Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Middle Kingdom

There is a long-popular expression here in Japan which translates as, "If you want the best life has to offer, you should have an American house, a Japanese wife, and Chinese food."

I have always admired the long, rich history of China and the wonderful culture it has created. The mystical "middle kingdom" is often a source of wonder for Westerners such as myself, and we can't help but appreciate the many gifts that have come to the world from this ancient nation. I also greatly appreciate all my ethnic Chinese friends and acquaintances, particularly the ones I've met over the past seven or eight years thanks to the wonders of the internet. There is no other country like China on Earth, and there probably never will be. It is a unique treasure, one to be regarded with great respect.

Even so, right now circumstances beg the question, "Just what is up with China?"

It is so ironic that the same China that so clearly demonstrated the dark side of socialism with such disasters as the Great Leap Forward (led to famine and starvation), the Cultural Revolution (basically a civil war within society that displaced and/or killed thousands if not millions), and the Tiananmen Square incident (the People's Army versus the people...and the people lost) is now showing us the dark side of capitalism. It used to be just that China was notorious for pirated goods. Now it seems like there has been an explosion of scandals just over the past several months. Pirated CDs, videos, DVDs, software, and computer parts from China are nothing new. However, now we've seen contaminated pet food and agricultural products sold in the U.S. and elsewhere. We've seen fake medicines and toothpaste containing banned toxic chemicals sold here in Japan. We've also seen counterfeit department store gift certificates smuggled into Japan that were so sophisticated that they even had replicated hologram seals (though they were flawed enough to be spotted by alert officials).

The Chinese government has assured Japan that these have been fairly isolated incidents that have taken place as a result of corrupt officials at the local level. Promises have been made to crack down on them, and already a few such wayward officials have been caught and sentenced to death. However, considering the scope of the problem, these few cases, though very high profile, amount to little more than a scratch on the surface. It is widely reported that there are entire towns in Fujian province that have been turned virtually overnight into giant industrial complexes whose sole purpose is apparently to crank out bogus products for sale overseas. The fact that some if not many if not most of these factories have been using slave labor came to light recently when the government exposed and punished corporate managers and local officials involved in such practices. Again, though these crackdowns have received a lot of media attention, they amount to a drop in an apparently vast and growing bucket. Even more chilling is the obvious sophistication of the counterfeiting industry as evidenced by the recent fake department store gift certificate scandals. Not even holographic seals are entirely foolproof. It is at the point now where investigative journalists are reporting companies in Fujian province now have the capability to replicate just about anything. It is hard to imagine that such an industry has come to be only with the complicity of local officials. But if the national government of China is privy to all this, one has to wonder to what extent and for what reason.

I repeat: What is up with China? One thing is for sure, Japan is worried.

source (NCTimes)
source (IHT)
source (BusinessWeek Magazine)
(another one)
source (The Age - Australian)
source (Asia Sentinel)
source (China Elections)
source (Chinese Wiki)

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3 Comments:

  • Apparently a lack of oversite government agencies and ethics is the cause. Anything for a buck. But we can't ignore that the Chinese military industrial complex is what drives it. I would be curious to know what they pay in taxes.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 2:02 AM  

  • The Chinese government and industry (along with all the things you mentioned) are illustrations of what happens when a power structure can act independently from the people it represents. They have nothing to answer for except the threat of not filling the party/business leader's pockets with money.

    If you notice, the only leverage there is in countering these bad acts is the free press outside of China. Imagine if they could be bought off; that we would never even learn what poisons are in our products or which of our products were the result of slave labor.

    In fact, this is where we are headed with the merging of corporate and governmental power to cooperate against the will/best interests of the people.

    Almost anything made in China is also made somewhere else though. If we are truly worried about what China is doing, shopping for things made elsewhere is always an option. Vote with your money.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:41 AM  

  • Actually, I believe the international community has been aware of problems w/Chinese foodstuffs for awhile now-there was a scandal in Portugal when babies died when fed infant formula made in China (I think it was the same contaminant found in the pet food here..) Also I think in one or more of the Caribbean nations as well...

    You'd think something simple like food wouldn't be tampered w/...but when you can make a buck...throw out the baby w/the bathwater evidently.

    Of course this has been a boon for locally or US/Canadian made organic pet food.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 8:30 AM  

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