Leaches suck. And they are crowding the waterways in the countryside of northern Vietnam, after Chinese traders created an artificial demand for them, according to the Vietnamese rumor mill and tabloid journalism.
This is just one of the strange stories I have heard about China from Vietnamese people at guesthouses and restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon. Chinese merchants reportedly came to Vietnam and asked to buy leaches for exorbitant prices. For what, the local farmers didn’t know. They speculated it might be for medicine, eating or some other reason, but most of all, they harvested leaches in hopes of selling them to Chinese. Few Chinese returned to buy leaches, and the farmers were left with an excess of the worthless bloodsucking creatures and they threw them into the water, where now leaches threaten the locals.
So goes this 2013 report at VietnamNet.vn.
Mr. Ho Huu Dung in Que Phong town, Nghe An, is now in debt when hundreds of dried leeches are in stock because Chinese trader suddenly disappeared.
Dung said: “Initially, traders asked us to collect leeches for them at the price of VND200,000 per kilo. Then they doubled the price. I purchased hundreds of kilos of dried leeches but they have disappeared.”
It is said that this is a game of Chinese traders. Initially they spent money creating “fevers” for “leechese” by increasing the prices for leeches. After purchasing leeches at the old price, they sold leeches to Vietnamese traders at high prices. When the prices reached the peak, it was the time that Chinese traders sold out their leeches and disappeared, leaving the fields of leeches.
These rumors morph into conspiracy theories, to the effect that China is waging economic warfare to cause farmers to waste their resources, or even biological warfare to spread leaches around Vietnam. From the blog Say No to Communism, ”Leech attack in Vietnam because of biological warfare from China”:
She bought leeches collected from other provinces, especially from Tay Ninh. The creatures were bought for VND80,000 to VND150,000 per kilogram Thanh said the agency used to buy several bags of leeches per day from collectors who carried them on motorbikes, mainly at night, to the buyer. Finding a new opportunity to make money, several farmers built leech-breeding ponds in their houses. It is from the house at 42/4D in Chanh 1 Hamlet that leeches escaped from their bags and made their way to a nearby 3.000sq.m field where they grew very quickly. But the buyer disappeared very suddenly, leaving the 3,000sq.m field full of leeches. “No one dare to wade across the field now,” said Thanh.
Hao, the owner of a restaurant in Hanoi, said that these views are driven by rumors and yellow journalism. If a few people in a village start to make money selling something, news will spread like wildfire and others will chase what they think is easy money. It happened with lemongrass and snails, too.
When there are Chinese traders reportedly involved, it is all the more ripe for scandal-mongering, because there are existing anti-Chinese views due to 1,000 years of Chinese occupation, a battle (with South Vietnam) over some of the Parcel Islands in 1974 that China won and the ongoing dispute over those and other islands. Already predisposed to distrust China, Vietnamese also factor in concerns about China dominating Vietnamese trade and Chinese exports of “poisonous” food.
Yet Chinese culture has also penetrated Vietnam to a large degree (though the reason it has is the same as the reason Vietnamese don’t like Chinese incursions). Some Vietnamese businesses have statues of Guanyu, the ancient Chinese general-turned-deity, and Vietnamese temples have Chinese characters inscribed. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, built in 1070 when Vietnam was under the control of a dynasty started by a Chinese family, was Vietnam’s “first university” and taught about Confucianism and Chinese culture.
Hao, whose ancestors were part Chinese, said that many Vietnamese are part Chinese.