I’ve been reading with fascination over the last few weeks as story after story appears about corruption involving Chinese food, drugs, and other consumer products. We’ve seen tainted seasoning, poisoned toothpaste, and nasty pet food.
It’s been clear throughout that, questions of moral relativism notwithstanding, Chinese government and business officials weren’t taking the problems too seriously. Relax, they said: The stuff may be poisonous, but it’s not that poisonous.
Well, today, the Supreme People’s Court went to the other extreme condemning a former drug and food safety chief to death for taking $650,000 in bribes from drug companies. Staggeringly, the official, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed the same day.
Talk about swift justice. Whoa. Can you imagine Food and Drug Administration Andrew von Eschenbach being hung for a comparable offense? (For that matter, can you imagine a comparable offense occurring in the U.S.?)
Clearly, China understands on some level that its reputation, and its trade balance, is on the line: “Zheng Xiaoyu’s grave irresponsibility in pharmaceutical safety inspection and failure to conscientiously carry out his duties seriously damaged the interests of the state and people,” the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the high court as stating.
It’s a shocking, outrageously extreme remedy. But in a land so riven by instances of obvious hyper-greed, it also may be the only one with a chance of working.