Friday, February 17, 2012

"Do they eat Fetus in China?"

Last December, a fellow journalist asked me "do the Chinese really eat (human) fetus?"

We were in Durban, South Africa, to cover the UNFCCC climate change summit. We were out to eat and I had ordered Chinese food - my favorite. But my friend, a TV producer from Namibia, looked almost sick. When I pressed for the reason, he told me, 'well, they eat fetus. So, just to enter a Chinese eatery makes me puke. I don't know what meat they have cooked.' Then, seeing that incredulous look on my face, he asked 'do you think its untrue?' 

Now, contrary to what you may think, that friend of mine isn't a bum.
In fact, he is one of the most experienced and skilled audio-visual journalists in Namibia. He is also fairly familiar with world politics and culture. Yet he could easily believe this horrific myth. Why? Because, there has been little opportunity for him to know about the real Chinese cultural traditions or practices. 

But why did I suddenly think of this? Because, I just finished reading an op-ed by Frank Ching in today's Times of India. Titled "Playing the gentle giant", the article elaborates on how the government of China is trying to ape the US in increasing its soft power globally, but is failing, because of its scanty respect for human rights and iron-hand controlling of news and information outflow. Ching gave the example of Hong Kong. But on my mind's window, the incident in Durban immediately popped up.

Africa, of late, has been a huge playground of Chinese investors. In Namibia also China's current investment is pretty big and stands at US$125 million. The investment - made mostly in construction and mining sectors - however, has been drawing more criticism than praises because of China's little regard for labor laws. In 2008, Hilma Shindondola-Mote of Labour Resource and Research Institute in Namibia, published a research paper with some damaging facts about the Chinese investment in Namibia. In the paper, a labor inspector interviewed by Mote says,“I have nothing good to say about labour relations at Chinese companies in the construction sector. The salaries are low, they ill-treat workers and they don’t adhere to health and safety regulations”.  

There are several other such papers that highlight how Chinese investors have asked Namibian government to go 'soft' on its labor protection policies. 

Obviously, this is not the way China can create its soft power, no matter how many million Yuan are invested. Rights violations inside China maybe easy to hide, but is difficult to do so outisde the Chinese territory.

And this feeds on the gross myths and horrible rumors. Its in human character to believe anything bad about a person who treats you bad.And when it is a country that allows few independent sources to inform about its internal matters, you accept anything that comes to you.

Coming back to the fetus story, in Durban, my roommate was a Chinese journalist. But during our 2 week-long stay, she never interacted with any non-Chinese journalist, thus giving no chance to my Namibian journalist friend to know her and, through her, her country. She carefully avoided being in the vicinity of him and others, making it evident that they were not welcome to be her friends. 

And so, the fetus-eating myth continued! 

Who would you blame this continuation for? The believer? the reputation of China as a human rights violator? its failure to allow others to explore real China? or, it's people who prefer to stay within a wrap of enigma?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think they do, China is playing a pretty good global mindgame and rumors like this, let them be pretty silly ones to are bound to happen.

but you see a few hundreds of years back, Chinese were culturally ruled by India, in the words of HU SHIH :"India conquered and dominated China culturally for two thousand years without ever having to send a single soldier across her border."

So we can be sure that willingly and culturally they wouldn't eat fetus :P but we still don't know what crap this Industrial age has done to things, reprocessing meat to feed the huge population of china...

hmmm....gets me thinking.. :D