Guizhentang Pharmaceutical - the bear bile producer that has come under fire for planning a public listing - let selected mainland media tour its bear farm in Fujian yesterday.
The high-profile tour sparked a microblogging frenzy, with many journalists updating their microblogs during the tour, but some media and activists dismissed it as an unconvincing publicity stunt. 'Every batch of journalists was only allowed to stay there for three minutes - there were too many questions left unanswered,' journalist Lin Shujie said.
The company invited about 70 mainland reporters to visit its bear farm in Fujian's Huian township yesterday morning in an attempt to repair its public image following a muted response to the outcry over its listing plan in the past few weeks.
Guizhentang says it wants to list on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange's second board to raise money to increase the number of bears it farms from 470 to 1,200. The company said on its website that it welcomed all mainland media, non-governmental organisations and creditable activists to visit the bear farm, promising the tour would be transparent.
But representatives of Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based charity that has fought against bear bile farming, were not allowed to join the tour. Hong Kong and foreign media were also barred.
The mainland journalists were only allowed to watch the bile extraction process in batches, with each viewing lasting just three minutes. Many wrote on their microblogs that no one was allowed to ask questions during the tour. Some suspected that they had been shown a sanitised version of the regular process.
In a video posted online by journalists, a Guizhentang employee first enticed a bear into a small cage, where it could not move and was forced to bend over. Then another employee inserted a 10cm tube into the bear's gall bladder to extract the bile. The bear remained silent during the one-minute extraction process.
Many journalists said on their microblogs that it was like a staged show, with limits set to stop them discovering the bears' true situation.
Suspicions mounted after a purported Guizhentang 'emergency notice' to staff was posted online. It called for bears to be sedated and for only the most photogenic bears to be put on show. The company dismissed it as rumour-mongering.
After the tour, one journalist asked: 'How can you be sure the extraction is painless for a bear?'
Guizhentang's Zhang Zhijun replied: 'You are not a bear, how could you know it would be painful?'
Professor Zhou Ronghan of China Pharmaceutical University said the bears would not feel pain and it was just like a cow being milked. Guizhentang has reportedly hired Beijing Century Longwon Brand Consulting to help it handle public relations.