Mengniu and I

Documentarist Wang Xiaoshan writes about the corruption at Mengniu Dairy.

Mengniu Dairy. Photograph: Getty Images

On 24th Dec, 2011, the media revealed that Mengniu Dairy products had been tested positive for excessive Aflatoxin M1, a toxic, carcinogenic substance. It was 140per cent above the legal limit. The netizen, 'a_mao' posted on Weibo saying he hoped Yu Jianrong or Wang Xiaoshan could stand up and lead the boycott of Mengniu. On 27th December, I announced the boycott of Mengniu on Weibo. The content was: Since many Mengniu products after 2008 have contained constituents harmful to the human body, I promise: To refuse to drink Mengniu products; encourage other people to refuse Mengniu products; tell other people that Mengniu is a rubbish company; not to work for Mengniu; not to take contract orders or advertisement hiresfor Mengniu; refuse as much as possible media containing Mengniu adverts and programmes sponsored by Mengniu.

Mengniu Dairy is a leading company in the Chinese dairy industry. From 2003, its total sales and liquid milk sales have always been top of the industry. I was boycotting Mengniu based on the series of safety incidences at Mengniu. I commissioned friends to produce a 1 minute video, summarising the Mengniu incidences since 2008, as follows:

2008: Mengniu milk powder and liquid milk products tested positive for 'melamine';

2009: OMP added to Mengniu 'Te Lun Su' products was revealed to be carcinogenic;

2010: 18 students were poisoned after drinking Mengniu milk;

2011: 251 students were poisoned after drinking Mengniu milk; it was discovered that Mengniu products exceeded the legal limit for Aflatoxin M1 content.

These are not the only food safety incidences from Mengniu that were exposed, but there was not enough space in the video. 

My boycott of Mengniu began on Weibo. When I was posting microblogs about Mengniu, I sent them to the current star spokespeople of Mengniu, such as Xiao Yaxuan, Ding Junhui, Zhang Ziyi, Little S, etc. Later, through the replies of the fans of these stars, I discovered that Han Gen has more impact on adolescents than others. At one point, I continuously sent content about Mengniu incidences to Han Gen, even sending text messages to his agent and assistant, urging Han Gen to distance himself from Mengniu, to maintain his good image. It's a shame that he never replied.

On Weibo I also organised three 'competitions'. The first was an essay contest about Mengniu safety incidences. The second was called 'Mengniu Sad Calligraphy Competition', requiring that calligraphy works contained at least the eight words: 'For a healthy life, stay away from Mengniu'. The third was a competition for a short film boycotting Mengniu. I was the judge for the competition, and I also offer the prize money out of my own pocket. It seemed popular.

What truly created a problem was broadcasting the aforementioned video boycotting Mengniu. A friend of mine had the right to operate an LED screen on Dongmen Culture Square in Shenzhen. He broadcast this video on his LED screen. Two hours later, Shenzhen authorities asked him to shut down the screening. After two weeks, the friend who broadcasted the video was fined 5,000 RMB, he and his wife's names were put on a 'blacklist'. They cannot re-register the company in Shenzhen. Highlights: A few days after paying the fine, a staff member of the Bureau for Industry and Commerce that imposed the fine, revealed he once bought a whole box of Mengniu milk. He got stomach problems after drinking it, but Mengniu only compensated with two boxes of milk. He was very angry and said he was willing to be interviewed. But later Mengniu found him, I don't know what they said, and he pchanged his mind. 

Previously, 'running away' was only a scene that appeared in films. I didn't think it would happen to me. In the end of May 2012, after hearing that someone wanted to 'cross provinces' and take me to Inner Mongolia where Mengniu is based, I had to fly to Hong Kong as an emergency. On 6th June, I arrived in Macau. Having fled for 10 days, I decided to return to Beijing. Before returning I posted a statement:

Since December 27th, 2011, because of the Mengniu 'Aflatoxin' incident, I started campaigns to boycott Mengniu. It's now been almost half a year. With a clear conscience, I can say that I've done my best - spent over 10,000 RMB, organised several online campaigns and facilitated a film boycotting Mengniu, broadcasting it beyond the internet. This is all I can do. I expect friends with greater capability to continue the campaign. I'll soon return to Beijing. Before returning, I'll announce the date, time, flight number or train number. I'd be glad to meet you. First let me be clear: 1. I do not plan to go to Inner Mongolia. If I appear in Inner Mongolia in the near future, it won't be of my own will; 2. I love China, my friends, and my life. I will never commit suicide; 3. I've always been careful crossing the road. If there's a flyover I would never use the pedestrian crossing. If there's a car accident (or other coincidences), it's not an accident; 4. I have few enemies. If I'm beaten, kidnapped or my house is searched and property confiscated, it's not caused by personal enmity. 5. I've already employed Si Weijiang and Pu Zhiqiang as representative lawyers. For all legal matters, please contact them. 6. I have microblogs on Sina, Sohu, Tencent and NetEase. If in 24 hours, you don't see a post from me on the above four microblogs, I can be considered 'missing'. Certain microblogs would irregularly delete user accounts or prohibit speech, so any one of the microblogs is sufficient source from me.

In fact, this is a sincere declaration, I was really quite scared. When I was interviewed by a reporter from The Washington Post, I told the reporter that ever since I was young I wanted to be a hero. Now I think I am one.

Of course, if I could choose, I'd rather live in an era without heroes, or where heroes are not needed.

In June 2012, COFCO finally took over Mengniu. The original founding team all retired from Mengniu management. The new President expressed via friends that he wanted to sit down and talk. The official microblog of Mengniu Dairy at least superficially started to value discussions with netizens and invited netizens to visit on their 'open day'. I said: 1. I'm not interested in discussing with companies who want to 'cross provinces' to capture me. 2. There is no need to visit a place that's been well prepared for the visit. 3. I don't believe they can really reform.

On the microblog, I posted this reply to the invitation: If Mengniu Dairy agrees to issue 10 permits, so the permit holders can inspect all Mengniu sites and branches at any time and at any location without obstruction, I would consider inviting nine netizens to accept the invitation, and take on the monitoring role.

Mengniu Dairy said that such permits do not exist and rejected my proposal.

This article is also available in Chinese.