By KEN DAJI
Food & Drink Correspondent
SHANGHAI (China Daily Show) – What started off as just another day shilling deep-fried protein in batter ended dramatically for chef Lao Bing, after one lucky customer made a unique discovery in his bag of chicken product – a nugget bearing a passable resemblance to Chinese Communist hero Lei Feng.
Lei Feng is a semi-mythical national icon who died aged 22, after a truck backed into telephone pole, toppling onto Li’s head. The chicken nugget, meanwhile, consists of mechanically-separated poultry, machine-moulded and cooked in a fryer.
Experts say the similarities are uncanny.
“Both lived an existence of miserable servitude, had a premature death, and were reformed afterward into unrecognizable but easily digestible morsels,” says historian and notable Sinologist Sir William Buckfast.
Today is the 51st anniversary of Learn From Lei Feng Day, March 5, an occasion usually celebrated with dutiful acts of charity.
The miraculous find has instead catapulted Comrade Feng back onto the international stage – and started a vicious legal battle between chef Bing and his unnamed customer, who quickly sold the precious find for an astonishing 500 million yuan ($8 million).
Coal-mine owner, and latter-day art collector, Wang Ma is now the new owner, after an intense sequence of frantic, last-minute bids against himself. At the hotly anticipated Poly Group auction, the hammer was about to fall on Wang’s own $4-million bid before Wang insisted on doubling up, as eight million is considered a lucky number in China.
“As owner of a multi-million-dollar chicken nugget, I am possibly the luckiest man in the world,” a jubilant Wang told reporters.
The nugget of finely ground white-meat slurry in a delicious crispy coating is due to form the centerpiece of a proposed Lei Feng Memorial Museum about the orphaned PLA solider, which Jiang is bankrolling.
Visitors will be able to listen to audiobooks of Lei’s collected works – which include novels, two prose poems and an uncompleted three-act rock opera – and view numerous waxwork tableaux.
An animatronic vignette re-enacting his legendary death – in which a van backs into a pole that flattens Lei’s head midway through a recitation from Chairman Mao, and the driver flees – can be viewed dozens of times a day.
Meanwhile, Bing says his nugget business is booming, despite the ongoing legal wrangle to determine ownership of his foods. “I believe that, until they enter the digestive tract, all my signature dishes technically still belong to me,” Bing sullenly insisted yesterday.
While few of his customers agree, many were still excitedly checking to see if their food looked like a Communist celebrity this morning.
One seemed convinced that a deep-fried sausage reminded him of former premier Li Peng. Meanwhile, numerous steamed buns were being unflatteringly compared to Jiang Zemin.
Bing says the secret to his flavor is to use a traditional, artificially flavored ammonia-based recipe that’s no longer legally permitted in the US.
The nugget’s newfound fame is sure to boost the government’s ongoing ‘Learning from Lei Feng’ campaign, which begins today. Indeed, several people China Daily Show spoke agreed that the state campaign has already inspired them.
“I have learned to enjoy life while I still can, rather than wasting it serving some nebulous higher cause or societal expectation,” enthused Linda Li, a post-graduate student who has decided to abandon her intensive after-school piano lessons to go backpacking instead. “Frankly, that’s good advice for anyone in China.”