Milk is a strong bone of contention with the Chinese public after a series of scandals and tragically avoidable deaths. It has become symbolic of the moral decline many see infecting the upper echelons of neo-Capitalist society in China, where the lives of children are deemed insignificant in the face of profit. Arch-agitator Ai Weiwei has used the issue as inspiration for his latest work, which takes the form of a map of China made from tins of baby formula.
In 2004, at least 13 babies in the Ainhu province are thought to have died as a result of being fed nutritionally worthless formula, and then in 2008 at least six children died and a further 300,000 fell ill after drinking industrial melamine in their milk. Compounding parent’s fears that not enough was being done to protect China’s young from contaminated products, in 2011 three children were killed and a further 35 became ill in China’s northwestern Gansu province after consuming milk tainted with nitrates.
This is a most fundamental assurance of food, but people actually have to go to another region to obtain this kind of thing. I think it’s a totally absurd phenomenon
Many Chinese now import their milk products from overseas, and Hong Kong has been obliged to put a limit on the amounts Chinese visitors can take back to the mainland after their own stocks nearly ran out, a state of affairs Ai Weiwei has called ‘absurd.’ Railing against Chinese leaders, he said, “This is a most fundamental assurance of food, but people actually have to go to another region to obtain this kind of thing. I think it’s a totally absurd phenomenon.”
Using 1,800 large tins of baby milk formula from seven popular Chinese brands, Weiwie arranged a huge map of China. A vocal critic on his government’s disregard for the laws and rights of ordinary citizens, with his latest work he wants to make people reflect that, “A country like this can put a satellite into space but it can’t put a safe bottle teat into a child’s mouth.”