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Cracking the Case of China’s Fake Eggs

The search for the first counterfeit chicken ovum

Remember the fake eggs from China? I do. The crisis was indirectly responsible for the blindness and cerebral seizure of many innocent Hongkongers. For a number of years, it even promised to bankrupt me. How could I forget?

It must have been five to six years ago. I was lunching with a table of Hong Kong friends in the mainland. Someone brought up the subject of fake eggs when supposedly real ones, suspiciously scrambled beyond recognition, were being served. To my surprise, nearly everyone had something to add to the story. Fake eggs were evidently more common than I had thought.

“Has anyone seen one?” I enquired, tortured by curiosity.

“Oh yes, many have!” one said, sure as eggs were not eggs, though she had not seen one personally.

“My auntie has! There are dozens on YouTube! Everyone trusts my auntie.”

“My second cousin’s wife’s father-in-law swallowed one, soft boiled, and died three months later.”

Dumbfounded, I closed my eyes and drew exfoliating breaths of filtered indoor air to safeguard my own version of reality. I had learned that trick from a guru on YouTube, long before it existed. Visions started coming to me, in rainbow coloured slides, like Powerpoint.

According to the newspapers, the Chinese knew no limit in making fake things. They had even faked Japanese crab rolls which were officially fake to start with, thereby creating a logical conundrum.They had even faked Japanese crab rolls which were officially fake to start with, thereby creating a logical conundrum. Do two fakes make one real? Anyways, with a bit of ingenuity, anything can be faked. But my long forgotten lectures in chemistry and material science failed to enlighten how fake eggshell could be constructed around a blob of fake egg yolk, and the final product sufficiently egg-looking to fool a consumer with an IQ of ten or higher, which wasn’t so uncommon back then. For the benefit of amah-raised folks, eggs don’t come sunny-side-up naturally. They actually come raw, inside thin shells which are oddly asymmetrical along the transverse axis, rather than perfectly spherical like a pingpong ball.

Ha! 3D printing! It has to be! A solution came to me. But 3D printing was high-end technology, not generally available, and extremely expensive. It made no sense. Oh well, we Hongkongers are business people, we don’t do common sense so well. I promptly derailed that train of thought, and did a quick profit and loss calculation on my biodegradable serviette instead.

Real eggs, retrieved from chicken asses, were selling at about half of an RMB at the market at the time (about 10 cents US). The wholesale price had to be meaningfully less than RMB 0.2 each. To be marketable, fake ones had to be cheap enough to lure sellers from reliable supply channels. Egg trading is, after all, an old business, operating in an established network with low margins and high quantities. That means a criminal manufacturer had to cover the costs of fake material, real labour, multi-million 3D printers, plus that uniquely Chinese greed — profits! — for about one American penny, while hiding the daily movement of container-loads from the police. My quick estimate failed to indicate commercial viability. I remained puzzled.

Then it dawned: government involvement! Yes, only the Communist Party could afford to lose mega bucks for no reason! I better do my part to support the Party! I looked up from my napkin and made an impromptu patriotic offer: “I’ll pay HK$2000 each if you can find me some.”

There was an uproar. Lucrative business proposals always cause an uproar among Hong Kong folks. “Ha, you’ll go bankrupt!” prophesied an egghead with Hong Kong characteristics. He was an alternative thinker in Newtonian physics, known for his spontaneous insights on nearly everything. But I was not intimidated. Since the appearance of Homo erectus about three million years ago, nobody had ever gone bankrupt from buying fake eggs. Why should I worry about being the first one, huh? Nevertheless, even with statistics firmly on my side, I suffered recurrent nightmares soon afterwards. In these dreams, he surrounded my apartment with forty-foot containers, each full of fake eggs, shells covered with polyester feathers, demanding payment. Cash only! I’d wake at this point, drenched in cold sweat.

Fortunately, that was years ago. I still have not seen, not to say bought, a single counterfeit chicken ovum. People have long stopped talking about them, and moved on to envisage other iniquities which would precipitate China’s perpetually imminent collapse. Meanwhile, fake egg induced blindness and cerebral seizure continue to spread, noisily reaching pandemic levels.

James Tam

My transient stream of consciousness, and tales of the self-endangered species of unthinking humans.