Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Heathen Chinee

We gluttonous Americans are draining the earth of resources with our rampant esurience, sure. But it sure seems the Chinese are trying to surpass our fell appetite for destruction.

Bits from recent news include the nasty bear bile story (dude, in wine?!):
The lucrative but illegal export trade in bear products coming from farms in China is threatening the existence of some species of the animal, a new report by campaigners says.

Bear bile is included in everything from hair shampoo to wine and medicinal tonics.

The substance is extracted from a bear's gall bladder in an excruciatingly painful process which involves slicing into the animal's flesh to "milk" bile from the gall bladder with a tube. The process causes many of the animals to resort to chewing their paws to cope with the pain.
And also (though note the worst offender here):
China has become one of the largest importers of wood with imports of industrial round wood estimated to reach 100 million cubic meters by 2010, accounting for half of the total annual demand in the country.

China produced 105 million cubic meters of round wood equivalent in 1995, compared to 81 million cubic meters in 2001, according to the report.

The total import volume of round wood was 16 million cubic meters in 2002, 11 times the 1997 figure. China's market for industrial timber, pulp, and paper has now become the second largest in the world after the United States, according to the report.
"As the world's second largest wood importer, China must take full responsibility for global forestry conservation," said Dr. Claude Martin, director general of WWF International at the workshop.
And don't forget about "traditional Chinese medicine:"
It's true that rhino parts (horns in particular) and tiger parts have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but not for sexual purposes. TCM is an ancient and well-codified system of medicine, and in its pharmacopeia rhino and tiger parts are nowhere prescribed for sexual uses. A passage headed "Rhino Horn is Not an Aphrodisiac" on WWF's Web site makes this point, and adds, "The penis of the rhino still has limited use as an aphrodisiac in Laos, Thailand, and India, and genital tonic pills are still on the market in China, but the horn is generally used as a fever-reducing remedy." Not just any fever, but high, life-threatening fevers, the kind of fever that led one traditional medicine practitioner who is also a conservationist to tell Mills "he would take the last horn off the last rhino if his child were dying of fever."

In Korea, Mills says, every household used to keep a few pills on hand containing rhino horn, among other ingredients, which were considered good for bringing people back from coma and stroke. Not for bringing them back from sexual apathy or inability.

The tiger story is similar: Tiger parts have long been valued in TCM, but sex is the least of it. Tiger bone, in particular, is used to treat arthritis and rheumatism, to suppress pain and to reduce swelling. Obviously, the demand for drugs to treat chronic conditions like arthritis is a large one.
Oh, well, if it's not for boners, it must have value! Sweet Krishna deliver us.

But look, I don't mean to rag on China. I got my advanced degree with a thesis on colonialism in China, and have dabbled in Mandarin off and on over the years. I very much respect China's ancient culture, its literature, its people and its history.

The other day, I was talking with a neighbor about the rash of scares on Chinese imports: poisoned dog food, lead paint on toys, and so on. (Oh, and the bear bile toothpaste! Delicious! It puts the "bear" in "unbearable!")

I said that nothing would change until American corporations started valuing their consumers' health more than the chance to make another dollar. As long as it's cheaper to make shoddy goods and occasionally maybe have to pay clandestinely to fix someone or satisfy a grieving pet owner, then that's what they'll do.

This neighbor said, "No, it's not the corporations! It's China! I've been there" [she's an airline stewardess] "and it's a soulless country. They're the ones doing this."

"Okay," I replied (utilizing to the utmost the deadly arguing skills I learned as a philosophy undergraduate at the feet of erudite perverts), "let's grant that. Let's grant that China's a soulless country. Then what are we, as a supposedly Christian and, I don't know, soulful (?) people, doing this kind of business with them? Doesn't it then remain the fault of the American corporations that don't care that they're dealing with the devil?"

I'm pretty sure she didn't really follow, and continued to blame China. Go capitalism!

1 comment:

NYC Educator said...

Prejudices run very deep. Words mean nothing if they're ingrained deeply enough.