The fact that Wang now spends his days tending 400 cows on a farm near Beijing says a lot about the way China created a dairy industry out of thin air. But in their haste, the Chinese made mistakes that left six babies dead and hundreds of thousands ill from tainted milk.
But in the 1990s, economic planners decided that dairy cows were a quick way to improve rural incomes, particularly in northern provinces such as Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang with cool climate, flat terrain and lack of other economic prospects. To encourage consumption, the propaganda machine spread the word that children needed to drink milk to grow as strong and tall as Westerners.
Above: A cattle farm in the eastern Chinese city of Jimo. Milk and other dairy products weren’t popular before the 1990s. Photo: Wu Hong / European Pressphoto Agency
In a landscape that looks more Rust Belt than Dairy Belt, people opened farms in patches of land between derelict factories and villages.
The now-bankrupt dairy producer Sanlu Group, headquartered in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, was a big reason for the success. Company Chairwoman Tian Wenhua was a Communist Party official, but also a reformer. She now faces life imprisonment for covering up the scandal over Sanlu’s tainted milk.