Why 'Made in China' can be a health hazard
The book I wrote when I lived in China
As someone who spent 3 years in China and lived to tell the tale...
There is a bit of a stigma attached to buying something 'Made in China.' However, it's not just about the poor quality of the product, or the fact they labeled the bag 'PARDA' instead of 'PRADA.' It's the fact that some of the products can be detrimental to your health. Corruption and greed have led to many companies taking short cuts in the manufacturing process. The potential monetary gain has made it worth the risk of getting a death sentence. If you don't get caught, you become one of China's many new millionaires. If you do get caught, you will be sentenced to death, but it'll happen quite quickly. There's no Death Row in China. You get sentenced to death and the next week your family are crying over the bullet that killed you. But you will have had a great time spending up the money before the end, and that in their eyes, makes it all worth it. So what if you end up killing hundreds of babies, you would have enjoyed spending more money than the average Chinese can dream of.
Recent years have seen many scandals. Just as recently as March this year, four children in the Shanxi province died after being given vaccines that weren't properly stored. The heat-sensitive vaccines had been taken out of air-conditioned rooms because government labels which have to be glued onto the vials to show that the vaccines had been bought from official suppliers at inflated prices, would not adhere to cold vials. Tragically, the government stickers were seen to be more important than keeping the vaccines cold. This has resulted in thousands of children not being properly vaccinated against polio and other diseases.
The great Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 which has an official death total of 90 000, but those in China say is closer to 120 000, is another case of shoddy workmanship, corruption and greed which was responsible for the loss of lives. Many of the schools in the earthquake zone collapsed while classes were still on the go, killing or maiming thousands of children. Building inspectors had accepted bribes to pass sub-standard buildings, believing that they'd never get caught. Some of the building inspectors have since committed suicide. A Chinese activist who was investigating the poor construction of the schools which collapsed, has recently been arrested and sentenced to five years in jail. His crime: subversion.
Although 2008 should have been a good year for China because of the Beijing Olympics, they were more in the news for scandals which resulted in death of the innocents.The big Milk Scandal shocked the world, when producers of baby formula discovered it was cheaper to poison infants than sell authentic formula. Thousands of babies became sick from ingesting milk tainted with melamine, an industrial product more commonly used to make plastics. Milk products produced in China were recalled all over the world. Some babies died. The company directors were sentenced to death, but that didn't help the parents when their children became sick, and the local government's response was to threaten and arrest the parents rather than offer help to the sick children. Incidentally, even the singing of the pretty little girl at the Beijing Olympics was fake. The real singer was recorded but not allowed to perform live as she was said to be, 'not pretty enough' to perform in public. The singer you saw on television was lip syncing.
Then there was the Placebo Scandal, where a pharmaceutical company supplied the state hospitals with placebos but claimed they were antibiotics. Of course, this resulted in deaths as people got sicker instead of better. The company directors got the death sentence.
Toys sold to the US were recalled because they were found to contain lead. Baby cots were recalled when some toddlers died after chewing on the cot rails which were painted with lead paint. Three babies recently sent to America for adoption were hospitalised because of high lead readings in their blood. In Fengxiang, Shaanxi province, where thousands of children have lead poisoning, local officials demonstrated their priorities by allowing the polluting factory to re-open, with no change in its operations. China does not seem to take lead poisoning seriously enough. The industrial pollution and smog which hangs over most Chinese cities is well-documented. It is rare to spot some blue sky. Many nights I woke up with a strong metallic taste in my mouth. My children and I suffered from continual throat infections which miraculously vanished whenever we left China to go on holiday. But it doesn't help going to a state hospital to be tested for lead poisoning, because officials at state hospitals have been bribed to give patients inaccurate readings.
When the recession hit and the US canceled many orders during the Global Credit Crunch, many Chinese factories shut down. The migrant workers who travel from the rural areas were jobless and angry. Riots in the Shenzhen area started as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers tried to get hole of train tickets to travel home. How did China respond to these people who are paid a pittance to work in factories manufacturing sub-standard products? They called in the army, and promptly banned access to all blogs, Youtube and Facebook, hoping that news of the domestic problems would not make it outside.
This is a society where girls would rather use abortion as a method of birth control than take birth control pills as they believe that makes them fat and then the husband they all wish for won't want them. A society where corruption is rife, prisoners and homeless mysteriously disappear and China is one of the biggest suppliers of human body parts for transplant operations. A society where they have perfected the art of copying goods, rather than encouraging innovation. Where 'fake markets' are full of fake copies of prominent brands that look more real than the real thing. A society where people's health is secondary to the amount of money you can make. I have to ask, how did such an ancient civilisation with such a proud history, responsible for the invention of so many products we use today, change so radically? Could it be when Communism came in and destroyed their culture? The high rise apartment buildings built on sites of ancient temples and palaces? Or is it the greed of western companies, who have come in and exploited the cheap Chinese work force, and encouraged them to cut corners in the manufacturing process? Is it the introduction of capitalism? Maybe, it's a combination of all those things; but one thing's for sure. 'Made in China' is hazardous to our health.
I wrote the first half of this book in China.
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