Following the White Rabbit: The Matrix of Fear

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
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Trip End Dec 31, 2011


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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Sunday, October 5, 2008

You don't have to have been to China to know about the White Rabbit.

The White Rabbit appears as a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

He appears at the very beginning of the book, in chapter one, wearing a waistcoat, and muttering "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" Alice follows him down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Alice encounters him again when he mistakes her for his housemaid Mary Ann and she becomes trapped in his house after growing too large. The Rabbit shows up again in the last few chapters, as a herald-like servant of the King and Queen of Hearts. [from Wikipedia]



Or maybe you've watched the movie 'The Matrix'?

In the movie, Neo wakes in front of his computer to find the words: "Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit."

Then, minutes later, the rabbit sign appears in a tattoo on the shoulder of a woman at his door . . .



In recent weeks I've been following the White Rabbit. No, not the one from the Matrix or any game. Or from the pen of Lewis Carroll. I've been following on computer, the fate of White Rabbit, the popular sweets in China.

The real one, the one I first saw in 1996 on my first trip to China. They were my favourite Chinese lollies.

White Rabbit Creamy Candy is well known throughout China, and in recent years, it has been exported around the world, to satisfy the Chinese diaspora, as well Westerners who have developed a liking for the lollies.

There are several things one should note about the White Rabbit.

First, it is a milk-based, or at least milk-flavoured sweet. Kinda weird for a country with 1.4 billion people who claim to be lactose intolerant, right?

Second interesting thing is that while the white, soft, vanilla, chewy cylinder comes in a wrapping, inside it is wrapped in an edible clear paper made from sticky rice (at first I tried to take it off, with difficulty).

Third, its ingredients are corn starch syrup, cane sugar, butter, and milk - though this year it seems that is not all, as you should find out shortly.

Forth, it is sometimes advertised and marketed in China as a nutritional supplement, with the claim that 7 lollies are equal to one cup of milk. Somehow this is hard to believe.

Fifth, it has a long history, longer than that of modern China. Its origin goes back to Shanghai in 1943 when a guy came across an English milk candy, and in that fine Chinese tradition, tried to copy it. Originally known as ABC Mickey Mouse Sweets, the company was taken over by the state in the 1950s, and as Mickey Mouse was a symbol of the decadent West and the CCP was worried about worshiping foreign idols, its packaging was changed to that of a White Rabbit, with its distinctive red, blue and black colour scheme. Initially production was capped at 800kg a day, and the White Rabbit enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame when in 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai used White Rabbit candies as a gift to American president Richard Nixon during his visit to China.

Today, many Chinese give and receive these lollies, especially during Chinese New Year. Four years ago sales hit 600 million yuan (about 90 million US$). The White Rabbits are exported out of Shanghai to more than three dozen countries.

While sales have bounded in double-digits this century, the Shanghai Guan Sheng Yuan Food Ltd company hasn't had it that easy. Last year the Philippine food administration authority claimed formalin was detected in the candies (though these may have been counterfeit ones).

Then last month, with the scare about milk contaminated with melamine, the White Rabbit was found to be tainted with melamine (melamine was also found in the pet food scandal in 2007). The first I heard about it, was when it was recalled in the US, and most other countries, because traces of melamine were detected. Tesco pulled it from its UK sheleves, and then a lab in Hong Kong found a lolly contained on average six times the legal limit. It got taken from the shelves in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand too.

Here is one big story:
http://www.courant.com/community/news/hfd/hc-whdcandy1003.artoct03,0,6580276.story
http://shanghaiist.com/2008/09/22/singapore_finds_melamine_in_white_r.php

To balance this out, some reporters in Singapore worked out the average adult would have to eat 47 sweets a day to exceed the 'tolerable threshold'. At the same time, some coffee 3-in-1's were recalled too, even though they were supposed to contain non-dairy creamers.

Initially it seemed only exports were taken off the shelves, but then, this came out (from Xinhua news agency):

The producer of China's White Rabbit brand candy on Friday announced the suspension of domestic sales of its products, which are suspected of melamine contamination.

The Guanshengyuan company had previously recalled all exports, some of which tested positive for melamine in Singapore earlier this week.

Ge Junjie, vice manager of the Shanghai Guangming (Bright) Dairy and Food Company, which owns Guanshengyuan, said the suspension of sales of White Rabbit candy reflected "the company's conscientious decision to protect consumers".

The company's candy is still undergoing tests for melamine by the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

The bureau could not provide the test results on Friday morning.

"We decided to halt all sales of White Rabbit candy, although the test results have not yet come out," said Ge.

That was back on 23 September.

Yesterday I was able to buy a packet of White Rabbits, and there were also loose Rabbits going for sale in several stores near me.


Want to taste this candy, but can't?

Here's a review:

http://www.typetive.com/candyblog/item/white_rabbit/


Maybe there is a message in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The White Rabbit appears at the very beginning of the book, in chapter one, wearing a waistcoat, and muttering "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" Alice follows him down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Alice encounters him again when he mistakes her for his housemaid Mary Ann and she becomes trapped in his house after growing too large. The Rabbit shows up again in the last few chapters, as a herald-like servant of the King and Queen of Hearts.
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