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Lilliputian Hallucinations: About US Treasury Secretary Yellen Eating “Magic Mushrooms” in Beijing

The mushroom grows in China’s Yunnan region and is considered hallucinogenic, causing visions that locals call “xiǎorénrén” (小人人), literally: “little people.”

Manya Koetse

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When US treasury secretary Janet Yellen visited Beijing in July for two days of meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other officials, Chinese social media users seemed more interested in the Yunnan specialty restaurant where she had dinner than in the content of the US-China talks.

The restaurant, somewhat comically called ‘In and Out’ in English (Chinese name: Yī zuò Yī wàng 一坐一忘), is a local favorite in Beijing’s Sanlitun, near the embassy area. Among other things, Yellen was served spicy potatoes with mint and stir-fried mushrooms, leading to online jokes about how the food would affect her.

Now, weeks after the meal, the US Treasury Secretary reflected on her mushroom experience in China during an interview with CNN‘s Erin Burnett. “I went with this large group of people and the person who’d arranged our dinner did the ordering. There was a delicious mushroom dish I was not aware that these mushrooms had hallucinogenic properties. I learned that later,” Yellen told CNN, although she also said that she did not feel any ill effects from having eaten them.

Yellen’s recent CNN interview also attracted some attention on Chinese social media, where the hashtag “Yellen Reflects on Eating Delicious Mushrooms During China Visit” (#耶伦回味访华期间吃到的美味蘑菇#) was used by various state media outlets.

The mushroom dish that is discussed here is called jiànshǒuqīng (见手青), which literally means “see hand blue”, in reference to turning blue when handled.

It is the lanmaoa asiatica mushroom species that grows in China’s Yunnan region and is considered hallucinogenic, causing visions that locals call “xiǎorénrén” (小人人), literally: “little people,” similar to the term “Lilliputian hallucinations” that refers to visual hallucinations where a person perceives the world around them to be smaller than it is in reality, which could also include seeing tiny humans. The term comes from the little people who lived on the Lilliput island of in Gulliver’s Travels.1

Back in July, Yellen’s mushroom dinner at ‘In & Out’ attracted much attention online, where some Chinese netizens joked that “First the mushroom, then the tiny people” (xiān jùnzi hòu xiǎorén 先菌子后小人).

The expression is a word joke on the Chinese saying “Xiān xiǎorén hòu jūnzǐ” (先小人后君子) which means “to set clear expectations before being generous,” or “allow impoliteness to precede courtesy” [when making a deal], although in this case the order is switched to “Xiān jūnzǐ hòu xiǎorén” (literally: first the mushroom/courtesy, then the tiny people/impoliteness).

Netizens thought it was amusing that Yellen would have the mushrooms ahead of important talks at a time of worsening US-China relations, ordering no less than four portions of the lanmaoa asiatica.

Amplifying the amusement was the fact that the US Treasury Secretary chose to dine at such an affordable local restaurant in a city abundant with upscale choices.

After Yellen had dinner at the Sanlitun restaurant, ‘In & Out’ used it as part of their marketing strategy and the restaurant released a special ‘Treasury Menu’ (or ‘God of Wealth’ Menu 财神菜单), promoting themselves as the first place where Yellen had dinner during her Beijing visit.

At the same time, the mushrooms also became more popular online.

So are the mushrooms really magical? The lanmaoa asiatica can indeed be poisonous, which could result in the hallucinating effect.

In fact, mushroom poisoning is one of the most serious food safety issues in China and of the 500 mushroom poisoning cases in China in 2022 – including 28 deaths – the lanmaoa asiatica was among the mushrooms ranking the highest for causing psycho-neurological disorders.

To prevent the mushrooms from causing poisoning, they must be handled with care and cooked thoroughly. Yellen’s team had valid reasons to place their trust in ‘In & Out,’ given that the kitchen staff is well-versed in proper mushroom handling techniques.

Thanks to Yellen’s initial visit to the Yunnan restaurant and her recent CNN interview, some netizens now call her a “walking billboard for In & Out.” The dinner not only made the restaurant – which also has other locations in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Xi’an, and Tianjin – famous overnight, it also contributed to the popularity of the jiànshǒuqīng mushroom.

Although Yellen claims the jiànshǒuqīng did not affect her, her conduct in the days after her mushroom dinner did raise some questions online, such as Yellen repeatedly bowing when meeting with China’s He Lifeng. Some people online joked that it could all perhaps be blamed on the mushrooms.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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1 173. Yu, Fu-Qiang, Alexis Guerin-Laguette, Yun Wang. 2020. “Edible Mushrooms and Their Cultural Importance in Yunnan, China.” In: Pérez-Moreno, Jesus, Alexis Guerin-Laguette, Roberto Flores Arzú, Fu-Qiang Yu (eds), Mushrooms, Humans and Nature in a Changing World. Springer, Cham: 163-204, 173.

Featured cartoon by @小蓝和他的朋友日常

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Food & Drinks

Chinese Woman with Heartbreak Passes Away after Drinking Bottle of Baijiu

Three friends are held partially responsible for not intervening when the woman consumed 500ml of baijiu.

Manya Koetse

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An incident that happened on the night of May 21, 2023, has become a trending topic on Chinese social media today after a local court examined the case.

A woman named ‘Xiao Qiu’ (alias), a resident of Jiangxi’s Nanchang, apparently attempted to drink her sorrows away after a heartbreaking breakup.

She spent the night at a friend’s house, where she drank about 50cl of baijiu (白酒), a popular Chinese spirit distilled from fermented sorghum that contains between 35% and 60% alcohol. One entire bottle of baijiu, such as Moutai, is usually 50cl.

She was together with three female friends. One of them also consumed baijiu, although not as much, and the two other friends did not drink at all.

As reported by Jiupai News, the intoxicated Xiao Qu ended up sleeping in her car, while one of her sober friends stayed with her. However, at about 5 AM, her friend discovered that Xiao Qiu was no longer breathing. Just about an hour later, she was declared dead at the local Emergency Center. The cause of death was ruled as cardiac and respiratory failure due to alcohol poisoning.

The court found that Xiao Qu’s friends were partly responsible for her death, citing their failure to prevent her excessive drinking and inadequate assistance following her baijiu binge drink session. Each friend was directed to contribute to the compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering incurred by Qiu’s family.

The friend who also consumed baijiu was assigned a 6% compensation responsibility, while the other two were assigned 3% each.

On Weibo, many commenters do not agree with the court’s decision, asserting that adult individuals should not be held accountable when a friend goes on a drinking spree. Some commenters wrote: “You can tell someone not to drink, but what if they don’t listen?” “Should we record ourselves telling friends not to drink too much from now on?”

This is not the first time for friends to be held liable for an alcohol-related death in China. In 2018, multiple stories went viral involving people who died after excessive drinking at social gatherings.

One case involved a 30-year-old Chinese man who was found dead in his hotel room bathtub in Yangzhou after a formal dinner with friends where he allegedly drank heavily. The man reportedly died of a heart attack. His friends reached a 1 million yuan (±US$157,000) settlement with his family, with the cost shared among the friends who were present during the night.

Surveillance cameras in Jinhua captured how the man was unable to stand or walk after drinking with his friends.

Another case involved a man who died when he was left by his friends at a hotel in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, after heavily drinking at a banquet. Surveillance cameras captured how the man was unable to stand or walk after drinking with his friends. Those friends also paid a compensation together of 610,000 yuan (US$96,000) to the man’s family.

Organisers of an alcohol drinking contest in Henan province were also ordered to pay a compensation of over US$70,000 after one participant died due to excessive alcohol intake in July of 2017.

These cases also triggered online discussions about how Chinese traditional drinking culture often encourages people at the table to drink as much as they can or to exceed their limits; the goal sometimes is to literally “take someone to the ground by drinking.” When someone proposes a toast, everyone at the table is required to finish their glasses, sometimes at a very high pace.

In light of the latest news, some commenters write on Weibo: “No matter what kind of drinking gathering it is, for someone who is already drunk, others should intervene to prevent them from continuing to drink. Even if they invite, provoke, or insist on drinking themselves, they should not be allowed to continue. Otherwise, it not only harms them, you might end up facing legal responsibility yourself.”

Others remind people that overindulging in alcohol when you’re in a state of distress is never a good idea, and that no heartbreak is worth getting drunk over: “There are plenty of other fish in the sea.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tsingtao Brewery ‘Pee-Gate’: Factory Worker Caught Urinating in Raw Material Warehouse

The pee incident, that occurred at a subsidiary Tsingtao Beer factory, has caused concerns among consumers.

Manya Koetse

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A video that has circulated on Chinese social media since October 19 shows how an alleged worker at a Tsingtao Beer factory climbs over a wall at the raw material production site and starts to urinate.

The incident reportedly occurred at the Tsingtao Beer Factory No. 3, a subsidiary of the Tsingtao Brewing Company, located in Qingdao, Shandong.

After the video went viral, the Tsingtao Brewery Company issued a statement that they took the incident very seriously and immediately report it to the authorities, who have started an investigation into the case. Meanwhile, the specific batch in production has been halted and shut off.

The incident has caused concern among consumers, and some commenters on social media wonder if this was the first time something like this has happened. “How do we know this hasn’t happened many times before?”

Others speculate about what might have motivated the man to urinate at the production site. There are those who believe that the man is part of an undercover operation orchestrated by a rivaling company, aimed at discrediting Tsingtao. It’s even suggested that there were two ‘moles’ leaking in this incident: one doing the urinating, and the other doing the video ‘leak.’

Meanwhile, there are voices who are critical of Tsingtao, suggesting that the renowned beer brand has not effectively addressed the ‘pee gate’ scandal. It remains uncertain how this incident will impact the brand, but some netizens are already expressing reservations about ordering a Tsingtao beer as a result.

But there are also those who joke about the “pissing incident,” wondering if Tsingtao Beer might soon launch a special “urine flavored beer.”

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Featured photo by Jay Ang (link).

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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