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Why an Internet Meme Showing a Pork Necklace Is a Nightmare for Chinese Economic Officials

September 10, 2019

A butcher (R) chops pork meat at a market in Beijing on September 5, 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)A butcher (R) chops pork meat at a market in Beijing on September 5, 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A butcher (R) chops pork meat at a market in Beijing on September 5, 2019. STR/AFP/Getty Images

China’s pork prices are soaring so quickly that an internet meme has emerged suggesting the newest way to show off wealth: a necklace made of pork belly.

Inflation data released Tuesday showed that pork prices surged 46.7% from a year earlier in August, almost 20 percentage points higher than in the previous month, as African swine fever ravaged China’s hog herd and diminished supplies.

Aware that runaway prices could trigger public discontent, Chinese officials have taken a range of measures from releasing pork reserves during the upcoming Mid-Autumn festival to encouraging farmers to turn to “fine pig sperm” from Northern Europe to bolster breeding. Nanning, capital of the southern Guangxi province, this month turned to rationing and price controls to calm its pork market.

“The increase in hog prices has lead to other meat-price increases, and will increase vegetable prices after some time. The policy makers are worried that this will put pressure on the low income group who will be affected the most,” said Iris Pang, an economist at ING bank NV. “The leadership don’t want the pork prices to affect the headline CPI too much” and create the impression that inflation is high, she said.

While pork is a staple in Chinese food, it plays a declining role in the basket of goods used to calculate the overall consumer price index, which was stable at 2.8% last month. China’s statistics bureau does not publish the composition of the basket it uses to calculate CPI.

While the country’s top leaders have hardly commented on protests raging in Hong Kong, multiple high-ranking bureaucrats have addressed the pork crisis at home and assured citizens prices will be brought under control.

The nation’s top economic planner on Monday issued a plan to boost hog production. Vice Premier Hu Chunhua has called the situation “much grimmer than we have been informed,” and told officials to take immediate steps to increase supplies. Ning Jizhe, head of the National Statistics Bureau said last week that China will increase the supply of agricultural products of pork, fruits and vegetables to stabilize overall prices.

China has also approved imports from 25 plants in Brazil to boost supplies and urged banks to provide more funding support to hog farmers. The provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangxi have earmarked funds to subsidize pig warehouses.

The government said after Tuesday’s inflation data that it will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. on Wednesday on “stabilizing hog production and ensuring market supply.” Speakers will include a deputy agriculture minister as well as officials from the National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Finance.

The country needs to undertake “unconventional” measures to tackle soaring pig prices, China Academy of Social Sciences scholar Chen Ming wrote in a Beijing News commentary last week. His suggestions included distributing subsidy coupons to poorer citizens and encouraging the public to consume other meats or fish instead of pork.

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