Zhai Minglei: Heart Stone-A Reflection of Tainted Milk

Zhai Minglei, has been the founder and journalist of the blog “Yi Bao” (“One Man’s Paper”,     www.1bao.org) since 2007, and the editor-in-chief of the citizen journalism magazine Minjian (“Folk”) from 2005 to 2007. The magazine was closed down by the Chinese government at the end of 2007.

Based in Shanghai, Zhai updates his blog once or twice a month, with posts tackling pressing social topics in China. In 2005, he left his job at one of China’s most widely-read liberal publications – Southern Weekly – to head up Minjian, a grassroots culture magazine. On his blog, he most recently published an exchange with Chinese kung fu movie star Jet Li about establishing a charity for natural disasters. He also wrote a prologue to a book on China’s Great Famine that was published in Hong Kong but banned in mainland China. CDT has translated selected excerpts of a recent commentary on the contaminated milk powder scandal:

Since the milk scandal was exposed, I have been thinking about writing an editorial. But I found myself speechless because of the smouldering feelings inside my heart. A string of public scholars have expressed their own well-put and astringent criticism. As for myself, however, the pessimism seems to be unconquerable. Am I truly at a loss for words?

A father said to me: “It’s very hard to describe this kind of desperation. As a father of a three-month-old baby, I failed to protect my own child. Can you possibly imagine what I feel now after feeding my child contaminated milk every single day? Now, I feel so hopeless that I could throw myself off a building.”

Development is the underlying principal. Under Deng Xiaoping, GDP figures replaced “class struggle” as the criteria in assessing local officials’ political performance. That was a step forward. However, this GDP-orientation has since turned into poison. One of my friends, a journalist, once interviewed a renowned enterprise that manufactures weight-loss tea in Jiangxi province. It’s the only profitable enterprise in the county. As a result, some issues — including employing government officials’ children and supporting local government expenditures — obviously fall on this enterprise and subsequently increase its costs. To cut the costs, this enterprise places shoddy tea leaves on the side of streets, lets vehicles run over them and then sweeps them into packaging bags. I wouldn’t believe it if this journalist didn’t see it with his/her own eyes. Nowadays, the local government is the largest company in terms of managing a city. You can’t blow the whistle if you perform both as the referee and as the athlete.

Caijing magazine reports that before the scandal was exposed, tests on tainted powered milk were unquestionable, without any troubles like entering into no-man’s land.

To go deeper into this issue, it’s impossible to avoid talking about our political mechanism. For instance, my newly constructed residential area has suffered underground water pipe bursts 29 times within the past year. Residents are filled with desperation. But the Songjiang water company is a monopoly in public sector; it doesn’t have a single rival. You have nowhere to express your rage after “enjoying” the shoddy “tofu dregs” construction. The water company can freely give you a hard time as they are in charge of all water pipes. As a company can be like this, so too can a government. Regardless of how well-intentioned its initial purpose is, the monopoly of a government or political party without rivals will necessarily lead to bad consequences.

An outstanding Communist Party member of the older generation once discussed political issues with me. He said the power of the Party gained through struggles with blood is like a company invested by sole investor—how can property rights fall into others’ hands? How on earth is one-party dictatorship not implemented? His thoughts can probably represent the actual mindset of many officials. No matter who invests the money, does the blood belong to one party? I am aware that younger people might have different opinions. Tax payers are just like shareholders of a company. But even though we purchase shares by paying taxes, the company has never had any shareholder meetings.

A bankruptcy in honesty and trust is the most devastating. This applies to both an enterprise and a nation.

Surely we won’t only look at one side of the story by saying Chinese are not honest or trustworthy. But we can honestly say the proportion and degree of dishonesty in China’s society is more prevalent than in most other countries. Honest people suffer while the dishonest thrive.

In the middle of writing, I was tipped off that more than 200 kindergarten kids in Cixi city of Zhejiang Province are suffering from swollen lymph nodes of the intestines after years of consuming palm oil that is meant to be used only in manufacturing soap.