China – The bad… Part 2

(for included images, see the original blog post here:

Health & Safety

## Food & Drink

This is a BIG one.

China is renowned for its counterfeit products, its lackadaisical approach to piracy and a variety of other scandals, on the top of this pyramid of crime, I would say, is the rather ubiquitous fake foods industry, of which there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to scandals (And believe me, it doesn’t cover the half of it) –

These incidents can simply be disgusting, like using cardboard in place of breaded food. Others are mildly concerning, like the recent bout of fake Budweiser, in which a small factory was busted for producing 600,000 crates every month ‘as workers at the factory dumped their bare hands in buckets of beer to fill the cans before sealing them shut on a dirty-ass conveyor belt’

Then we get to the downright dangerous and disgusting, like using human hair and sewage in tofu manufacturing, and poisonous baby formula, in which 300,000 children were made sick, and 6 were killed in this single incident in China alone. Other countries were also affected. There are numerous incidents of entire schools falling ill, some even having students contracting cancer from food incidents like this (though it could be wildly coincidental that somebody was diagnosed with cancer around the same time that 500 students fell severely sick, who knows).

Li Chiangjiang forced to resign from his position as safety boss after 53,000 infants fall ill from a baby formula scandal.


More personal to me, a recent man was caught on my very street with over a thousand dead cats hanging in plastic bags in his dingy apartment. He had been hunting cats in the street, killing them and preparing to sell them to restaurants – who would then claim it was another meat, such as rabbit. This was also not an isolated incident. I have a cat, so I made sure never to let him out again, until I moved house to a safer area. Again, this is in downtown Shanghai – the most developed and westernized city in the country.

Shanghai locals and expats always thought they were safe from food scandals like this, imagining the better safety procedures in such a wealthy city, yet only a few years ago, reports of 6,000 dead, rotting pigs floating down shanghai river shocked the world, as farmers from some unknown place upstream, due to some unknown cause of death.



Other restaurants just recently have been shut down – thirty-five in one bust – for adding opiates in their food in an odd attempt to drive customers back with addictive qualities.

I was unable to find any data on how many deaths are pinned to food safety; it would be very difficult to count given the long term health issues, the sheer number of scandals, many of which still going to this day, and the general lack of control the government seems to have on these issues.

But it’s fair to say, when living in China, you have to live with the fact that you have probably eaten something unsafe, unsavory and illegal that may have detrimental effects to your health. You have to lead a very paranoid and careful lifestyle to see it through safely.

Even water is not a safe haven’t escaped it, with videos surfacing of individuals filling water bottles with unsafe tap water – some claiming 70% of bottled water is fake in cities like Beijing.

Well, if you’re going to live here being perpetually poisoned, might as well take it up as a dirty habit right? Grab a cigarette.

Actually, not so fast.

There is, I’m sorry to say, a thriving underground world of fake cigarette manufacturing. An estimated 400 billion fake cigarettes are produced in China – ‘Enough to supply every American smoker with 460 packs a year. These are produced in huge factories, often literally underground, like the subterranean factories in Yunxia.

These fake cigarettes are so profitable that even individuals that invested millions into legitimate factories ended up returning to the highly lucrative crime.

Since these counterfeit sticks are not regulated by health and safety procedure, they have been found with 80% more nicotine and 130% more carbon monoxide, as well as other decorative ingredients like insect eggs and human feces.

The safety of China is unbearable to think about, and there is a flood of flashbacks from a wide variety of reports going through my mind as we speak, but I’m already approaching 1,000 words and I have a lot more to cover.

## Pollution

This one is quite self-explanatory, but exacerbated by political corruption – as usual.

China is one of the top offenders of pollution. Recently, it has been reported that it’s possible India is in fact a worse polluter now, but since there is little comparative effort to diagnose their cities’ particulate levels, they have just been unappreciated until recently.

Having said that, 7 of the top 10 world’s most polluted cities are all located in China: Taiyuan, Beijing, Urumqi, Lanzhou, Chongqing, Jinan and Shijiazhuang. This is quite broad geography, spanning from way out west all the way to the east coast, and does not fully enlighten you on the details.

Recently, the city of Shenyang reported PM2.5 levels of 1,400.

PM2.5 is the particulate matter that is around 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter. This is considered the most dangerous particle group. Pm10 is typically things like pollen, whereas 2.5 is more like chemical pollutants that can easily enter the lungs and cause short, mid and long term health effects. 1.6 million people are put to death from polluted air in China each year.

So how bad is 1,400? Well, to put this into perspective, London, as I write, has an AQI (Air quality index) of 30.

Shanghai is faring almost as good at 38 – An incredibly rare occurrence, I’ll admit – and Beijing is around 150. The MAXIMUM level on the scale we use worldwide is a ‘hazardous’ 500 PPM, at which point all citizens will feel health effects and possibly breathing problems.

So when a city reaches 1,400… one can only imagine. All the cotton masks in the world aren’t going to save you.

This would be all very well if there was a prioritized effort to clean it up, but the government have made some… alternative plans. After Beijing was put under red alert for its dangerous levels of pollution three times in a short period, they simply raised the threshold required to create a red alert, several times, and, well, they haven’t had a red alert since! Problem solved!

There are actually some profound efforts to clean up the air in China though, which I’ll cover in the ‘good’ post another time.


## Hygiene

Hygiene is a serious issue in many developing countries, and though China is on its way out of that label – Kind of (See part 1), it still has a long way to go.

You never have to go far, for example, to find some of the most disgusting public bathrooms mankind has to offer. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve cautiously entered a toilet cubicle only to find the wettest shit smeared over the actual seat – For reasons unknown – or on the floor.

A lot of this is to do with methodology and beliefs. It is believed that squatting is better for your bowels, allowing a smoother release and reducing stress to your insides, so you might find some country folk unaware of the point of a western toilet, and try hopelessly to climb onto the toilet to crouch over the bowl and, well, mistakes were made.

And yes, this actually happens. Another sign is needed:

But is squatting actually better for you, or is it just a hangover from the days when a toilet was (and still is in more rural areas and other developing countries) a simple hole in the ground?

Well, according to a study by a company that sells squat toilets, yes, it’s much healthier:

The modern day toilet is convenient, but has one major fault; it requires us to sit. While sitting to do our business may be considered “civilized”, studies show the natural squat position improves our ability to eliminate… The puborectalis muscle creates a natural kink to help maintain continence. Squatty Potty relaxes this muscle for fast, easy elimination.

As for real science, well, the studies have been disappointingly small. Although it’s true that squatting does create an easier release, this generally makes sense because you’re bending and pushing your weight into your bowels and adding pressure. Additionally, none of the studies claim that western toilets are an actual cause of constipation or bad for your health, it’s just that squatting feels better.
For me, I’m so unfit that squatting has been a traumatizing issue, and after hiking for hours uphill every day in Nepal, squatting in a shed is the last thing I want to be doing to my poor, tired legs.

There is the issue of your butt touching the seat that a thousand others have touched, but on one hand, studies show the bacteria on an average toilet seat is fewer in number and less dangerous than that found on your smartphone, and on the other hand, squat toilets tend to look like this:

And the splashback from that is something I’m not too keen to think about.

There are a range of other hygiene issues in Chinese culture, such as the whole philosophy of ‘ridding oneself of bodily waste when the need arises’, hence the bum-less trousers on babies in part 1, as well as the spitting, peeing and shitting from adults at any given time and place. But again, we better move on.
# Corruption

Corruption is rife around the world. You can find innumerable instances of it at any given time in any given place. Some are worse than others, like Kenya, known as possibly one of the most corrupt countries with a government. But we’re here to talk about China, so let’s go.

## Money

As mentioned in part 1, the Chinese economy isn’t doing too well. This is not helped by the raging corruption going around in big businesses and political families.

Since Xi JinPing, affectionately known as Xidada, came into power, he has been battling with corruption left over by Jiang Zemin, a previous party leader. The ideology of each leader seem to be so opposite that it has caused a complete overhaul via one of the biggest anti-corruption campaigns in history.

Several years ago, authorities seized $14.5 billion in assets from family members and associates of Zhou YongKang, a previous security chief of the CPC – more than some small countries make in a given year.

Zhou YongKang is a man responsible for a colourful array of crimes against humanity, including torture, intimidation, labour camps, persecution of dissidents, minorities and religious leaders, at the request of his leader, yep, Jiang Zemin.

Jiang Zemin, leader of the CPC from 1989 to 2002.

Since the cultural revolution, it has been the case that top officials would not investigate each other. That’s just how it’s been. Until Xi Jinping came along. So this huge case was the beginning of a new era, of ruthless wars between two factions within the communist party. And that intense battle between Jiang and Xi is… something for another post.

But since this all began, a huge number of officials have been arrested, some have disappeared entirely, and others forced to resign and even put to death. In the aforementioned case alone, 300 were arrested on charges of corruption. The fact that the richest and most powerful people in China fell like dominoes is testament to how serious this whole thing is.

When first put into power, the previous leader (who was rather unsubstantial due to the overwhelming influence of Jiang Zemin before him), warned Xi that if corruption wasn’t dealt with, it will cause the fall of the party, and the fall of the country.

Since then, Xi has taken down over a million officials… according to official statistics, anyway. It’s such a big thing that there’s even a reality TV show based around political figures confessing to their crimes.

Bai Enpai, sentenced to death for taking 38 million dollars of bribes.

When you start looking at numbers passing a million officials in corruption, you have to wonder, is this such a simple problem, or is this part of a larger culture, a system-wide situation that condones corruption from the ground up? It sounds to me like the entire party of the entire country of China has been totally fine with it.

The public are not unaware of this either, with 50% of the public saying corruption is a very big problem in the country, and a further 34% think it’s quite a big issue – a combined concern higher than all other aspects researched, such as health, crime and pollution.


The battle continues to this day, and although it’s clear the battle is benefiting Xi in many ways, garnering an exponential amount of power (Some liken his power to be on par with Mao Zedong himself now, and has officially been called ‘the core leader of the party’), it also has the added benefit of ‘draining the swamp’, as some orange-haired buffoon once famously put it.

But this is a big swamp, and the effects are far reaching.

## Ghost cities

The mishandling of money in China creates hefty artificial inflation, unstable financial markets and insane property bubbles that climb to levels higher than anywhere in the world.

One side-effect of this are pretty cool Ghost Cities.

One city, Wuliang, has a multi-million-dollar airport that sees less than 5 flights in any given day. Another which had a planned population of 1 million, has a mere 1 in 50 buildings occupied.

There are at least 50 of these ghost cities across China, and that’s only from one little study. Part of the reason why is because corrupt officials want to get promotions up the wazoo. Promotions are assigned based on their reported GDP growth. By artificially inflating those numbers by building way more infrastructure than necessary. This, in the example of Wuliang, created a temporary GDP growth of a massive 21%. Shortly thereafter, however, the report showed a -2% GDP growth, and that will only be lower now.

With Xi’s anti-corruption campaign going strong, corrupt officials inflating GDP, corrupt factories working in these ghost city and all corrupt families involved, tend to disappear and you’re left with yet another desolate landscape.
## To be continued…

Well, this has been so substantial and interesting to work on, I’ll have to make a THIRD part to this series on the bad stuff. I’ll cover areas involving society and equality, racism, the education system, ecology and international influence of China.

Hope you enjoyed reading, and, watch what you eat.


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