So are they going to execute the reporter?

Turns out that China says that story you may have seen last week about a snack vendor in Beijing who was putting chopped cardboard in his steamed buns rather than minced pork was all a fake.

Let me tell you, that story got picked up by a lot of newspapers in the United States, where I am temporarily, because of concerns about food quality coming from China.

The newscast, aired by China Central Television, was seen by tens of millions of Chinese viewers. It showed the vendor soaking the chopped cardboard in caustic soda, then adding pork flavor and fatty meat before stuffing the bogus steamed buns.

Thursday’s English-language China Daily say the reporter is in “criminal custody” because he made the story up to boost ratings.

It only gives the reporter’s surname as Zi, and cites a Beijing municipal government announcement saying that Zi had given the vendor all the cardboard and asked him to soak it.

“It’s all cheating,” China Daily reported the announcement as saying.

“Beijing TV apologized in the announcement for failing to check the authenticity of the report, adding it will punish editors involved and make efforts to improve professional ethics of its staff,” the China Daily story says.

It goes on to say inspectors have found no vendors selling fake steamed buns in Beijing.

Now time to vote: Who believes the original story? Who believes this latest version?

Problem is, we’ll never know. Since this is China, authorities didn’t give the reporter’s full name so no one can verify that he actually made it up. Or is this an attempt to quell international concern about made-in-China products?

You may remember that China executed the former chief of its state food and drug administration earlier this month. Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted of taking bribes for allowing substandard medicines on the market. How he was executed is unclear. But it may have been a bullet to the back of the head.

What’ll be the reporter’s fate?

Tim Johnson is the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. E-mail him at

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