I made a very short remark on a minister’s facebook somewhere earlier this month on the topic. Apparently the China government did not learn very much about transparency from SARs 6 years back.
I was studying in Beijing during the SARs period. Just 10mins away from my school was the first hospital to be infected in the entire capital city. When it was finally isolated, we were told there were 134 cases of SARs within the hospital. A houseman later told us, there were double of the actual figures. Opposite the hospital were a row of restaurants we love hanging out at. The restaurants were only closed for quarantined about a month later. My lecturer himself contracted the virus when he went for a minor operation in the hospital. He was lucky to get out of it alive.
Somehow, this culture of secrecy and cutting off the truth may have been passed down through the generations from the days where Emperors rule and servants are silenced as the dead do not speak. The belief is “the only way to get out of the situation is that the situation doesn’t gets out”. And quite obviously in the modern day where technology thrives and global transparency is regarded as highly importance, it is no longer an issue of the backyard. Not when in this case, tens (if not hundreds) of international brand names are tainted and reputation tarnished by the food quality control of one single country.
After the bad word got out, panic was aroused and unfounded rumours began spreading from one to another. There was even a so-called “professor or doctor” who went on TV to say melamine can be removed from the body by drinking acid! The country has a vast rural landscape and the contaminated milk can still be easily bought in villages. These peasants cannot afford televisions, they can’t read and no one told them there was a problem. The country should have sent all the province heads to the village heads and carry out a large scale educational program to inform the public, even the less previlaged.
Of course, to dig to the bottom of the issue, it was not only a case of badly handled PR. But crossed over to the discussion of politics, education, health and food care. It was a case that shouldn’t even have happened in the first place. Crisis management measures should have been in place before the occurence of a crisis as such.
It proved to be a hard lesson, but whether is it a lesson taught, remains to be seen.