This article also appeared in ChinaFile, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.
The Huangpu River usually appears in glamor shots of Shanghai, serving as scenic backdrop to the colonial splendor of the Bund or the modern marvel of the Pudong skyline. But of late, a more grim and distasteful association emerged. As of March 12, almost 6,000 dead pigs were found in the river, stoking fears about drinking water quality in one of China’s most developed cities.
The official explanation that the pigs froze to death in the upriver town of Jiaxing does not wash with China’s Internet users, especially since regional weather has been warm. Many fear that the pigs died of an unknown disease and the government is hiding information about a potential major health crisis to prevent mass panic in Shanghai, a city of 23 million people.
Speculations are floating around about a “superbug” emerging from the overuse of antibiotics on swine livestock. Some recall the early days of the SARS crisis, when Guangdong officials withheld information about outbreak of the new strain of virus that allegedly jumped from civet cats to humans.
While few believe Shanghai’s officials’ claim that water quality is “stable overall,” the lack of further information has left Internet users unsure about whether to panic. Many have resorted to morbid humor as a coping mechanism.
@淮安老蒋 tweeted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, “Shanghainese people are happy indeed. They pay for water but can drink pork soup!”
@Keither124 has confidence, “We are the generation that grew up drinking melamine milk, eating broiler chicken and sewage oil. Our immunity systems have been well-trained. Shanghainese people are not easily defeated by some dead pigs.”
@水意很凉 offered a play on the Chinese translation of Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”: “Life of Pig — the magical realism blockbuster also known as ‘The Young Pig’s Fanatical Castaway’ — a work made specially for the occasion of the Two Sessions.”
@晃悠悠2011 poses a dilemma, “The more I read about it the more I don’t want to brush my teeth or take a shower. Should I die of being dirty or being poisoned. Hard choice!” @Bossxu tweeted, “Think about it. Everyday we may be using water soaked in dead pigs to wash face, brush teeth, cook, make tea and coffee… How do you feel?”
“When confronted with 6,000 dead pigs in the Huangpu, we have learned to act nonplussed and undisturbed. We have become too lazy to seek the truth and too powerless to take officials to task. What’s left? We have resorted to ridicule and mockery as if the event has nothing to do with us, and we are completely resigned to our fate. Yes, as a citizen of Shanghai, that’s the way I am. The environment around us, and the society we live in, are rotting away just like these pig carcases.”