Zhōngguó (“middle kingdom”) – ok, China to you, Qin Dynasty fans – can’t seem to extricate itself from the middle of controversies.
Start with the “bird dinosaur” Archaeopteryx and end with the ZTE deal, and you have an alphabet of fakes and frauds encircling the kingdom.
Of course, the singing of this alphabet does not blend well with the drum beat of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and with the welcome chorus of mascots Beibi, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini.
It blends well, though, with the usual critical refrain of Korean writer Kim Ki-cheon who recently commented: “China has the world’s fourth largest economy, but it also carries a heavy burden of shame.” Kim might find a tea drinking buddy in Senator Miriam Santiago who has just made a startling discovery: “The Chinese invented corruption for all human civilization!”
● From 2001-2006, China has been the world’s undisputed largest producer and consumer of beer. It is said that among all the 600 breweries in China, Tsingtao produces the best beer, a claim that was met by many Westerners in China with raised eyebrows.
● China is the world’s fastest-growing book market with its close to 600 publishing houses churning out 400 new book titles everyday. In 2005 alone, the country published 128,578 new titles which is but a fraction of the 6.4 billion books it has already produced. A brief tour of the four-storey Wangfujin Bookstore, my favorite bookshop in Beijing, can give one an awe-inspiring peek into this once-sleeping Dragon’s book production.
● China produces 40% of the world’s socks, 65% of its sports equipment, and 95% of its buttons.
● China annually consumes 200,000 tons of rubber to produce 2.5 billion pairs of shoes each year.
● China is the source of 80% of Europe and Asia’s toy imports
Which reminds me of that made-up classroom conversation now circulating in the internet:
Indeed, there seems to be no place on earth where “Made in China” goods have not gone to. And mind you, this is not just a recent phenomenon. Said to be “the oldest surviving civilization,” China has been stamping its trademark far and wide ever since Shi Huangdi crowned himself first emperor of the Qin dynasty.
With all these news of fake and dangerous Chinese goods, it is easy for us to judge this nation of 1.2 billion people as the worst exporter of consumer goods. Not too fast, my friends. The 2005 US Food and Drug report seems to disagree, because it noted that certain products from the Dominican Republic and Denmark had been impounded that year by US authorities 817 and 520 times, respectively . In contrast, China’s seafood exports that year had been confiscated only 391 times, exploding the myth that China has a monopoly on corrupt trade practices.
It is also easy for us to say that the Chinese government is not really doing anything to curb the alarming production of fake goods by its own people. Not so. Note: Chinese authorities late last year confiscated in Zhejiang Province 650,000 boxes of fake Gillette products worth USD 3.5 million, and busted in Heilongjiang Province a syndicate that had already produced 230 tons of fake milk powder. A year before that, the chief of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) was found guilty of accepting a USD 800,000-bribe during his seven-year stint in exchange for his approval of fake drugs, and was promptly executed.
All these, however, are not cited to make us gloss over China’s shady deals with other countries and its sub-standard export items. Well have many said that China needs a systemic overhaul, especially that 75% of its food exports is rumored to have been produced by small-time illegal companies.
Also, a Hong Kong-based journalist observed that the Beijing State Environmental Protection Administration (BSEPA) office is undermanned being composed only of less than 300 individuals serving 1.3 billion people – a shocking revelation, especially when compared with, say, the BSEPA’s counterpart in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has 17,000 people serving 300 million Americans.
Sustainable Development (SD) expert Ezio Manzini once predicted that China will do a “leapfrog” from an outmoded economic system to an environment-friendly, modern one.
He’d better be right. We don’t want a repeat of Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward.”