[FOUNTAIN]When ‘fake’ goods cause real harm

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[FOUNTAIN]When ‘fake’ goods cause real harm

Twenty six-year-old Zhang Libing lives in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in China. He could be called a painter. We cannot call him an artist because he copies someone else’s paintings. That someone is Vincent van Gogh. So far, he has painted about 20,000 copies of van Gogh’s works, which is more than van Gogh ever painted in his lifetime.
There are countless copy painters like Mr. Zhang in China, earning $200 a month. According to the New York Times, copies of masterpieces are mass-produced in factories in China. Some companies hire more than 300 painters to copy original works. Paintings are completed through a division of labor. Some only paint the sky while others specialize in trees. The copies are sold at $25 to $30 a piece to Western wholesalers. European or American consumers buy the paintings at $100 to $160 each.
The copied art works can be considered cute, but a more serious problem arises with fake food and beverages that can take away a life. A few years ago, fake liquor was brewed from methyl alcohol in Shuozhou, Shanxi province. The emergency medical staff dispatched to the scene prescribed that patients suffering from alcohol poisoning should drink real kaoliang. Methyl alcohol generates carbon dioxide, which is harmful to the human body because of an enzyme. When methyl alcohol from the fake liquor and ethyl alcohol from real spirits are present in a human body at the same time, the enzyme breaks down ethyl alcohol first. The medical staffs used the clever trick of having the patients drink real alcohol to provide more time to treat the patients by delaying the rate of methyl alcohol’s oxidization.
Fake food and beverages from China are threatening the dining tables of Koreans. The beginning was when pieces of lead were found inside imported croaker in 2001. Carcinogens were found in eels, and sesame leaves were covered with preservatives. Ginger and pine mushrooms contained more agricultural chemicals than the legally permitted amount. Recently, it was revealed that imported kimchi from China contained up to five times more lead than Korean-made kimchi. Now, Koreans cannot feel assured when they eat kimchi at restaurants. Some people even joke that everything from China is fake except the people.
In an address on Sept. 21, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick urged China “to become a responsible stakeholder in the international system.” China celebrates the 56th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China tomorrow. The Chinese people’s pledge at this year’s celebration should be to “break the association of Chinese goods and fake.”


by You Sang-chul

The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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