The Salt March – in China
While Japanese engineers battled to avert meltdown in Fukushima, thousands of panicky Chinese — on the mainland building nearly half the world’s new nuclear plants — were scrambling into supermarkets.
Starting from the east coast to cities far inland, a wave of mass radiation hysteria spreading through the internet and text messages galvanised the great Chinese march for salt. After the salt sold out — in Beijing, Chongqing, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces — the customers grabbed bottles of salty sauce.
“The salt in the store was over so I bought a bottle of soybean sauce,” a schoolteacher named Li told HT in Beijing.
In eastern Ningbo, a customer told national television that she bought enough salt to last the family five years. Supermarkets finally put up notices allowing customers only two packs each. Cashiers began handing over salt across the counter to prevent the ransacking of shelves. And this salt stampede continued even as authorities repeated that China remained unaffected by the Japanese nuclear crisis.
Rumours that the iodine in salt could protect people against radiation compelled the health ministry to issue a statement refuting that the iodine in table salt fights radiation. “An adult would need to consume three kilos of salt in one sitting to help prevent radiation poisoning.”
China’s top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, had to step in and warn people not to hoard salt and artificially hike its price. The Beijing government had to rush salt stocks to over 3,000 supermarkets in a nightlong operation, reported the state media. Two people in Shanghai were penalised for spreading the salt panic online.
After an anti-panic campaign in the state media, China’s salt rush reversed. On Sunday, the commerce ministry said the panic purchases had stopped. Customers are now flooding stores again, this time to return the salt and demand refunds. A 60-year-old woman in Shanghai reportedly demanded a refund for her 50 packets of salt and dialed the police when it was refused.