Two years ago, in one of the high points of journalism history, the Rockhampton Bulletin newspaper in Queensland, Australia, published an apocalyptic story suggesting their proud city was about to be swamped by dead pigs.
And no small number but 30,000 of them! Imagine the sight. It would be like Armageddon, only a lot smellier.
The story came during a severe flood in the district, after a reporter interviewed a piggery owner who said floodwaters had carried an amount of his livestock away.
Presumably the interview was conducted by telephone. And presumably the piggery owner had a thick rural Queensland accent. (For those unfamiliar, due to the large number of flies buzzing around, rural men in Australia are the only humans in history to have mastered the art of speaking with their mouth entirely closed).
It shows how laid-back Queenslanders are when you consider the paper only thought to put this story of the piggy Armageddon on page 11.
In any event, two days later, they published this.
Surely it was one of the great mid-heard quotes of all time, right up there with Jimi Hendrix’s “’scuse me while I kiss this guy”, and Bob Dylan’s “the ants are my friends”.
But now, in a bleak and dismal example of life in China imitating people's apocalyptic visions elsewhere -- here in the Middle Kingdom IT'S REALLY HAPPENING, PEOPLE!
GET OUT OF THE RIVER!
It's not quite the 30,000 pigs of Rockhampton legend. But 6,600 dead swine in your river is probably more than sufficient.
As various news agencies have reported, the gruesome tragedy is continuing to unfold in the Huangpu River.
Not only is that no small number of pigs, it's not just any river. It's this one:
|Probably the most famous China tourist shot outside|
of Beijing. The Huangpu winds through Shanghai, with
its magnificent colonial buildings on one side, and the
Lost In Space tower on the other.
The trouble started when, in a shock twist for China, there was a food scandal relating to unsafe practices which meant people were getting sick.
This is not to be confused with this pork product scandal we knew and loved as the Glow-in-the-Dark Pork Scandal ...
|... in which pork was pumped full of something or other,|
which made it last longer, and made people able to read
off its light.
And it's not to be confused with this one ...
No, the Huangpu River scandal is an entirely different scandal. It is thought the pigs have been killed and dumped in the river upstream from Shanghai in neighbouring Zhejiang province. This is possibly linked to the fact that last week 46 people were sent to jail for producing unsafe pork from diseased pigs.
So these aren't just pigs that were slaughtered and dumped in the river and are causing fears because they are dead. They were carrying diseases in the first place.
Fortunately, people are scooping them up before they hit the Shanghai tourist strip, which would be bad.
Unfortunately, Shanghai draws a lot of its drinking water from the same river.
|Ewww! Actually, they don't look too bad here.|
|OK now they're looking a bit bad. And smelly.|
|The Deadliest Catch.|
|An Apocalyptic vision of pigs in a river.|
|A much cuter vision of pigs in a river.|
In another surprising development, government types are not exactly saying this is anything major to worry about.
In fact, better than that, China's Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo held a press conference on Wednesday at China's big political meeting, the National People's Congress, where he consummately pretended nothing was happening.
In a master class of a politician avoiding a sticky subject, Li was asked by a reporter about dead pigs and responded by talking about an entirely different topic - the choices of funeral services for people.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said a reporter asked Li if the pigs were being dumped in the river because this was cheaper than incineration.
He responded thus: “There are two types of funeral services; the basic funeral service and the selective funeral service. The former includes body transportation, preservation, cremation and the placing of ashes, at a price which the government sets."
He rabbited on: "The overall cost is reasonable…the service is aimed at providing low-income groups with access to funeral services."
As journalists looked at each with one raised eyebrow while twirling a finger around their temple, Li completed the press conference without a mention of pigs.
|Li Liguo: "I never promised you a rose garden - of|
accountability and transparent government".
Li is said by insiders to be "one step away" from coming out and saying a few thousand pig carcasses in your drinking water supply is "probably good for you".
The Shanghai government has said the city will monitor water quality and test for viruses including porcine circovirus. Just what it will do then is not clear, but if you live in Shanghai, head down to the shop and buy some bottled water. NOW Goddamnit! Or better still, head down to China's main stock exchange, which is also in Shanghai, and buy some shares in those bottled water companies that had been the subject of increasing scepticism as to their true worth ... until dead pigs started coming down the river.
* * *
In other news, this happened ...
Several cartoon and computer game characters recently staged a protest in Beijing to demand better working conditions. In a sign of the changing face of China's workplace relations scene, the quintet picketed outside the Ministry of Labour for several hours. Their log of claims included demands that they stop being fired out of slingshots, that people cease and desist dropping anvils on their heads, etc. A union spokesman said Donald Duck also threatened a series of wildcat strikes unless he was finally given a pair of trousers.
Five Chinese migrant workers in Beijing recently staged a protest about unpaid wages by dressing up as cartoon characters.
|That's one angry bird.|
It was the blackest day in cartoon character industrial unrest since this one:
|"There'll be no Neverland where you're going matey-boy!"|
(Ed's note: The five Chinese characters were actually migrant workers who - in a novel approach avoiding a lengthy industrial court process - wanted to go viral on the internet to highlight their claim for unpaid wages. It is believed they still won't get them.)