The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, September 22, 2008

53,000 babies and Chinese values.

Do the Chinese value human life? Or do they value money? A society answers this question not by what it says, but by what it does. Repeatedly, China has answered my first question in the negative, by doing something that shows a disregard for human life. As I write, 53,000 Chinese babies (up from 6,200 yesterday) are ill, some seriously, some dead, from melamine poisoning from contaminated milk. China, once again, has answered the question.

It is not possible, in a country in which its people value the lives of others as much as their own, for such a food poisoning scandal to occur. You see, melamine has been found in the dairy products of 22 companies in China. Melamine is more commonly used in fire retardants, floor tiles, kitchen ware and in the making of fertilizers. It is not a foodstuff and, indeed, causes death by renal failure if ingested in toxic quantities. That, of course, is just what is happening: babies are suffering kidney damage and some have died, others being seriously ill.

The fact that companies throughout the width and breadth of China are all manufacturing poisonous milk products can only mean one thing: hundreds, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of suppliers and milk processors in China are adulterating the milk with melamine in the quest for additional profits, at the expense of the lives and health of unknown, random babies, by the thousand.

Think about that. The poisoning of babies on a large scale is considered a reasonable way to make money in modern China, by hundreds, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of people. Furthermore, it was thought reasonable, by the Chinese authorities, to keep the whole thing quiet, while babies continued to drink poisonous milk, so that there was no embarrassment leading up to the Olympics. You see, first awareness of the problem goes back to March this year. Shortly after that, the relative of a leading Sanlu executive made a report to the authorities about it: she was told to keep quiet, apparently until the Olympics had passed. Thus, we return to the lies and deceptions surrounding the Olympics and the image of perfection China wished to present - at whatever cost. It seems, now, that one of those costs was the lives and health of 53,000 babies (and counting...after all the number declared was only 6,200 yesterday). How many of them could have been spared if the milk had been cleaned up in March?

Now, a toddler in Hong Kong has been revealed to have developed kidney stones after consuming Yili milk - one of the contaminated brands. How many others around the world are there, showing unusual sickness for their age...but unidentified because their doctors have not put two and two together? The contaminated milk has ended up in less than obvious locations - in everything from yogurt, to ice cream to confectionery...yes, that is right, your kid's favourite Chinese sweets, could kill them.

Everyone talks of the need for better regulation on the issue in China, but I don't really think regulation is the problem. The problem is a lack of basic humanity in their business people. Everyone knows you don't poison your customer to make a quick buck - everyone except the Chinese, it seems. There is no need for a regulation that states: "Don't poison your customer". That should be needless in any society that has reached even the most basic level of civilization. Perhaps China, in truth, hasn't reached that basic level yet - at least, its business people haven't.

What is needed in China is an elevation not of its economy (which will grow on the backs of lots of sick and dying people unwise enough to buy their products), but an elevation of its people: they must become responsible global citizens, thinking not just of the dollar today, but of people and society tomorrow. They must think of the consequences of their actions, beyond the immediate financial rewards that can be made by a particular course of action. If an action is sure to make more money, but the price is that it kills babies - then NO-ONE should be taking that course of action. Shockingly, however, in China it seems that hundreds, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of people in the dairy supply chain took just that decision: to make money, while killing babies.

I don't think I will be visiting China in a hurry - and if I ever do, I won't be drinking the milk.

By the way, I have heard of something else that finds its way into Chinese milk to enrich the nitrogen content and thus the apparent protein content: urea. That's right: they are pissing in the milk supply. It gives a new meaning to "Made in China".

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:14 PM 


Blogger Shannon said...

Lack of Business Ethic:
There are many corporations that choose to profit at the expense of human beings. This problem is not specific to China. The US tobacco industry, for instance, does not mind poisoning customers to make a quick buck.

Regulation deters corporations from harming individuals. "Putting melamine into a food product is an offense punishable by death penalty" might scare people into compliance. Commissions should also be appointed to ensure the health and safety of the public. No regulation assumes that all human beings are conscionable. This is an incorrect assumption.

Value of Human Life:
Albert Schweitzer's "Reverence for Life" stands for this principle: Since the world is an expression of the will-to-life, respect for life is the highest virtue. Schweitzer, of course, puts it more eloquently: "I am life that wills to live in the midst of other life that wills to live. There is an affirmation of life in this which leads one beyond self to a reverence for all will to live, so that everything which maintains, nourishes, and ennobles life is good and positive. . ."

In line with the Schweitzer ethics, I can't think of anything that should be valued above life or the will to live. Regulation and enforcement must also be used to protect citizens from those without moral boundaries.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Shannon for your perspective on the issue.

Re. Tobacco companies...perhaps it is time that they were illegal: millions of people would be spared an early death.

There is, however, a key difference between tobacco and the Chinese situation. Tobacco companies have to tell customers that their products might kill them and assuredly harm them. The customer knows he/she is buying an early death. The Chinese milk and dairy product customers would have assumed the safety of the milk product and would not have dreamt that they were harming themselves. So, they are not morally equivalent - or legally equivalent - situations. One is informed consent, the other is not.

Thanks. I like Schweitzer's words. I wish everyone respected them.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Shannon,

I think you may have misunderstood me re. regulation. I did not mean to say that there should NOT be regulation in this regard - but that it should not be necessary: people should not ever consider adulterating the food supply and poisoning others for profit. It is something that no-one should ever do and so it should be needless to legislate against it.

Unfortunately, we do live in a mad world in which your food supplier will poison you if it makes him rich (at least in China).

Kind regards.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

I wasn't aware of the latest statistics until I read this entry, and I was so shocked that I was momentarily at a loss for words. The Chinese authorities kept SARS in the dark; they failed to inform the Sichuan people of the impending earthquake even though they detected it quite some time before it took place; they outsourced the construction of buildings in Sichuan to companies that used substandard building material (the number of deaths would have been much smaller had the architecture been sturdier); their toy products had to be recalled from the shelves in the US; their milk powder once killed numerous Panaman children; and made-in-China furniture was recently discovered to contain poisonous components and had to be removed from European stores; etc. It is really frightening how irresponsible and unethical the Chinese government officials and businessmen are, and it is even more chilling that this country would one day possibly become the most dominant player on the global stage. My friend commented that world leaders should have boycotted the Olympics - maybe it still wouldn't have solved anything, but at least then China wouldn't have received the glorious limelight that it never deserved. The Chinese don't seem to take heed of the wisdom and advices given by their forefathers - you see so many Chinese idioms promoting desirable virtues like compassion, filial piety, etc., that it is really ironic juxtaposing the deplorable current situation with the moral ideals expressed by these sayings.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Miao,

We may never know the true numbers of babies affected. You see, the way I look at it, is that tens of millions, of babies, at least, would have been regular consumers of these milk products - why then is it ONLY 53,000 babies who are affected when tens of millions have been drinking the stuff? Clearly, the true numbers could be gargantuan: notice how the declared figures have jumped almost ten fold, in one day.

China talks virtues, but walks vices. They have many wonderful sayings - but, in modern times, many not so wonderful deeds. I would like to see word and deed act as one - and for them to practice what they preach.

Basically, any class of Chinese goods could turn out to be dangerous - because the ethos of the manufacturer will be to maximize profit - even if it endangers the customer. In such circumstances, no product can be trusted.

Best wishes

11:22 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Thanks for the clarification re regulation. I think you may have misunderstood my post as well. I mentioned the tobacco industry as an example of a business willing to poison mass amounts of people. The two situations are not moral and legal equivalents, but morally associative in that the CEO of Philip Morris places greed and personal profit above human life. While informed consent is a key difference, I don't believe it changes the bottom-line company ethic, or lack thereof.

Kind Regards

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the milk thing is not so pleasant. Those making a profit at the expense of other people's lives should be punished.

But, I do believe this is mainly a problem of the economic and political system rather than the the so-called 'values' or 'ethics'. Putting any man on this planet into the same situation as the Chinese milk merchants, I doubt they won't do the similar thing. Or they will be out of the business.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

China - the factory of the world and now, the cause of grief of at least 53,000 families. - IrCTP

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Onlooker said...

Traditional Asian Values?

The thing about this saga is that the world is too dependent on cheap products (from china). That why a lot of oversight have been really oversighted.

Why care about quality when there are profits to be made.And the "so long as my family does not consume the product that has been altered by me" mentality(aka NIMBY).

All of these values Sadly are the Values that is clear to all who experienced it first hand.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Anonymous at 9.32 am.

On the contrary this IS about ethics and see, if the person concerned had any ethics when given a choice between getting out of the business or killing babies - they would have gotten out of the business. Only those who are evil in some way, would remain behind to profit at the health and lives of babies.

If the economic and political leads people to choose between profit or babies' lives, then that system needs to be changed - and those responsible for creating it should be suitably punished. However, I doubt whether this will happen given that those responsible are probably at a high level.

Thanks for your comment.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Ghormax said...

I have been to China a few times and always get the impression that individual human life does not amount to much. Is it because there are so many people? Is it because the official notion stresses the group over the individual? There is the arument that when it helps the nation, a few individuals can be sacrificed.

I think China needs to find its soul. I can only recommend Philip P. Pan's book "Out of Mao's Shadow" for a revealing insight into China, which shows where the search for China's soul could lead.

3:40 PM  

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