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Six Chinese frauds that are even crazier than passing off a dog as a lion

By Gwynn Guilford
ChinaPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A zoo in Henan province has become a laughing stock around the world after it tried to pass off a wooly orange Tibetan mastiff as an “African lion.” And the hoax thickens: The zoo also featured a dog in the wolf pen, huge rats in the snake enclosure, and indeterminate “fox-like creatures” in the leopard cage (paywall).

But though that might sound crazy, dog-lion and friends are only the latest example of China’s unique knack for fakery, an entrepreneurial gambit sometimes slangily known as “shanzhai.” Here are some more classics:

“Longevity mushrooms”

In June 2012, a resourceful street cleaner was caught passing off masturbation aids as taisui lingzhi mushrooms, the fungal source to the Qin Emperor’s longevity, for about $2,870 a piece.

via The Shanghaiist
Don’t tell Christine O’Donnell, but it’s the secret to long life.

To give credit where it’s due, this taisui lingzhi mushroom thing didn’t come completely out of the blue. The street vendor set up shop only after a Xi’an CCTV newscaster’s breathless exclusive on a villager’s discovery of a similar “ancient mushroom.” When the street cleaner was asked about his mushrooms’ authenticity, he replied, “It’s on the news. How can it be fake?”

An incredibly realistic Apple store

In 2011, bloggers discovered an Apple store that was so painstakingly realistic that its staff apparently thought it was working for Apple. They weren’t. Here’s one such worker, via BirdAbroad blog, which uncovered the whole charade:

Human hair soy sauce

The Chinese media busted a Hubei factory in 2004 for making soy sauce out of unwashed human hair. The hair, which was gathered from barbershop floors, was distilled to extract amino acids. The practice was worrisome enough that the government instituted a human-hair soy sauce ban.

Shanzhai pandas

The fluffy-dog-as-exotic-animal thing isn’t actually new. Dyeing and coiffuring dog to look like pandas is an occasional fad in China. This 2008 Xinhua article (link in Chinese), which has lots of great pics, says that chows are ideal for this look. More shanzhai dog dos here.

Imaginechina via AP Images

“Made by the Yellow Emperor”

A $9.8 million museum in Hebei province was busted in July after it was discovered that more than 40,000 of its exhibits were fake. Perhaps the most notorious item was a vase “signed” by the Yellow Emperor, a mythical ruler from around 2600 BC. A few things about this tripped suspicion wires, such as the fact that the emperor wrote in simplified Chinese characters, the script widely promoted only in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as that the Yellow Emperor’s legendary rule actually predates modern writing.

Villagers apparently long suspected the museum was a money-laundering front.

Archaeoraptor, the “missing link”

Back in the late 1990s, the discovery of the fossil of a creature named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis took the paleontology world by storm. After careful scrutiny from archaeologists around the world, it was hailed the crucial “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds.

The “missing” part, at least, was right. It turned out that, back in the late 1990s in Liaoning province, selling fossils illegally via the black market was a common side business for farmers. In 1997, one such farmer unearthed a fossil that appeared to have teeth and feathers, only to break it slightly upon collection.

Since complete fossils commanded a much higher price, he glued on fragments from elsewhere in the pit using homemade paste, inadvertently combining dinosaur and bird parts. His handiwork was smuggled to the US, where a Utah museum eventually paid $80,000 for it.

AP Photo/Dennis Cook
They didn’t notice the homemade paste.

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