Supermarket sweep
May 19, 2017 (WiC 366)

American politics is agog at allegations that Donald Trump has shared classified information with the Russians. Over in China the spying scandal of the moment is less about leaking state secrets, and more about making chilli sauce.

Police in Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province, announced last week that they had arrested a former staffer of Laoganma, the producer of China’s bestselling chilli sauce, on allegations of leaking commercial secrets. According to local media, an investigation had been going on for a year after Laoganma employees found products on supermarket shelves that were extremely similar to the company’s signature sauce. A fuller search determined that its trade secrets were being stolen by a knock-off product manufactured by a competitor with no track record of making the sauce.

The suspect, surnamed Jia, had worked as a technician at Laoganma for more than 10 years. Having previously signed a confidentiality agreement with his employer, Jia is now facing criminal charges and could end up with a seven-year prison term plus a hefty fine.

Laoganma in Chinese translates rather unexpectedly into “old and dry granny” (the Chinese meaning also implies something spicy). But the company’s founder Tao Huabi, at 70, has also been dubbed as “China’s hottest woman” because of the hugely popular fiery sauce she invented (see WiC143). Tao says she has to be vigilant that others don’t steal the secrets of her success. “I have been fighting internal moles and spies for decades,” she reportedly told reporters following Jia’s arrest.

Holiday hot spot
May 12, 2017 (WiC 365)

Recent figures from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) show that the number of Chinese visitors to the South Pole has risen forty-fold over the last decade, climbing from just 99 adventurers in 2006 to 4,100 last year.

The Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao said the trip to the polar icecap can have a positive impact on the visitors, making them more aware of the need to protect the environment.

But other Chinese tourists have been less moved by the serenity of the south. In 2015 a report from Xinhua detailed how a number of news reporters from the mainland had found that some of their compatriots were making themselves unwelcome with their unruly behaviour.

One tour guide was quoted as complaining, “Every time I take a group to the South Pole, there are always Chinese people breaking the rules: shouting loudly in the breeding grounds of wild animals, encroaching on their space so that they can take pictures, disrupting the animals’ activity, trampling on plant life, leaving litter, failing to regroup on time, flaunting their wealth, and gambling all night on the cruise ship.”

The tour packages aren’t cheap, costing between Rmb70,000 and Rmb160,000 ($10,000-$23,000) a head, the Global Times reports.

But as disposable income grows in China so do the possibilities for its tourists, and Antarctica is one of the hot spots for bolder travellers.

In fact, the number of South Pole-seekers from China is expected to reach 5,000 this year, making the country’s tourists second only to the Americans in yearly visits.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…
May 5, 2017 (WiC 364)

First introduced to the area in the 1960s, Pacific Oysters have been laying siege to parts of Denmark’s coast. And last month the Danish embassy in China presented a media-savvy solution: a distress call from its weibo account for Chinese help.

Noting that the newcomers were threatening the population of native Limfjord oysters and creating wider ecological damage, the message was that visitors from China should “come and eat” the intruders. It soon went viral on WeChat and weibo, with oyster lovers offering to visit the country and cull the invaders.

Recipes were soon being sent to the Danish embassy’s weibo account and it was proposed that visitors from China were willing to fill their bellies should they be offered visa-free stays in Hamlet’s homeland. One netizen calculated that such a scheme would see Chinese tourists wipe out the unwanted oysters within five years, reports Lanjinger Financial News. “I solemnly swear to join the Danish Oyster Resistance Army,” another netizen quipped in an online comment reported by the New York Times.

The Danish embassy says that food companies from China are also offering to import the unwanted mollusks. At least the Chinese are familiar with the taste: 80% of the world’s oyster farms are in China, says CBN, and 80% of their produce is the Pacific Oyster variety.

As we pointed out in WiC164, the Chinese were delighted to help with a similar situation in Germany, after reports that hairy crabs were devouring local species in the country’s rivers. Hairy crab is considered a delicacy in China, where the invasion was seen in a more positive light. “In China, all the chemical factories and the serious pollution of rivers has led to a declining number of hairy crabs,” wrote the Beijing Times back in 2012. “On the other hand, Germany’s Elbe and Havel rivers have much cleaner water that are good for breeding.”

Back to the present day and the Danish embassy admits: “We knew food-related posts would attract some attention, but we did not foresee this frenzy at all.”