Video: Funeral held for cows reflects Chinese farmers’ woes
September 8, 2011Jing Gao2 Commentsabuse of power, Cattle, Chinese milk scandal, Dairy cattle, Dairy farming, dairy industry, embezzlement, Food safety, forced eviction, funeral, governance, Melamine, memorial service, milk industry, Sanlu Group, subsidies
From Dahe Daily
Elegiac couplets were written and hung; a sacrificial alter was set up; condolences were expressed; eulogies were pronounced; Buddhist monks were invited to chant prayers…For those who are wondering for whom was such a grand funeral and memorial service held, the answer is beyond their expectation: cows. A video of a funeral and memorial service for cows has been circulating on multiple Chinese websites like wildfire. A web post cried injustice for the cows, saying that 230 Australian-born cows were starved to death because funds earmarked for them were intercepted by the government of Shaoling Township, administered by the city of Luohe, Henan province.
The video shows the memorial service is very ceremonious. In a funeral shed the size of a regular one for a dead man, offerings and two white lit candles are placed in front of a paper-made cow model wearing a slip of paper around its neck that reads “I was starved to death.” The elegiac couplet says from left to right, “Souls vanished without a place for redressing an injustice,” “Having food taken out of their mouths, the cows died in Luohe.” A horizontal scroll hangs on top of the couplet with the words, “Affection between human and cows never ends.” Over 20 people surround the funeral shed and mourned in sullen silence.
Later, in a Buddhist temple, a rite was performed for the cows “to console their souls.”
According to the video, 230 Australian cows “traveled across the seas and oceans and came to the alien land for the Chinese people’s milk-drinking undertaking,” but died of hunger one by one because the township government cut off water and power supply. Chang Fuwen, the owner of the cattle, suffered so much from troubled sleep and mental stress that he had to arrange the memorial service to appease the cows and solace his grief. At the end of the eulogy, he said, “Cows, when you arrive at the Pure Land, you will be free from hunger and bullies. You were born in Australia and now are buried in Luohe. Rest in peace.”
The web post that accompanies the video said, in 2000, Henan province appropriated 600,000 yuan (US$72,280) as funds for the 230 cows. Yet the township government of Shaoling withheld the funds, and only agreed to return 300,000 yuan after bouts of negotiation. Then party boss surnamed Yan of the township claimed the other 300,000 yuan were to pay land loan. Later, on grounds of loan default, local officials shut down the cattle farm and cut off electricity and water multiple times, with the longest cut lasting 14 days, killing 70 cows as a result. Over 40 tons of milk went sour.
Despite the fact that the land lease would not expire until 2020, the township government reassigned the rights to an official named Shi Nawei. On February 22, 2011, Shi Nawei forcibly occupied the cattle farm and tore down all facilities on the land except for an office building, the post said.
Zhao Zhengkui, an official in charge of the jurisdiction the cattle farm is under, told the local Dahe Daily that Chang Fuwen and his partners have defaulted on payments of over 1.41 million so far, and that the township government had made the decision of transferring the land legally to Shi only after multiple failures in pressing for payments. “The cattle farm has never abided by the contract. The town of Shaoling has the right to manage the land without anyone’s consent. The cattle farm should bear all consequences and damages.”
“This is a rebellion and a farce. The purpose is to attract more attention and make the thing big,” he said.
It is true that the memorial service wants nothing but attention. However, there seems to be no better solution for the cattle owner to make his appeal and get noticed when he is being crushed by local officials who unilaterally withheld grant, transfer his rights to the land, and cornering his dairy herd to death.
And even if he has defaulted on land loan, what makes the local government consider themselves above the law and in the right to resort to wanton destruction of the property?
In fact, apart from being another classic example of abuse of administrative power and forced eviction, the death of cows in Shaoling also highlights Chinese cattle farmers’ impasse. In their words, if it is a full moon at the state level, it becomes a half-moon at the provincial level, ended up a crescent at the county and city level, and is nothing but sheer darkness when it arrives at a village.
The melamine-tainted milk scandal exposed in late 2008 wreaked havoc on China’s milk industry. Most cattle farmers suffered great financial losses. Many farmers had to either sell or butcher their cattle in large quantities in tears because they can no longer afford to raise them and stay afloat at the same time. In Shaanxi province, as many as 10% of dairy cows were killed.
The Chinese government has vowed to bail the shaky industry out of crisis by providing farmers with subsidies and favorable policies. In 2010 alone, the state earmarked RMB 500 million (US$75 million) for construction of standardized large-scale cattle farms.
However, its effect has been greatly discounted by its enforcement, or lack thereof. Many farmers complained that they either never get the money, or got much less than what was promised to them. Very few have tasted the fruits.
In some localities, the fickleness of policies adds up to farmers’ difficulties. “This official announced his plan to devote major efforts to propping up the milk industry and provided policies and funds. Everybody’s enthusiasm was mobilized right away. Then the new official came and said he intends to go in for another industry, and previous policies and funds are all gone, which has poured cold water on everybody.” The policies are so whimsical that everyone remains skeptical and cautious about getting a foot in.
The eulogy to the dead cows in Shaoling could be an eulogy to the entire milk industry.