Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beating a dead pig...

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. Lisa, I see in this subtle evidence that the Shanhaiese are coming on strong as the Masters of the Universe: really funny jokes about actual disasters. The kind of thing I previously expected only from Wall Strret. I love your China posts! But then my real name is P. King.

    1. Annamaria, yep. The jokes by Chinese netizens in general about such things can be pretty damn funny. I will try and post more of them. They had a blast with a photoshop scandal a year or so back, where some officials supposedly on an inspection tour were very clumsily photoshopped onto a road.

      Floating Chinese officials!

      More photos!

  2. Lovely voice, pretty lady - anyone any idea when this was recorded?
    I do find it disturbing that the next first lady of China apparently sees herself as leading all the armed forces in a struggle against overwhelming force - but then again it's quite like the American attitude in films, TV etc Even the focus on the national anthem reminded me of all those scenes where solemn Americans stand with their hands on their hearts, while the flag is raised and the Anthem played. Must be some deep insecurity in 'On top' nations.........

    1. Penny, it's sort of a cliche, but there is a huge "victim" attitude in China as a nation -- not unsurprising in a country that was colonized and exploited for a century and a half. But it's an uneasy mix at time when you combine with China's emergence on the world stage and the "we're a superpower now" reality.

  3. I visited Shanghai last year and thought it was a fantastic city. There was only one thing: it was over the Tiananmen Square anniversary and the internet basically closed down. Even Murderiseverywhere. Even AFTER the anniversary.
    So I also find the video disturbing...

    1. Michael, Blogger and other social media sites are hard-blocked in China and have been on and off for years. Around the Olympics everything opened up and it was awesome. But with the leadership transition and the Jasmine movements, they really cracked down. No Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogger, etc. You can get around it with a VPN, but supposedly they are working on closing those down too. Censorship is another one of those things that Chinese people aren't supposed to care about, and maybe you don't if you're a struggling migrant worker or farmer, but I know plenty of Chinese who are sick of the paternalistic, "we know what's best for you to know" attitude. And some of those farmers and migrant workers know how to use text messaging and we chat and weibo to get the word out about local problems and protests, too.

  4. The video seems a strange mix of borrowed film concepts aimed at pumping up national pride. Sort of "Sands of Iwo Jima" and "Les Miserables" meet "Top Gun" with a touch of skyward gazing folk right out of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

  5. I was scratching my head trying to think of what to compare that video to...and I guess the fact that we had an actual former ACTOR as President is a good touchpoint. Peng Liyuan was/is in the People's Liberation Army (not sure what her status is today) as a musician, so in that context it's not surprising. The video touches on a lot of national mythology re: the liberation struggle, and the tropes are pretty common. I guess the weird part for me was the First Lady of China playing a wounded soldier, clutching the flag, etc.!