Cross Strait

Every firm’s worst nightmare

How an online video caused havoc for noodle maker Master Kong

A woman chooses a cup noodle from at a supermarket in Beijing

Master Kong: denies accusations

Where are China’s internet police when you need them? That must have been what executives inside food producer Master Kong were asking earlier this month when a potentially slanderous video accused them of including “gutter oil” in their products.

The clip, which was filmed in Taiwan, showed a tour guide railing against Ting Hsin International, Master Kong’s parent company, and urging mainland Chinese to boycott its products.

“Master Kong used 56 times more gutter oil in China than in Taiwan, but mainland media never reports it to you,” the local guide says to a group of mainland tourists on a bus. She goes on to explain that many Taiwanese are boycotting Ting Hsin for allegedly selling cooking oil mixed with oil intended for animal feed. She adds that the company is unfazed by the campaign because it generates most of its income on the mainland.

“If we on both sides of the Strait work together we can bring this massive company down,” she says.

A mainland Chinese man was clearly touched by her sisterly concern and posted the video on social media. It spread quickly and Master Kong was soon rechristened by netizens as Corpse Kong – regardless of the fact the Taiwanese guide had offered no evidence to back her allegations up.

“There’s no smoke without fire,” wrote one weibo user. “The guide is so right to tell us what Master Kong is really like. I thank her,” added another.

Only a few urged caution. “ How is it we Chinese people don’t believe our own government, but are so certain that what a Taiwanese guide say is true?” asked a netizen.

Master Kong is China’s largest instant noodle maker. A survey by Kantar Worldpanel last year said it is also the country’s “most chosen brand” – with 91% of households buying its snacks, drinks and sauces. Last October when Ting Hsin was indicted for selling tainted oil in Taiwan, mainland authorities were quick to assure customers that Master Kong’s local products had been thoroughly investigated and given a clean bill of health.

Now a movement to boycott Master Kong’s products is underway. This is not just because of food safety concerns – likewise for how the noodle maker handled its campaign to deny the allegations.

“This malicious behaviour has been reported to police and the company reserves the right to pursue the matter legally. We strongly defend our reputation and legitimate rights,” the Taiwan firm said in a statement. The company then announced it was suing one particular netizen, Ke Xiayang, for being the first to upload the video.

Ke, who gave a tearful press conference in Shanghai last week, says a friend forwarded the clip to him and he has no knowledge of who filmed it or when.

The China Youth Daily criticised the firm’s response: “If Master Kong really want to get to the bottom of what is causing this situation the first thing they need is introspection. However, in this case, Master Kong chose to first point a finger at the public and public opinion, accusing the common man of being a rumour-monger for spontaneously spreading the information. This combative statement cannot save the company’s reputation. What’s more it has violated the right of social supervision by public opinion,” wrote.

Netizens were also outraged by its “aggressive” response and vowed to help Ke if the company followed through with its threat. “Please don’t be afraid. If Master Kong really wants to sue you, send us your bank account, and we will give you the money to win the case. If every citizen just donates 1 yuan that is enough. We are with you. Let’s take down Master Kong no matter what!” wrote a netizen.

Another asked if the cup noodle maker felt ashamed. “If you really are innocent, you should sue the guide who spread the so-called ‘rumour’. Your action of suing an ordinary man who just forwarded this makes me believe you are hiding some dirty secrets. I will definitely boycott Master Kong now,” the netizen complained.

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