Huangpu River, the major river running through Shanghai and the megacity’s primary source of drinking water, has turned into a huge pot of pork soup in the past few days. Since last week, some 5916 swine carcasses have been found floating in the river; and more are coming. So far, local government gave no definite answer to what exact happened, except for the announcement that these pigs may have died of cold, which, of course, no one believed.
The incident, without doubt, calls Shanghai’s drinking water quality into serious question. But many Chinese netizens, after shock, disgust and criticism of local government, still managed to find the silver lining of these dead pigs.
So why some netizens actually felt relieved seeing thousands of dead pigs floating in the river? Because the only worse thing would be these dead pigs being sold and made into pork products, which is not unheard of in China (in fact, quite frequently heard of). Pork is China’s meat of choice, accounting for nearly three fourths of its total meat consumption. 2012 data shows that China consumes half of the world’s pigs. So…pork from dead pigs on the table is a big deal. Compared with actual eating dead pigs, the Chinese would rather see them floating. Like popular Weibo celebrity 北京厨子 commented: “From in the mouth to in the water, it’s an improvement.”
作家-天佑, a vocal liberal critic, asked: “Under normal circumstances, dead pigs can enter the market through numerous channels in China, and reach people’s dining tables. The strangest thing this time is why so many dead pigs failed to get into the market? Why?”
Some netizens offered a possibility. Netizen 一肚子小巴狗儿 commented: “There was a big government campaign in 2012 to crack down on illicit trade of dead or diseased pigs. It’s really hard to sell dead or diseased pigs right now. No one dares to.” Netizen 山鹰加错 echoed the theory: “A large number of people involved in illicit trade of dead pigs were arrested and sentenced recently, resulting in a sudden decline in dead pig traders. Cost of selling and buying dead pigs increases. This is why when pigs died in large numbers, they had nowhere to go but being dumped into the river.”
According to a report by Chinanews.com, back in November, 2012, local government in Jiaxing, the upstream town near Shanghai where the floating dead pigs are said to originated, arrested 17 people for involving in illicit trade of dead pigs. In a period of 3 years, they processed over 80,000 dead pigs and sold more than 1,000 ton of pork harvested from dead pigs. Three of the 17 arrested received life sentence.
A considerable number of netizens nodded at the theory that the harsh punishment of trading dead pigs is what leads to the dumping of dead carcasses in Huangpu River. 台州风之过 commented: “The 3 life sentences really showed the government’s determination to curb dead pig trades. In a sense, those dead pigs floating in Huangpu River is a good thing, meaning that they were not sold in markets. But dumping into river isn’t a good way of disposal.”
Netizens guess is partly confirmed by a recent interview of local people in Jiaxing. Someone works in Jiaxing told journalists that the sudden increase in the number of dead pig is due to the disappearance of a “underground industry”:
“To be honest. In the past, dead pigs of 25 kilograms or more were sent to dining tables. But last year, there was strengthened crack down on illicit dead pig trades. Several trading rings have been broken. That’s why we see so many dead pigs now.”
Currently, the Chinese government recommends to build incinerators to dispose dead pigs and in fact, subsidizes pig farms that do so. Since such incinerators typically burn on diesel or coal, not many pig farms want to put out the extra money. As a result, burying dead pigs in fermenting tanks is the most common way of disposal. But not every farm has the space for a fermenting tank.
According to the latest report by Xinmin, Jiaxing has more than 100,00 pig farms, raising over 4.5 million pigs annually, but only some 600 fermenting tanks, which is far from enough. Since March, pigs are dying at a rate of 300 per day. Local people have been digging massive big burials one after another, but they can hold no more.
There is no guarantee that no dead pig from Jiaxing has been sold to nearby markets. But at least, that 6000 pigs fished from Huangpu River are not getting any closer to your dining table.