and the hope is that she'll carry on that work. 

I bet you want to see her sing, right?

Okay, this video has nothing to do with the rest of the post. But I just needed to share it. Because I found it deeply weird...


1 comment:

James Rafferty said...

Fascinating report. China dances to it's own drum. It will be very interesting to see if China steps up to take on it's pollution issues in a major way.