Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Passion for hairy crabs represents big problem

By Chang Kuo-cheng 張國城

Looked at in the Taiwan context, eating hairy crabs harvested from Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu Province, China, is a manifestation of the recent "China fever," and the problems that it has caused can serve as an example of the wider problems of China fever.

The first problem is the widespread sale of fake hairy crabs. Although the Suzhou Yangchenhu Hairy Crab Association has attached "rings" to mark genuine Yangcheng Lake crabs, rumor has it that these rings can be easily and cheaply counterfeited. Some media have even reported that the harvest season for genuine Yangcheng Lake crabs does not start until later this month, so the fact that they are already available in Taiwan is an indication of how bold the purveyors of these fake crabs are.

The first problem is the crab sellers' attempts at profiteering, which clearly reflect China's lack of rule of law and the lack of transparency of commercial information. This is, in fact, just one example of the risks of doing business across the Strait.

The second problem, which is probably more important but has been noticed less, is the question of how so many people can be fooled over the authenticity of the crabs. Could it be that Yangcheng Lake crabs do not actually taste that much better than crabs bred elsewhere? This would suggest that the passion for Yangchen Lake crab is simply a product of media hype. Isn't this exactly what the media have been doing with the China market, talking it up with stories of "business opportunities" and "development prospects?"

Then there is food safety. Due to the large number of fake crabs, it is estimated that each year, at least 50,000 crabs are consumed without prior government inspection, putting a gaping hole in our food safety and disease control efforts. Given that China is a place where even fake eggs can be sold, it is worrying that Taiwanese people are willing to devour Chinese hairy crabs that have bypassed all food-safety measures.

All of these problems are closely related to the issue of an excess of fake hairy crabs in China. As the products sold are not genuine, purveyors are naturally afraid of food inspection and quarantines. Therefore, smuggling seems to be the only channel to bring fake hairy crabs into Taiwan. Eating fake hairy crab helps smuggling rings gain strength. Thus, we can see the similarity to current cross-strait trade and economic developments.

From both the micro and the macro perspectives, hairy crab is not simply a type of food. Instead, the crab represents China, and the action of eating it or not eating it equates with how Taiwan deals with China. Is it a way of building a strong, healthy body or of ingesting dangerous substances that may bring on illness? The answer to this question lies with the Taiwanese people.

Chang Kuo-cheng is a researcher at the Taiwan Peace Research Center.


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