Friday, June 24, 2011

Pork Gangsters

Monopolizing local pork markets seems to be a favorite activity of Chinese gangsters.

This month, a court in Guangzhou held a hearing for 18 members of a "gang of tyrants" who allegedly monopolized the pork market in the Haizhu district of that city. They allegedly conspired with 14 local suppliers of "safe pork" to sell underground pork to hotels. The gang set up a meat company with support from the head of the local commercial and industrial bureau. This venture allegedly evolved into a "triad-type" group, using force to keep other suppliers out of the market.

A prominent example was the head of a meat company in Chongqing, known locally as "the butcher of Chongqing," who received a death sentence for using force to monopolize the pork market and fix the wholesale and retail prices. He won the 2005 "Outstanding Young Farmer Entrepreneur" award and was a member of his district's communist party committee.

The "Butcher of Chongqing" is arrested

Supposedly, the Chongqing scheme was discovered when municipal authorities were investigating the "real" causes of rising pork prices in 2008. A citizen named Mr. Qian told an official that the real reason was that gangsters had monopolized the market. The official said, "Yes, you must be right. Many industries in Chongqing are monopolized by gangs."

In a number of cities, pork vendors have gone on strike, complaining about slaughterhouse monopolies that raised prices unfairly. Last December, a pork vendor in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, left a message on the municipal bulletin board for complaints. He greeted Secretary Wang with a hearty "Ni Hao!" and hoped that the city's party secretary might see his message and do something about it.

His complaint: "In order to earn big profits, the Chashan Food Co. collaborates with triad gangs to monopolize the local pork market. The price of pork in Chashan is about 70-80 yuan/50kg higher than in surrounding areas. With commodity prices rising, Chashan Food Co. really is bleeding the common people of money. Since the price is so high, pork vendors can’t compete with other markets, so we have to go to legal wholesale markets to buy pork. Then the Chashan Food Co. sends gang members to track us down, seize our pork, and beat on our cars. I’m not just saying empty words; there is evidence for each incident. I have gone to the town and city administrative affairs bureaus, the city discipline commission, and the complaint bureau to report these incidents, but nothing has been done. I hope secretary Wang can give some attention to this problem. Thank you!"

In another Guangdong City, Jieyang, in Kuitan Town, a complaint was posted in 2010 that a gang headed by "bully" Huang Weiming monopolized the pork market using violent threats. One guileless country bumpkin, unaware of Huang's racket was visiting a neighboring county and discovered pork was much cheaper there. He bought some and brought it back. As soon as he stepped off the bus, one of Huang's enforcers noticed him, brutally beat him and forced him to pay several thousand yuan. Huang made enough money to build himself a big mansion downtown. His brutality raised the hackles of the local citizens; no one could resist going into a tirade at the mention of his name.

Also last December, a resident of Shantou in Guangdong Province complained on an electronic bulletin board, "Recently I returned to live in Chaoyang [a district of Shantou] and noticed that the prices here are even higher than in Shenzhen. I checked online and found Shantou has the highest pork prices in the country."

In her online research, she discovered another netizen's explanation for the high prices: many industries in Shantou are monopolized by gangs and there is collusion between merchants and officials. The web-posting she found alleged that the gangs had monopolized the local pork market in Chaoyang. Anyone found to have bought pork from another area or from an underground butcher would be beaten half to death. She hopes someone will do something about it because prices are so high.

One netizen in response to this post sarcastically wrote, "Now is the golden age we've been waiting on for 1000 years."

Another response quoted the aphorism, "The mountains are high, the emperor is far way." This saying means that you can do whatever you want when the governing authorities are far away and oblivious to what happens at the local level. This is especially true of southern regions like Guangdong.

But really, if we take a step back it's hard to tell the difference between these gangsters and the ruling communist party. The party is also in the business of creating monopolies and enforcing them with brute force as needed. In nearly every industry of the food sector there is a movement to shut down small operators in the name of raising food safety or environmental standards. The Ministry of Commerce's plan for the pork industry involves carving up provinces into segmented pork markets with each monopolized by a designated slaughterhouse. These big capital-intensive operations need large volumes to justify their overhead, so they need to have their smaller low-cost competitors shut down so all the hogs and sales go through the city's flagship slaughterhouse. Another example is the dairy industry, where vast numbers of milk processors have been shut down in a re-licensing campaign this year. Small corn-starch processors are also being shut down.

And, of course, in the political arena the party is in the monopoly business. The recent posting here about churches celebrating the party's anniversary reveals the strategy of monopolizing a social/religious organization by enticing pastors who join the monopoly with money and prestige while threatening those who don't cooperate with arrest and fines.

Is the "emperor" really that far from the gangsters, or are they one and the same?

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