There Were No Cardboard Nikuman In China
Beijing police have detained a television reporter for fabricating an investigative story about steamed buns stuffed with cardboard at a time when China’s food safety is under intense international scrutiny.
A report directed by Beijing TV and played on state-run national broadcaster China Central Television last Thursday said an unlicensed snack vendor in eastern Beijing was selling steamed dumplings stuffed with cardboard soaked in caustic soda and seasoned with pork flavouring.
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.
A city-wide inspection of steamed bun vendors in the wake of the report had found no such cases, the paper said.
This development was brought to my attention by Matt Dioguardi, who has blogged about it over at Liberal Japan, suggesting that the Japanese media made a big deal out of the cardboard dumplings to make Japan, which has had its own food industry hit by some high profile scandals, look a lot better in comparison. While I agree to an extent with the idea of the Japanese media seeming to focus a lot on negative news abroad, an idea that is somewhat well-articulated in Alex Kerr’s Dogs & Demons, it might be a bit unfair to apply it in this case. After all, this ultra-sensational news story was created by a Chinese CCTV reporter who was aiming to create something shocking to get huge ratings. It’s only natural that the media and neighboring countries would jump all over such a irresistible story in an effort to increase their own ratings. And it’s not just Japan; this story even made it onto CNN and some major western newspapers.
When you look at it all in the end, the one most responsible for tarnishing China’s image in this case is the reporter and CCTV, which created a huge story about dangerous Chinese food that was very appetizing in a climate in which media in Japan / the U.S. are hungry for additional examples to add to their shocking list of stories about dangerous Chinese products. When people watch the news today and see that the dumpling story was not true, they will merely learn that one negative report about a few Chinese dumpling vendors has been replaced with another about one of China’s top news organizations fabricating the news.