Do You Like Chinese Food?

I'll have the chihuahua with no MSG, please.
I'll have the chihuahua with no MSG, please.
I’ve been so preoccupied with the de-evolutionary process on display in Florida and all the other silliness that’s been happening around this great land of ours, I’ve neglected to take a peek around the world. And, boy oh boy, I have missed some fun stuff. In fact I had to whittle down today’s blog to one country just to keep this from overflowing all over the internet. I mean, seriously, we live on a planet full of whack jobs.

But, as I said, I’m going to focus on one portion of the world. So, let’s get started.

Do you like i-Pads? Always thought it might be fun to own one? Or, if you own one already, do you brag about how much it cost you? Maybe you knew a guy who knew a guy? After all, that’s a traditional Chicago way to make purchases. But, and I feel as though I’m on a sturdy limb here, would you sell a kidney to get one? Peter Foster tells the story of the idiot who didn’t realize that a black market kidney was worth $10,000 and got an i-Pad instead.

The 17-year-old boy, identified only by his surname, “Zheng”, confessed to his mother that he had sold the kidney after spotting an online advertisement offering cash to anyone prepared to become an organ donor.

“I wanted to buy an iPad 2, but I didn’t have the money,” the boy told Shenzhen TV in the southern province of Guangdong, “When I surfed the internet I found an advert posted online by agent saying they were able to pay RMB20,000 to buy a kidney.” After negotiations, the boy travelled north to the city of Chenzhou in Hunan Province where the kidney was removed at a local hospital which discharged him after three days, paying a total of RMB22,000 for the organ.

Trading organs online is a common practice in China, despite repeated attempts by China’s government to stamp out the practice. Last year Japanese television reported that a group of “transplant tourists” had paid £50,000 to receive new kidneys in China.

According to official statistics more than a million people in China need a transplant every year, but fewer than 10,000 receive organs, driving an almost unstoppable black-market organ trade that enriches brokers, doctors and corrupt government officials.

The boy, who has suffered complications following the surgery, returned home but was unable to keep what he had done from his mother.

“When he came back, he had a laptop and a new Apple handset,” his mother, identified as Miss Liu, told the station, showing off the livid red scar where her son’s kidney was removed, “I wanted to know how he had got so much money and he finally confessed that he had sold one of his kidneys.”

The mother took the son back to Chenzhou to report the crime to the police, however, the mobiles of the three agents that Zheng had contacted were all switched off.

The hospital, which admitted contracting out its urology department to a private businessman, denied any knowledge of the surgery.

The case, which caused an online furore, was cited by some as an extreme example of the rampant materialism of modern China.

Thousands of comments were posted on internet discussion groups, with many lamenting the lack of rule of law in China and the “immorality” of the new, ‘capitalist’ China.

“This is a failure of education, the first purpose of which is to ‘propagate morality’,” said one comment on Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV website, “This teenager’s stupid behaviour is a manifestation of his radically materialistic values.” “To sell a kidney in order to buy consumer goods? What vanity!” added another, “It is undeniable that modern Chinese teenagers’ morality is declining. This is something we must all think about.”

Apple products like the iPhone and the iPad are in huge demand in China, and are seen as a badge of wealth and sophistication by young consumers.

Last month scuffles broke out among desperate shoppers outside several Beijing Apple Stores as they queued to buy the newly launched iPad2 and white iPhone4.

Not to belittle the rampant hyperbole on the state sponsored blogs, but it isn’t as though there’s been an outbreak of teenagers selling their kidneys, or any other organs, just to grab the latest Steve Jobs’ toy.

But, see, if this kid truly knew about capitalism he would have sold the kidney for cash and then used the money to buy the toy he wanted and still had more than $9,000 to play with.

Oh well, at least the buyer didn’t eat it.

You see, William Wan reports that one group of Chinese consumers want to eat dogs and another group wants to make them pets. And, now, the two have collided in a scene straight out of Fast and the Furious.

The mutts were destined for the dinner table – all 520 of them crammed onto a truck hurtling down a Beijing highway toward waiting restaurants in northeastern China.

Then fate intervened in the form of a passing driver, an animal lover who spotted the truck and angrily forced it off the road.

From there, things began spiraling out of control. News of the confrontation hit the Chinese blogosphere, sending more than 200 animal activists flocking immediately to the highway. Traffic on the road slowed to a standstill. Dozens of police officers were called in. Animal activists, however, kept arriving with reinforcements, carrying water, dog food, even trained veterinarians for a siege that ended up lasting 15 hours.

Weeks later, those who were there still talk in disbelief at how quickly things escalated. But in many ways, it was a battle that has been brewing for years between the rural and the urbanites, the poor and the rich – between the dog eaters of China and the growing number of dog lovers.

The standoff last month has sparked the widest ranging discussions to date in China over animal rights. Pictures and videos from the incident have spawned endless arguments on e-mail groups and blogs, Web polls and news stories delving into each sides’ points.

And the debate is the latest sign of China’s rapidly changing mores and culture. For centuries, dog meat has been coveted for its fragrant and unique flavor, an especially popular dish in the winter when it is believed to keep you warm. But pet ownership has skyrocketed in recent years as China’s booming economy produced a burgeoning middle class with both money and time for four-legged friends. And with the new pet stores, a once powerless animal rights movement is slowly gaining traction.

Where to put them all?

The highway incident has been its biggest success thus far. The mob of dog lovers finally won the standoff by pooling together more than $17,000 to pay off the truck driver. But their victory was quickly eclipsed when they soon realized they had no idea where to house the hundreds of loud, wild and decidedly not-housebroken canines.

Even after combining forces, the handful of animal rights groups in the region had trouble handling the overflow from the truck. Most of the dogs they unloaded were strays, and many were dehydrated, malnourished or suffering from deadly viruses. Several have died since the rescue. Dozens this week remained under treatment at animal hospitals around Beijing.
“We are a small organization. We haven’t even tried to pay the animal hospital bills yet,” said Wang Qi, 32, who works at the China Small Animal Protection Association. “There was so much enthusiasm when the dogs were first rescued, but our worry is what happens now?”

The trucker has not fared any better in the aftermath.

Reached by phone in his home province of Henan, dog transporter Hao Xiaomao said he lost a small fortune, more than $3,000, after being forced into the deal. Worst of all, because he failed to deliver, no one has been willing to hire him since.

“I still don’t understand what was immoral about my shipment. People also eat cow and sheep. What’s the difference?” he asked. “They were just a group of rich bullies who own pets and have nothing better to do.”

Several others have also raised the specter of class warfare – a common meme in modern China amid the widening gap between rich and poor. In online debates, many have noted the symbolic nature of the confrontation: a working trucker forced off the road by a black Mercedes-Benz, whose owner was on his way to a hotel resort with his girlfriend.

The whole issue comes with historical baggage as well, notes Jiang Jinsong, a philosophy professor at Tsinghua University. “During the Cultural Revolution, having a pet was seen as a capitalist activity. Only the rich and arrogant had dogs and allowed them to bite poor people,” he said. “So there’s this implication that if you treated pets well, you will treat those who are weaker badly.”

At least one netizen has taken this argument to the extreme. Enraged by activists fighting for animals while ignoring the plight of so many rural, impoverished Chinese, a man in Guangzhou posted threats online to kill a dog a day until animal activists donate the money they raised to the poor peasants instead of the dogs.

“I felt I had to do something to represent the grass-roots people,” said Zhu Guangbing, 35, who recently plastered his threat on Twitter-like microblogs in China. “I grew up in a poor village. We raised one dog to watch the door and one to be killed in the Lunar New Year because we were too poor to buy pork. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.”

Within days, Zhu found his name, cellphone number, office number, even the phone number for his parents posted online.

Insults from the young ones

“My parents got calls condemning them for raising a son like me,” he said, having logged over 200 threats so far. “One elementary school teacher even called me and had her students insult me over the phone one by one.”

But dog activists have defended their fervor as a necessity. China still lacks a single law against cruelty to animals, and by some estimates, as many as 10 million dogs – some vagrant, others stolen pets – are sold for consumption each year and are often kept under horrible conditions.

“People are saying it’s a silly thing protecting animals,” said Wang, the activist. “But it is a question of civilization.

“By teaching people in this country to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better.”

Zhu, the netizen who posted the online threat, however, scoffed at that notion. Last week, he was forced to quit his job after his company began receiving threatening calls as well.

“I didn’t even intend to kill dogs. I was just making a point,” he said. “The animal activists claim to have the moral high ground, but look at what they did to me. Can they really say they have love at the front of their heart?”

See, that’s why Chinese animal rights activists should take their cues from their American counterparts. The nice people at PETA just rip off their clothes in umbrage and then go drink champagne while the rest of us go back to our burgers.

In the meantime, if you want to make some good coin, take your chihuahua and i-Pad to Beijing and make sure to only accept cash.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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