For most police forces the phrase “giant salamander” might well refer to a master criminal or covert operation. In China, however, it is more likely to be what the officers are having for dinner.
That’s the takeaway from an incident in Shenzhen last month in which three reporters from the Southern Metropolis Daily got roughed up after discovering a group of policemen alleged to be dining on the endangered species.
The group of 28 officers assembled in a seafood restaurant next to the city’s East Lake Reservoir on January 21. Two guards were positioned at the door of their private room and they began discussing the “treat” they were about to consume. At one point the host was heard to have said: “I chose this place because it is safe.”
But clearly it wasn’t safe, because some journalists had been tipped off and they were sitting in the next room, listening. When the party came to pay the bill the reporters confronted them with accusations of misusing public funds and eating protected species. A few drunken cops didn’t take this line of questioning very well and one reporter was strangled and another had his camera smashed.
Later 14 policemen were suspended – some who attended the dinner, as well as others who failed to apprehend the attackers when they were called to the scene.
The diners later said the meal was a treat from a retired colleague (paid out of his own pocket) and that the salamander was farm-reared, and therefore legal.
According to Southern Metropolis Daily, the dinner bill was Rmb5,400 ($864), or less than Rmb200 per head.
Few were impressed, including the People’s Daily, which said the incident showed that “formalism, bureaucratism and hedonism” – three targets of Chinese Xi Jinping’s ongoing austerity drive – were still strong in the police force.
Xi has said that officials should avoid extravagance and limit themselves to “four dishes and one soup” at formal dinners. To be fair, he hasn’t said much about treats like exotic amphibians but given that legally farmed salamander costs Rmb400 ($64) per kilo, the dish would certainly be frowned on for financial reasons.
Salamanders reach up to 1.8 metres in length and live up to 50 years. They are known as “baby fish” in Chinese because their cry is similar to that of human child. But they have been hunted to the point of extinction because they are believed to have beneficial properties, like anti-aging powers. Animal rights activists say many giant salamanders served in restaurants have actually been poached from the wild because raising them in captivity is difficult.
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