A ‘Fifty Fen’ Egg Causes Stir in China

October 7, 2011 5:02 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 3:26 pm
A vendor selling eggs waits for customers at a wet market in Shanghai on March 9, 2010. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
A vendor selling eggs waits for customers at a wet market in Shanghai on March 9, 2010. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) on Oct. 1 has been widely discussed because of the remarkably inexpensive breakfast eaten by one student—and the subsequent ridicule the incident received.

New Express Daily reported on Oct. 3 that Wen visited the BUAA’s dining hall on Oct. 1 and sat down with student Fan Qifeng for breakfast, asking him canned questions about the price of the meal.

Fan answered: “It costs two yuan for a plate consisting of one egg, one egg pancake, and one piece of preserved tofu. A single egg is 50 fen; with five steamed buns and a bowel of porridge, the total is about four yuan [about 63 US cents].” (A fen is a Chinese “cent,” with 100 making 1 yuan)

Next, Wen said his line while gesturing downward with his hand: “So commodity prices have stabilized!”

The only problem was, netizens quickly pointed out, that meals don’t come that cheap, and eggs don’t really cost 50 fen, or eight US cents. Savvy media consumers saw in the report another instances of price deception, where the regime tries to paint a rosy economic picture through manufactured examples.

Soon the term “50-fen egg” was banned from being searched on Sina Weibo, China’s largest microblogging website.

Voice of America (VOA) searched for the name of the school at midnight on Oct. 4 and found more than 307,000 hits, most of which were discussing the “50-fen egg” meme.

User “grapefruit2010” on Weibo was upset with Mr. Fan: “Don’t you know the real prices? You’re going to jeopardize students’ life in all the country’s universities. Your meal costs nine yuan ($1.40) in my school.”

Other netizens calculated that the actual cost of an uncooked egg would be more like 66 fen, rather than 50.

Yan Yuanzhang, chief editor of the banned China Worker’s Net and a human rights activist, said that the “50-fen egg” incident caused such a stir because it’s a true reflection on Chinese society, showing how strongly dissatisfied people are with the economy.

He said: “The leaders either do not know the true facts of our lives, or they are merely putting on an act and lying to us. But whom do they think they are fooling?”

When Yan was interviewed by VOA on Oct. 4, he was having dinner with his friends and teachers at Beijing University’s dining hall. He said that there is no “50-fen egg” available there.

Nor were Fan Qifeng’s troubles over after the egg incident. The student revealed on Renren, a social networking website, that he was criticized by the Chancellor of BUAA afterwards.

“I missed three important points,” he said. “First, I didn’t mention anything about ‘Tiangong-1,’ our first space station; second, I didn’t express my determination to do well in school; last, I didn’t invite Wen to join our school’s anniversary. I’m not sure if there may be another chance,” Fan wrote.

The following day, Oct. 5, an official from BUAA told Qianjiang Evening News that eggs do actually cost 50 fen each at the school—because the dining hall is subsidized.

But Internet citizens have in the past been unimpressed with remarkably cheap subsidies. In March of this year Party leader Hu Jintao visited a subsidized housing project in Beijing. Ms. Guo Chunping, the occupant, told him that her monthly rent is only 77 yuan ($12). The discussion was broadcast on CCTV’s prime time news program.

It was widely criticized by netizens, with many pointing out that it is impossible to rent an apartment for so little. Guo’s apartment was also subsidized for low-income residents, but Guo apparently didn’t qualify. Guo was a local traffic cop, and netizens found pictures published online showing her travelling comfortably around China.

Read the original Chinese article.

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