The Culture, and Danger, of Open Secrets in China

Friday, October 31, 2008 0:53
Posted in category Uncategorized

In China, one must learn to understand that not everything is as it seems, and that even when something is known… it is not.. and even if it should be known.. it may not be…

In China, it is called an “open secret”, where it does not necessarily have to be published or spoken of on TV… but a lot of people know about it.   Sometimes it is benign, but more often than not it is not.

The recent report Report: China’s animal feed tainted with melamine highlights just how serious the issues underlying “open secrets” can be… and just how dangerous they can be:

Animal feed producers in China commonly add the industrial chemical melamine to their products to make them appear higher in protein, state media reported Thursday, an indication that the scope of the country’s latest food safety scandal could extend beyond milk and eggs.

The practice of mixing melamine into animal feed is an “open secret” in the industry, the Nanfang Daily newspaper reported

for me, this story highlights several huge gaps in China’s system.

1) How is it that a large number of people can be in the know about adding a precursor chemical to milk and dairy, and no one say anything?
2) How is it that leaders of industry, regulatory agencies, and government bodies fail to act when such “open secrets” are so abundant?

At the same time, a story/ condition like this show me the following:

1) “face”  still hold priority over safety – including those who are supposed to be protecting the public
2) There is a dire need for independent parties who inspect products and can warn consumers

Now, I realize that this is a lot to ask, and I do not deny that I am throwing stones at a glass house (my own country just failed to protect our citizens from greed), but in the long run China is going to need to begin proactively steming problems before something goes horribly wrong.

To have an issue of face inhibit a process that protects the general public is not only criminal, it is counter productive, and had the authorities take steps early on the would have actually gained more face for appearing competent in the international media.

Unfortunately, as I spoke of in another post Even My iPhone May Have Melamine, I fear that  there are more open secrets left to be “uncovered” in the food sector… the pharmaceutical sector… automotive sector.. or any other sector that has been rocketed from 0 to 60 in the last 3 years via policy, promotion, and subsidization.

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3 Responses to “The Culture, and Danger, of Open Secrets in China”

  1. davesgonechina says:

    October 31st, 2008 at 3:12 am

    I would add another cause besides protecting face – fatalism. I think alot of people in China feel that they are powerless to do anything about it.

  2. Bill says:

    October 31st, 2008 at 8:38 am

    I don’t think the powerlessness to do anything about bad stuff by Chinese people is more than just feeling. It is also the fact. That they realize and recognize the reality is a good thing.

  3. EvdB says:

    October 31st, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I would add another cause…..realisme. I guess the government and the people are fully aware that the economic growth (especially the high numbers as China is experiencing) comes at the cost of human safety.
    In WO1 the generals and soldiers were aware that the average survival time of the soldier at the front in combat was less then 1 minute, still all went a head. Perhaps it comes with the circumstances

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