Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has unveiled his latest work, a map of China made from baby formula tins, in response to fears surrounding milk safety in China
May 17, 2013

Weiwei, whose 81 days of detention in 2011 sparked international outcry, has regularly criticized the government for ignoring the rule of law and the rights of Chinese citizens.

In his latest work, the dissident artist has arranged more than 1,800 large tins of milk powder from seven popular brands in the shape of a huge map of China.

Fears about milk safety were reignited in 2008 when at least six children died and 300,000 fell ill after drinking milk formula laced with industrial melamine.

Since the scandal many Chinese parents have taken to importing milk powder from foreign countries.

Weiwei said: “A country like this can put a satellite into space but it can’t put a safe bottle teat into a child’s mouth. I think it’s extremely absurd. 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.”

The “milk map” has gone on display in Hong Kong, which had to restrict the amount of milk powder brought back to mainland China after parents flocked to the former British colony to stock up.

More than 30 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong last year, almost four times the city’s population, causing concern about the ability of the city’s infrastructure to cope. Complaints of milk powder shortages and rocketing prices were also reported.

Speaking in response to the Chinese “run” on Hong Kong’s milk supply, Weiwei said: “I have heard of drug trafficking before, but when a country has milk powder smuggling instead of drug smuggling, I think this is a devastating sign.”

The Chinese government has tried to reassure people that milk powder and dairy products in China are now safe and rigorously tested, but lax regulatory enforcement remains a problem.

In 2004, at least 13 babies in the central Anhui province died after drinking fake milk powder that had no nutritional value. A government health probe in 2008 showed 20 per cent of dairy companies had produced batches of milk containing melamine, an industrial chemical added to milk to seem like it has a higher protein content. In 2011, three children died and 35 people became ill after drinking nitrite-tainted milk in China’s northwestern Gansu province.

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