This is one of those unscientific “he said, she said” illustrations of just how difficult it is to know what’s happening in China, or anywhere for that matter. The story also indicates that the US and Chinese social media are not as autonomous as we might think. Indeed, anonymous sourced information that circulates in either the US or Chinese social media seems to increasingly show up in other networks, much like pig carcasses that wash up on unexpected shores. More to the point, the chronology through which we experience the overlaps between US and Chinese social media networks creates stories that read as magic realism in which you, gentle reader, must ask yourself, “what kind of a pig am I?”
Here is the timeline through which I have experienced the pig story.
Two weeks ago, several hundred dead pigs were found floating in the Jiaxing River, a tributary of Shanghai’s Huangpu River.
Last week, an American friend uploaded this photo Pigs Swimming in Mud Cake to Facebook.
Yesterday, a friend in Hong Kong, uploaded the same picture and what followed were a series of jokes about not eating pigs and pork products. The apparent prompt for forwarding the picture was another message that was also circulating:
I don’t know if this is true or false, but it must be forwarded: eat less pork! Shanghai has claimed that over 8,000 pigs froze to death! In the middle of a bright South China Spring! I’m begging the relevant ministries – can’t you exert your brains and come up with a more believable reason? Don’t treat the people as if we were three year olds. One dead pig is a random occurrence. Two dead pigs is a random occurrence. But over 8,000 pigs dead is random? There must be a reason! Today, the truth has finally been revealed! – Where is the future of the Chinese People? We’re digging our own graves and anhilating our people! [Forwarded message: according to a pig farmer, there’s a chemical called 机砷. In ordinary language that’s 砒霜 or arsenic! This chemical is used in pig feed like “四月肥” [literally “Fat in April”- MA] that accelerate the maturation of pig and make their skin shiny, increasing profits from selling pigs. The downside to the process is that the arsenic accumulates in the pigs’ bodies, which have no way of breaking down the poison. The poison causes the pigs’ internal organs to rot, and after four or five months eating this pig feed, most pigs die. Consequently, farmers only use this pig feed three or four months before bringing their pigs to market. As long as the pigs are slaughtered immediately, there’s no problem. But this Chinese New Year’s season, it was mandated that there could be no more government feasting and banqueting. Suddenly, the bottom dropped out of the pork market. Pig farmers were forced to continue raising pigs that had already been eating contaminated pig feed for four months. A month or two later, a massive die-off of the pigs that had been prepared to sell during the New Year’s season started. This story couldn’t be revealed. However, no one dared to bring already dead pig meat to market [instead of living pigs that would be slaughtered onsite to guarantee freshness – MA]. Consequently, the pig carcasses were tossed into tributaries of the Huangpu River. Clearly, the problem was caused because on the one hand, too many pig farmers are using pig feed to accelerate maturation and on the other hand, the banquet ban was too effective. The floating carcasses were discovered by the media. So maybe a thousand, maybe more pig carcasses are drifting silently in the Huangpu River. This is the horrific story that they are telling.
In contrast, yesterday The Guardian posted an article that mentioned that the pig carcass total had breached 16,000, and attributed the reason to a crackdown on selling dead pig meat in markets. In turn, The Guardian was citing (circulating?) a story from Southern Weekly (of the China Dream censorship fiasco):
The state-controlled Southern Weekly newspaper, citing court documents, said three men were sentenced to life in prison in Jiaxing last November for procuring dead pigs to sell their meat. It says the men and their group bought 77,000 dead pigs in a period of more than two years.
So, reflective moment du jour: Who are you? A pig happily swimming in a mud cake, anticipating sugar highs? Or a pig drifiting in dark waters, fearful about what the Chinese government might be hiding and how this silence kills? Of course, it’s all evidence that China and the US are the same country. After all, processed white sugar may also be toxic.
Text of the Chinese weixin that I received:
不知是真是假，但是不得不转： 少吃猪肉吧】上海8千多头死猪死因公布了一一居然是冻死的! 在春花灿烂的江南三月! 拜托了有关部门，能否多动动脑子找个更可信点的理由，不要把民众当三岁小孩哄。一头死了是偶然，二头死了是偶然，8千多头是偶然事件？一定有其必然的原 因! 现在，真相终于大白天下了! 一一一中国人的未来在哪里？？我们在自掘坟墓，灭绝民族！ 【转：据猪农说，有种制剂叫有机砷，砷就是砒霜啦，用在四月肥之类的猪饲料添加剂里，可以促进猪性腺发育和毛皮红亮，改进卖相有利于卖个好价钱。 但副作用是有 机砷蓄积在猪体内会部分分解为无机砷，喂食四五个月后会大幅增加猪的内脏腐蚀、大批死亡的概率。所以一般是在预备出栏前三四个月开始用，反正负作用还没出 来猪就宰了出栏，规避了有机砷的风险。 然而熹兴年底眼看通胀要升腾，赶紧猛刹车大力禁绝国企和机关摆酒席过年，导致大量酒席突然被取消，相应 地酒席用肉也大幅低于预期。猪农已经喂好四月肥准备出栏宰杀的猪也被迫继续在栏里养着。可是有机砷已经用了，本来马上宰杀负作用还不会出来，现在拖了一两 个月还没卖出去，有机砷的副作用 上来了，猪们纷纷内脏腐烂而死。这死因见不得光，又不敢拿去市场上卖这样的死猪肉，养殖户只好打落牙往肚里咽，抛到河里了 事。孰料这么投有机砷的养猪户太多，年末禁酒席的影响又太普遍，大家都往河里一丢，猪尸们就在黄浦江大游行了，被媒体发现了。 成千上万的猪尸在阴冷的黄浦江上默默地飘荡，它们在讲述着这样一个可怕的故事。
Hi Mary Ann: Just read you’re interesting (shocking actually) March post on July 11th. I found it thanks to the Pigs ‘Mudcake’ picture from Google images search, which I found hilarious! After reading your blog – wow, that disappeared. I’m a Canadian who visits China to see my gf. Last time I was by the Huangpu was about a year before those poor pigs. Good thing we didn’t see Huangpu pigs back then I suppose. Thank you for the education here – I’ll advise accordingly. Take Care.