Wednesday, August 15, 2007

China & Morality

One of the most interesting things about living in China is the underlying sense of morality.... or the lack there of.

From my time living here, I really believe that anything and everything can happen. Although the vast majority have a decent sense of what's right and wrong, a lot of people clearly don't have it.

Business ethics? Who cares.

Insider Trading? Common place.

Cheating for self gain? Standard.

One recent event that shows the turbulent and frequent questionable nature of what is real/fake and right/wrong occurred in journalism.

The west often accuses Chinese journalism as censored, government approved and basically propaganda. Although everyone and their grandmom knows that there is a natural sensitivity for the government on certain issues (like falonggong, protests) on the national scale, journalism on the local level is more open than I had previously thought. There are definitely news reports, on the radio, in TV and print describing corruption, crimes, and other unsavory events. Although there is a vail lifted over the average Chinese person, it's not as thick as everyone thinks.

Well, about a month ago, a Beijing journalist described a very interesting story about food vendors putting cardboard and other undesirable materials into food. This scary story caused a stir in local and national headlines and was quickly picked up by CNN international sources.

The whole country was in outrage. Police and health inspectors started checking everywhere. Foreign press lamented and criticized China, ect. ect.

And all the while, the story was fake...

As CNN reported through Reuters:

Beijing police have detained a television reporter for allegedly fabricating an investigative story about steamed buns stuffed with cardboard at a time when China's food safety is under intense international scrutiny.

Beijing authorities said investigations had found that an employee surnamed Zi had fabricated the report to garner "higher audience ratings", the China Daily said on Thursday.

"Zi had provided all the cardboard and asked the vendor to soak it. It's all cheating," the paper quoted a government notice as saying.

After I read the original report, I spent a while thinking about the stuff I put into my body every morning before going to work. I also thought about the other crap that could be in the foods out there. I was almost freaking out.

So while I, and many other people were freaking out (like me), while the whole country was in outrage investing food processes, standards and regulations, and while the international community criticized the Chinese government and its standards as another example of inept corruption of the "communist regime," the story turned out to be fake.

So, creating this panic and international incident was just a chance to get higher ratings, and a future promotion. Wow.

This is China.

The reporter has since been tried and sentenced to 1 year in jail and a fine. Good times.

Before leaving this topic, there is another issue that is involved here. I would not be surprised if the story was true and the reporter was telling the truth. Instead, the culprit could be the authorities who are trying to damage control. Different agencies could have ordered that the reporter be the scape goat so that the government could deny these accusations with more footing to foreign trade partners... what if...

Ultimately, no one knows what the hell is going on. It doesn't matter if you believe one side, or the other. They are all playing with the same, cheating deck of cards.


Serena said...

It's been a few weeks since I've checked your blog. Very exciting to see all the new posts. Thanks and keep it up! I'm planning on moving to SZ in about a year and this is great info.

Mike said...

hey thanks, i'm starting back up again, writing.

Colleen Taylor said...

hey didn't know you had a blog too :) look at us all on the Internet.

this is super interesting-- for my "day job" I report on semiconductor technology, so biz practices in China and Asia in general are really cool to hear about from a first-hand perspective.

Anonymous said...

You really are a good writer! I cant help feeling you are a bit quick to generalise about 'morality' in china, though.
You are in Shenzhen, after all!

Glad to see the blog back up and running again

Mike said...

seriously. Shenzhen is one of those places.

however, if you travel around, you will see that its pretty much the same anywhere you go in china.

There is just a different understanding of what's moral and what isnt.