這件事發生在中國河南省漯河市的一家動物園裡，標籤上寫着 的並不是籠子里展示的東西。當時一名母親正在教她年幼的兒子如何通過叫聲來辨別動物，當他們面前的動物發出一種比獅吼聲要和緩一些、而且讓人「耳熟」的叫 聲後，這一騙局就暴露無遺。一隻毛茸茸的藏獒在那裡頂替叢林之王，沒人能被騙過去。
動物園的故事是在我上周到達這裡前夕曝光的。之後的新聞都 被對落馬的中共權貴薄熙來的「世紀審判」所佔據，庭上傳出的嚴重貪婪和腐敗指控，對他一度獲得的小人物利益代表的聲譽構成何等的嘲諷。鑒於庭審記錄幾乎實 時公布，這場庭審似乎（至少在最初看來如此）是政府提高透明度的大膽新實踐。
可惜事實並非如此。這種透明度有一部分偽造的。許多記者無 法進入法庭，部分證詞顯然被修訂過，還有一些官方照片看起來被安排過，例如在社交媒體上的一張照片中，身材高大的薄熙來被夾在兩名法警中間，而這兩個人都 不可思議地比薄熙來更高。突然間，魁梧的英雄奇蹟般地變成了一個卑微的小人物，這顯然就是政府想讓他展現的形象。而中國觀眾對着一塊夾層虛假蛋糕大快朵 頤：一場虛假的公開審判，審判對象是一名被指弄虛作假的民粹主義者，而他的外表被人為搞得矮小。
「並非如此，」她回應道。她解釋說，我們碰巧走過的樹既不 具備代表性也不完全誠實。這些樹與其他數千萬顆樹一樣，是為2008年奧運會所種植的，那時北京構建了一種徒有其表的生態友好，讓世人驚嘆一番。我後來還 被告知，在這場奧運會上的開幕式上，一名可愛的小女孩假唱《歌唱祖國》，因為真唱的小女孩被認為在電視攝像機前不夠可愛。
當然，多數城市都會美化一番，以吸引遠道而來的客人，至少 這些樹將在這裡生長下去，而就連碧昂斯(Beyoncé)也刷了次把戲，在奧巴馬總統的第二任就職典禮上使用了預先錄好的聲音。所有偉大而有自尊的國家都 擅長在某些領域弄虛作假，有其專門的造假技巧：委內瑞拉有「塑料的」選美參賽者；意大利有低報的稅收申報；英國有空洞的禮儀；美國則有旁氏騙局。造假是一 種全人類行為。
但中國人的造假已經出神入化，或者至少是到了明目張胆的程 度。最臭名昭著的是媒體報道的食品摻假：老鼠肉當羊肉賣；廉價酒裝在優質瓶子里；醬油用散落在理髮店地板上的頭髮製成，經加工後達到最優美味。2007年 還有一則轟動的新聞報道稱，有人售賣紙板箱餡的包子，但隨即事情發生超現實的詩意轉變：這則報道本身受到了可能造假的質疑。
《紐約時報》的張大衛(David Barboza)在今年3月報道過此事。上個月，他又發表了一篇揭露中國龐大的假收據和假發票行業的報道，僱員利用這個行業欺騙公司，公司再利用假收據和 假發票欺騙政府。2009年，在政府打擊該行業的一次行動中，有1045個假發票製作窩點被關閉。
我一直在詢問那些比我更了解中國的人士，這一切說明了什 麼。他們說，這是企業家精神亢奮的一個範例，是一個經濟體快速而迅猛地發展，以至於監管毫無意義、真正的警覺幾乎不可能存在的一個範例。他們說，這種現象 反映了一種文化，在這種文化中，事物的表面往往比它們的靈魂吸引更多關注，同時這也是依靠印象、氛圍、半真半假真相的政治體制的衍生物。
在乘坐纜車下長城時，我注意到纜車上有一塊標牌稱，比爾· 克林頓(Bill Clinton)總統1998年6月28日到長城遊覽時，乘坐的就是這部纜車。我的纜車一停，我就衝向降落平台，試圖查看其他纜車的內部，看看它們是否也 有同樣的標牌。工作人員阻止了我，於是我永遠也無法確定：我的纜車真是比爾坐過的那一部？抑或我成了又一個中國騙術的可憐受害者？歡迎訪問我的博客，並在Twitter和Facebook上關注我。
The Dog That (Almost) Roared
September 03, 2013
BEIJING — IF it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
And if it barks like a dog? It’s probably not an “African lion.”
That’s how an exhibit at a zoo in the Chinese city of Luohe was labeled, but that’s not what the exhibit held, a discrepancy apparent when a mother who had been teaching her young son about sounds that different animals make heard the one that they were looking at emit something tamer and more familiar than a roar. A fluffy-maned mastiff was standing in for the king of the jungle, and none too persuasively.
At the Luohe zoo, such understudies were reportedly everywhere: in the wolf’s cage, another dog; in the leopard’s lair, a fox. It was Noah’s ersatz ark, not to mention fresh proof that no country does knockoffs with a versatility and an ambition quite like China’s.
The zoo story broke shortly before I got here last week. After, the news was dominated by the “trial of the century” of the disgraced Communist Party bigwig Bo Xilai, accused of a degree of avarice and corruption that mocked his onetime reputation as a champion of the little people. With transcripts released nearly in real time, the legal proceedings were made to seem, at least initially, like a bold new experiment in government transparency.
Except they weren’t. The transparency was partly counterfeit. Many reporters couldn’t get into the courtroom, portions of testimony were clearly redacted, and a few of the official photos looked staged, a possibility noted on social media when Bo, a tall man, was shown wedged between two court officers who were both, against all odds, even taller. Suddenly, miraculously, the strapping hero was a humbled pipsqueak, which was pretty much how the government wanted him seen. And his Chinese audience feasted on a layer cake of fakery: the fraudulently open trial of an allegedly fraudulent populist made to look fraudulently small.
This was my first time in mainland China, and I was struck by paradoxical realities. One, which I fully expected, was just how much is being built and accomplished here, at a velocity that takes your breath away.
The other was how much exaggeration, gilding, deception and misdirection nonetheless occur.
In Beijing I turned to a local resident I’d met and remarked, “This city is greener than people tell you it is.”
“Not really,” she responded, explaining that the trees we happened to be passing by were neither representative nor entirely honest. They’d been planted, along with tens of millions of others, for the 2008 Olympics, as Beijing constructed a Potemkin eco-friendliness for the world. These were the same Olympics, I was later reminded, at which the adorable little girl singing “Ode to the Motherland” at the opening ceremony was lip-syncing to the voice of another little girl who had been deemed insufficiently adorable for the television cameras.
Of course most cities pretty themselves up for guests, the trees are here to stay and even Beyoncé pulled a fast one, using prerecorded vocals for President Obama’s second inauguration. And all great, self-respecting nations have their areas of expert artifice, their specialized spuriousness: Venezuela, its plastic beauty-pageant contestants; Italy, its lowballed tax returns; Britain, its hollow courtesies; America, its Ponzi schemes. To forge is human.
But the Chinese are divine at it. Or at least unabashed. The reported food scams are most infamous: rat masquerading as lamb; bargain-basement liquor in premium-brand bottles; soy sauce made from human hair swept off barbershop floors and processed for optimal deliciousness. There was even a widely disseminated dispatch in 2007 about dumplings filled with cardboard, but in a transcendently poetic twist, the story itself was called into question as a possible fake.
There have been very serious problems with phony pharmaceuticals and less serious ones with make-believe monks, their reverent garb and holy mannerisms a ruse for collecting donations and peddling spiritual trinkets. Earlier this year two temples on one of China’s sacred Buddhist mountains were closed because of such impostors.
In July an entire museum was shuttered after claims that many of its 40,000 artifacts weren’t quite as ancient as they pretended to be. One of the giveaways? The kind of writing on relics that supposedly dated back four millenniums hadn’t come into widespread use until the last 100 or so years.
I’ve read about a bogus Apple store so much like the genuine article that its employees as well as its customers were duped.
Beijingers I met filled me in on other improvisations.
“Fake commenters,” one of them said, explaining that you can’t know whether the assent and the raves that accompany a Web post or video are real or paid for, a practice believed to be especially prevalent here.
“Fake divorces,” another Beijinger said, noting a phenomenon by which couples who were trying to avoid extra taxes on the sale of second homes would dissolve their unions and thus become two individuals with one home each. They would then remarry once their real-estate transaction was complete.
David Barboza of The Times wrote about that in March. Last month he was back with an exposé of the sprawling Chinese industry in fake receipts and invoices, with which employees defraud companies and companies defraud the government. During one government crackdown on that industry in 2009, 1,045 production sites for fictive invoices were closed.
I’VE been asking people who know China a whole lot better than I do what to make of all of this. They say that it’s an example of entrepreneurship on steroids, of an economy moving so fast and furiously that regulations are pointless and real vigilance is almost impossible. They say that it reflects a culture in which the face of things often attracts more fussing than the soul of them and that it’s an offshoot of a political system dependent on impressions, atmospherics, half-truths.
In any case it’s corrosive, eating away at the trust that people on the outside and the inside can have in this mighty country and its manifold wares. And it’s worrisome, at times jeopardizing people’s health, perhaps mental as well as physical.
I felt relentlessly on guard. I was always suspicious.
Riding down the mountainside from a stretch of the Great Wall, I noticed a sign in the cable car that said that President Bill Clinton had used the very same vessel for his own Wall excursion on June 28, 1998. As soon as my car stopped, I sprinted around the landing platform to try to look inside others and see if they made the same claim. Workers foiled me, so I’ll never be sure: was my perch Bill’s perch? Or had I been a sitting duck for yet more Chinese quackery?I invite you to visit my blog, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/frankbruni and join me on Facebook.