Chinese broadcast station Beijing television shocked the world with a report last July: Cardboard softened with caustic soda was being used as the main ingredient in baozis.
A baozi is a fluffy, meat-filled bun that is a common breakfast item in China and a favorite snack in dimsum restaurants around the world.
The fake report gained so much worldwide attention that it became a favorite on the popular video-sharing website youtube, registering 30,000 viewers by the end of august for just a single video clip.
The news was a particularly unwelcome one for China. The country has lately been getting a bad rap for harmful or poisonous products consumed by other countries. The situation has not been alleviated by the supposed crackdown on corrupt officials, culminating in the execution of Food and Drug administration chief zheng xiaoyu the same month the buns exposé aired.
Nor has the howl died down after the same Chinese TV station that aired the fake buns story recanted their report 10 days later. The station said their story was, well, fake.
Nobody was executed this time of course, but Zi Beijia, the reporter said to have fabricated the story, was placed in police custody. several other broadcast journalists who participated in the story to varying extents were either fired, reprimanded, or suspended for their supposed carelessness.
As the story unraveled, public opinion became divided. some say the buns may, after all, be as fake as the apology — the original exposé being the only thing that’s real in the whole fiasco.
“I guess government departments must be hoping to reduce the negative impact on the public by declaring the TV news report a hoax,” said shanghai school-teacher Chen Huiqin in a story by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
It remains to be seen whether such candid reports by Xinhua will be enough to neutralize the intensified skepticism directed at the credibility and independence of the Chinese media.
In the same report by Xinhua, members of all-China Journalists association (ACJA) condemned the inaccuracy of the TV story. “(The report) severely violated journalistic ethics and tarnished the image and social credibility of the Chinese media,” ACJA’s official statement said.
In early July, the talk was that executed food chief Zheng Xiaoyu served as a scapegoat. By mid-July the new controversy had already cast reporter Zi Beijia in the same role.
The story goes that zi first told his editors he wanted to look into the quality of pork buns sold at market stands in a Beijing neighborhood. But having already spent two weeks on the story with nothing to show for it, Zi resorted to hiring four migrant workers to appear on video as if they were working in a filthy, makeshift kitchen.
The workers were shown softening cardboard pieces in vats of caustic soda. Caustic soda is a chemical base commonly used in paper, detergents, and drain cleaner. The soaked cardboard was then supposedly mixed with pork fat and flavoring, and then made into filling for the fluffy buns.
Beijing television recanted the story on its evening news. The apology stated the station was “profoundly sorry” for airing a hoax and regretted its “vile impact on society.” The station also vowed to disallow airing inaccurate news reports from now on.
The Beijing Public security Bureau took Zi into custody and said he “will be severely dealt with according to law.”
But whether the report was true or not no longer matters to baozi distributors and manufacturers dealing with plummeting sales in the aftermath of the exposé — nor to the Chinese public.
“It was awful to see those pictures (of soaking cardboard). (They) seemed so real,” said Chen, a lady living in Beijing. she added, “it doesn’t matter if it was a lie. I’m going to avoid all filled dumplings.”
(With reports from Fritz Dacpano)
Print ed: 10/07