A nugget of good news for animal welfare groups has emerged from the gloom in Chinese equity markets in recent months. The 269 companies that have withdrawn their applications for initial public offerings this year include Fujian Guizhentang Pharmaceutical, notorious for extracting bile from the gall bladders of caged Asiatic black bears through permanently open wounds that expose them to infection.
It would be nice to think the authorities ruled that offering the public a stake in such cruelty for profit would be an affront to the sensibilities of even the most unsentimental investor. It is more likely that Fujian Guizhentang, like other firms that pulled their IPOs, was prompted by increased financial scrutiny by regulators of companies seeking listings.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission in January set a deadline for IPO advisers to submit reports on checks on company financial statements, following fraudulent prospectuses that damaged the reputation of Chinese companies at home and abroad.
Before then, the company had run a public relations campaign to counter a storm of protest from activists and ordinary citizens against the IPO, which would have raised funds to increase the size of its bear farm from 470 to 1,200 animals.
The campaign included a restricted tour of its farm for selected journalists that lacked transparency and failed to prove that animals do not suffer.
The company claims that powders made from the bile have medical benefits such as preventing liver disease, improving vision and detoxifying the body. Synthetic substitutes for the bile clash with Chinese tradition. But the issue goes beyond culture to universal contemporary values.
Newly urbanised Chinese keep pets and are exposed to a range of values through travel and the internet. This has, hopefully, stimulated consciousness of animal welfare which will result in elimination, not expansion, of barbaric practices.