by Zhang Xiaojia
“It is perhaps time now to admit that we did not learn the full lessons of the greed-is-good ideology. And today we are still cleaning up the mess of the21st-century children of Gordon Gekko.” The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently made this comment to the Federal Labour Business Forum. He is telling us that it was the unsupervised greed that caused all the mess on Wall Street and brought the world economy into crisis. The way I see it, uncontrolled greed is not merely dangerous; it kills.
As an international student from China, I was appalled to learn that four babies were killed and more than 12,600 were hospitalized by the melamine-tainted infant formula produced by SanLu earlier last month. At first glance, people thought it was only a random incident. But when further investigations were undertaken, it was revealed that almost every milk product sold on the Chinese market contained excessive melamine. According to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China, over 24 dairy products from respected Chinese companies such as MengNiu, YiLi, and GuangMing failed to pass the melamine test.
What is melamine? It is a chemical compound that is used to make plastic materials and fertilizers. The Chinese milk industry uses the Kjedahl method to measure the nitrogen content in milk to determine the actual protein because nitrogen is released from protein. In the past, milk manufacturers sometimes inflated their products by adding more water, but the diluted milk often cannot pass the protein level check. Therefore, if melamine, a substance that contains high level of nitrogen, is added into milk, it fools the protein level checks. However, the intake of melamine causes kidney stones, which led to the death of the four babies and to the hospitalization of thousands of others. The hunger for profit outweighed the health and lives of millions. It is human greed that created this catastrophe.
As human beings, we should learn from history and avoid mistakes that we made in the past. If not, we are destined to let history repeat itself. It was only four years ago that 13 innocent infants lost their lives in the “Big-head baby milk” scandal. According to a report in 2004 from Xinhua, 45 types of inferior milk powder were sold in Fuyang city, Anhui province. The report said more than 200 babies who were fed the milk powder developed what the doctors called “big head symptom” causing these babies’ heads to swell and their bodies to waste away. Specialists said then that this was the worst malnourishment case they have seen in 20 years. The Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said then that the manufacturers of these milk powders would face “severe punishment”. But in just four years, this haunting nightmare came back again. I wondered if the punishment was not severe enough – or was the greed for money just too tempting?
Currently, China is still recognized as a communist country but the concept of getting rich was hardwired into our minds over thirty years ago when the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed, “To get rich is glorious”. Since then China has reconfigured itself into a market-driven economy; the seeds of pursuing profit and becoming “glorious” have been disseminated to every corner of the country, so that the prime concern for the Chinese government nowadays is to seek for a higher GDP. In order to accelerate the cycle of consumption, the Chinese government promoted a list of “inspection-free products“ which covers a range of 2528 commodities. SanLu's poisoned milk was on that list, along with several other milk products that contained excessive melamine. In a sense, the government should be held accountable for letting these corporations run unchecked. Moreover, it is not the first time that the Chinese government showed inadequacy in supervising dairy products.
The melamine tainted milk incident has further diminished the trust of the Chinese general public towards food safety. My cousin, who is going to deliver her first child next month, asked me to bring her some milk powder from Australia when I return for the summer vacation. Although the government is guaranteeing the safety of milk products after the scandal, she is still very concerned with the quality of milk powder being sold on the Chinese market. Indeed, how do you put the life of your baby in the hands of a government that has failed to keep its promises over and over again? As a consequence the Chinese dairy industry is suffering domestically and internationally. Even the famous White Rabbit Creamy Candies made with Chinese milk are being taken off shelves in Canada and the UK. Meanwhile, the food industry is not the only one that has been contaminated by the “get-rich-quick” ideology.
2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, is a year that should have brought glory to the Chinese people. However, the Sichuan earthquake made the whole nation mourn. Tens of thousands of young schoolboys and girls were buried after their school buildings had collapsed on them. It was not long after that that the Chinese officials admitted that there were possible quality problems with those school buildings. The morality of the construction contractors must have been devoured by their greed when they chose to use inferior materials in building these classrooms. Moreover, how could a country that is capable of sending astronauts to outer space fail to maintain standard checks of thousands of school buildings?
“Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cut through.” These words of Gordon Gekko's may have been the business motto in the capitalist world for ages. But, it is the same greed that has now brought the American economy into chaos. If China keeps on mimicking all the essence of the greed theory and follows the “To get rich is glorious” slogan, more people will suffer, more human lives will become collateral damage. The Chinese government should learn from these tragedies and utilize its power to regulate greedy corporations and focus less on controlling its people’s minds.