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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Publishing, Perishing, Buying and Selling | Main | Conference Travel, With Blogging »

September 9, 2011

China's Home-Grown Insanity?

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Posted by Derek

Can this possibly be accurate? There are photos going around of what is purported to be the inside of the Harbin Sixth Pharmaceutical Plant in northeast China, and it's easy to see why people are interested. They look like a Louis Quatorze-themed casino, a style one might call Vegas Versailles - bizarrely, crazily, relentlessly sumptuous. But don't take my word for it. Have a look:
Harbinlobby.jpg
Harbinhallway.jpg
Harbinroom.jpg
There, as Dan Akroyd used to say, that wasn't so good now, was it? A little de trop for a state-owned enterprise, hm? You can find more views here, if you need them, but I can assure you that these are representative of the set. My own company is working on a new building; perhaps there's still time for us to hire these folks to do the interior.

When a correspondent sent these to me, my first thought was that this was some sort of Snopesworthy email legend. But perhaps not - Xinhua has picked it up, which makes one think that these shots are either (a) real or (b) something the Chinese government wishes to treat as real. Several stories also quote the weibo (Chinese Twitter/Tumblr-style microblog) of a journalist for state TV, Li Xiaomeng (李小萌), who has apparently also helped spread word of this throughout the Chinese online world.

The only clarification I can find so far is from an AFP story on the matter (and they must have been particularly amused/appalled by all that Sun King styling). This quotes a Beijing business newspaper confirming the photos as authentic, but that an official of the company has claimed that no, these aren't the offices, but the interior of an "art museum" that was constructed in the same new building. But that doesn't match up with other photos of the museum, apparently, so it's hard to say what's going on.

Except, of course, that some batch of lunatics considers this to be an appropriate use of public funds in Harbin (or anywhere). And that's worth thinking about. The connection with a pharmaceutical plant gives me the opportunity to talk about some things that have come up in conversation with various Chinese co-workers recently. The gigantic construction boom in China is well known. But this building, if it's anything like what it's purported to be, can serve as an illustration of the crazy aspect of the whole business. It looks from the outside as if China, in its attempt to come roaring to the top of the 21st-century league tables, is in serious danger of going off the rails. I get the impression that the government is committed to cranking up the GDP figures by any means necessary, and has decided that construction and infrastructure are the quickest and surest means to that end. Private real estate developers are thrilled to assist in this process, as are the owners of building companies and everyone else connected to the business. Need I add that huge construction contracts are, in every country and in every era, a notoriously easy way to hide kickbacks, payoffs, and corruption of every kind?

So I fear that China's incentives are misaligned. You get what you subsidize, and they're subsidizing a huge wave of construction. But how necessary are all these things? And how well are they being built? Will they all start falling apart ahead of schedule, and all at roughly the same time? And how much is being skimmed off the top during the whole process?

Comments (40) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


COMMENTS

1. Quintus on September 9, 2011 9:36 AM writes...

Outsourcing to China is a waste of time and money. If you can't do it yourself or are not willing to pay your people then don't do it.
Big Pharma is on the wrong road here.

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2. PharmaHeretic on September 9, 2011 9:48 AM writes...

Look at the bright side.. at least somebody other than bureaucrats, management, lawyers and CEOs are making money.

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3. Rogi on September 9, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

I don't see what the big deal is: this looks exactly like the lunch room of my former NJ pharmacetical employeer sans the gaudiness.

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4. Laurent Wada on September 9, 2011 10:16 AM writes...

"There's imitation gold in my boot-leg Viagra!"

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5. HelicalZz on September 9, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

I think you have it wrong. These are the offices of the Chinese scientific journal publishing companies.

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6. monoceros4 on September 9, 2011 10:36 AM writes...

If I worked daily in a place whose interior resembled Mad King Ludwig's castle, I think I'd go a bit crazy myself.

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7. KW's Hairdresser on September 9, 2011 10:40 AM writes...

Maybe this is what that horse's ass, Moncef, has it mind when he speaks of an open office concept. No?

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8. SteveM on September 9, 2011 10:59 AM writes...

That's actually an example of a huge economic and sociological phenomenon. I.e., In many areas of production, capital and automation have almost totally replaced man-power.

All of a sudden there are millions of people with nothing to do. Chinese labor that migrated from the country-side needed jobs. So they got them putting up the gaudy corporate palaces and barren shopping malls.

In the States, labor displacement is realized as skyrocketing unemployment and no-value government funded make work jobs (like fighting Wars to Nowhere). And in China it's make work jobs and preparing to fight future Wars to Nowhere.

The planet has a nice case of convulsive dystopia coming on. Any Pharam solutions for that?

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9. RandomChemist on September 9, 2011 11:13 AM writes...

Looks like something from "Selling New York" on HGTV. This is in stark contrast to ghetto-ass MRL in Rahway or the dilapidated Schering-Plough Process site in Union.

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10. Algirdas on September 9, 2011 12:09 PM writes...

SteveM: "The planet has a nice case of convulsive dystopia coming on. Any Pharam solutions for that?"


Read "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge for an answer. One of the best science fiction novels that I've read during the last few years.

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11. Chinese Restaurant Artist on September 9, 2011 12:36 PM writes...

Is that real gold leaf or is it paint? Hand-carved or resin castings? Maybe it is all trompe l'oeil painted on styrofoam. Maybe it is all CG. Jar-Jar Binks might pop out from behind a column any minute...

Nothing is real anymore, except despair.

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12. Fries With That? on September 9, 2011 1:53 PM writes...

So what, as Rogi says, if you strip away the Eastern inspired gold and red colors, it's no different than many new buildings going up here in the West. Stroll around the Mission Bay campus of UCSF for a taste of Western flavored ostentatiousness. Both examples on the public dime!

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13. partial agonist on September 9, 2011 2:28 PM writes...

When your fume hood is made of burled wood trimmed with gold leaf, you need to keep the fire extinguishers handy. The ivory roundbottoms are nice, though.

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14. Sili on September 9, 2011 2:48 PM writes...

What's the problem? This is pure Reaganomics: Supply-side economics - luxury goods boost the economy.

I actually rather like Baroque. When it's Baroque.

Given the choice, I'd rather imitate Art Deco or Empire.

Remind me, when you take up my offer to lead my Big Pharma™ business.

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15. CEO on September 9, 2011 2:57 PM writes...

let them eat cake

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16. Chinese Restaurant Artist on September 9, 2011 3:18 PM writes...

Sili,

Yes, Baroque is good, I like Baroque. Rembrandt, Vermeer, great guys. But 17th-century weapons, though interesting, had no "oomph." Give me medieval any day. What better to bash your enemy with than a morning star or sending a wood pole splintering into them with a ballista. And, of course, throwing big chunks of rock through the air with a trebuchet beats pikes and muskets hands down.

The gilt crap I'd forego for some big oak beams, hand-hewn-stone blocks, and to end a day of toil and sweat, a pint of meade. Argh. Plus, the (al)chemists of the day used the coolest piece of lab glassware, the retort.

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17. drug_hunter on September 9, 2011 3:39 PM writes...

The old definition of baroque:
when you have no Monet

(rim-shot)

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18. Anonymous on September 9, 2011 3:39 PM writes...

Hmm...is this an example of "Bling-Pharma"? Does the CEO drink out of a Krunk chalice and dress up like Lil' Wayne?

I apologize in advance, but reading this story conjures up images of late-night infomercials hosted by Asians asking, "You want make million dollah? Outsource big phahmah! You make million dollah fast!"

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19. geezer on September 9, 2011 3:46 PM writes...

This is how I imagined MC Hammer's house looked like before it all went south...

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20. Canageek on September 9, 2011 4:22 PM writes...

Well, it could have a boosting effect on moral- I'd much rather work in a place that looked like the above, then somewhere with bare concrete walls, bland tile floor and florescent (See: Any university building in North America built in the 60s).

Of course, my dream home also contains a library that looks somewhat like the bottom photo, but with better chairs and you know, books, so I could be biased.

Also: I always wondered what it looks like inside the ivory tower. No wonder scientists never leave it.

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21. Hap on September 9, 2011 4:56 PM writes...

Why would they put a museum (at least one that looks like that) in a pharmaceutical plant?

"This is the environment your executives dream of having when you make the drugs to make us rich. Get to work, now!"

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22. spoons on September 9, 2011 5:17 PM writes...

Is anyone else getting really thrown off by the perspectives in these photos? They look off to me, like a fish-eye lense was used or we are looking at fun house mirrors.

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23. @15 CEO on September 9, 2011 5:30 PM writes...

Wouldn't "让他们吃蛋糕" be more appropriate in this case?

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24. @Chinese Restaurant Artist on September 9, 2011 6:42 PM writes...

Why no love for the alembic, with extra cooling loops?

Perhaps less aesthetic/economic criticism would be drawn if the decoration scheme were more like PF Chang's. After all, we are talking about East/West hybrid abominations (i.e., outsourced Pharma) that churn out mediocre products.

Personally, I would prefer to see more indigenous artwork at a home-grown Sino-pharma's HQ. Where's the nationalist pride? Where are the stone lions, dragon murals, ba gua mirrors, and giant statue of Guan Yu? Seriously, I hope that each of the Indo-pharma HQ's has a Ganesh shrine...he is the Hindu god of prosperity!

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25. HeyDerek on September 9, 2011 7:11 PM writes...

Sounds like Vertex needs to hire Bobby Trendy as an interior designer for your company's new headquarters!

Dude, why are you appalled? This is great evidence to flaunt in front of the Tea-publicans showing that mass prosperity is possible under socialism! The company's swimming pool (undoubtedly heated, since it's in Harbin) looks awesome.

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26. anon on September 9, 2011 7:31 PM writes...

Maybe they're trying to get Pfizer's attention for an acquistion.

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27. another chemist on September 9, 2011 9:19 PM writes...

LOL! One of the lightbulbs in the first photo is burnt out (the right one near the top middle). That's gonna be a b-tch to replace. I don't know about Versailles, the photos look more like scenes from Scarface (the Al Pacino version) to me. Someone forgot to take a photo of the execs snorting mounds of cocaine off the mahogany tables. Oh well, so much for Communism...as with Russia, it seems like the oligarchs are in control of China.

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28. bugeye on September 9, 2011 11:24 PM writes...

As a chinese, I want to clarify 2 points.
1. these photos were taken form a wood paintng museum they donate, not a plant, nor their office just beyond this museum in the 3rd and 4th floors.
2. although they have "Pharmaceutical" in their company name, they actually are famous for the food supplement products which are far more lucrative and easier business in China.

And I agree with your point "China is in serious danger of going off the rails".

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29. BCP on September 10, 2011 12:06 AM writes...

The Donald would approve.

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30. HDCandela on September 10, 2011 7:34 AM writes...

I found the quote "Let them eat cake" to say the most. Right now it seems as though there is no difference between: "State Capitalism" and oligarchic merchantalism; corrupt funds, companies, and CEOs like Sorros, Buffet, Gates, Morgan Stanley, GE, Bears and Sterns, and the Chinese Communist Party memembers or PLA generals who built this; Obama's continual vacation while the "Czars" pass regulations to make America a Weather Underground Utopiua, the three able bodied black female wealfare card users wearing designer clothing and gold who bought Alaskan Snow Crab and New York strip at Walmart last night before driving off in an 8 cylinder muscle car with rims, and Cromwell crowning himself king before being overthrown; and the people who died from living in the poverty like mine, using antifreeze tooth paste, taking heavy metal poisoned Chinese manufactured medication, and under the thumb of Islamic Extremism which demands "give us guns not butter" & kill America. I wonder what will happen when the average people lose faith in the monetary system or that they have the freedom to start and own their own business for the sake of freeing themselves from wage slavery, not that China, America, the EU, or the created caliphate are at that point yet.

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31. HDCandela on September 10, 2011 7:38 AM writes...

I found the quote "Let them eat cake" to say the most. Right now it seems as though there is no difference between: "State Capitalism" and oligarchic merchantalism; corrupt funds, companies, and CEOs like Sorros, Buffet, Gates, Morgan Stanley, GE, Bears and Sterns, and the Chinese Communist Party memembers or PLA generals who built this; Obama's continual vacation while the "Czars" pass regulations to make America a Weather Underground Utopiua, the three able bodied black female wealfare card users wearing designer clothing and gold who bought Alaskan Snow Crab and New York strip at Walmart last night before driving off in an 8 cylinder muscle car with rims, and Cromwell crowning himself king before being overthrown; and the people who died from living in the poverty like mine, using antifreeze tooth paste, taking heavy metal poisoned Chinese manufactured medication, and under the thumb of Islamic Extremism which demands "give us guns not butter" & kill America. I wonder what will happen when the average people lose faith in the monetary system or that they have the freedom to start and own their own business for the sake of freeing themselves from wage slavery, not that China, America, the EU, or the created caliphate are at that point yet.

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32. Fred on September 10, 2011 8:13 AM writes...

At least they can't be accused of good taste.

Chinese civilization peaked around 1200. Most cultures, past their peak, don't REALLY come back. In China's case the probability of popular revolt is very much higher than we in the West are cognizant of.

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33. Clueless on September 10, 2011 10:45 AM writes...

Typical lost in translation, they thought all American companies look like this......

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34. A-Non on September 10, 2011 12:33 PM writes...

If it that place doesn't have a Mongolian grill or sushi bar, then I'm not impressed. Besides, Kim Jong Il probably has nicer accommodations.

It would be hilarious if the Harbin Sixth Pharmaceutical Plant, despite all the glitz and glamor, still uses squat toilets. The last time I went to China, my calves and quads got a real workout!

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35. Kaleberg on September 10, 2011 2:51 PM writes...

The Boeing executive offices in Chicago make this look like a quonset hut. It's not the western esthetic, but it's not all that crazy.

"Well, it could have a boosting effect on moral- I'd much rather work in a place that looked like the above, then somewhere with bare concrete walls, bland tile floor and florescent (See: Any university building in North America built in the 60s)."

On the other hand, if your goal is discovering new drugs, you'd be doing better with the cinderblocks in the 60s.

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36. Anonymous on September 11, 2011 6:02 PM writes...

I wonder if any of that paint is LEAD based???

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37. been there seen that on September 11, 2011 8:04 PM writes...

So I've been to China and I've seen a pharma building, not as extravagant as this one but not so far off. It is a manifestation of an unregulated and unbridled capitalism where CEO's, i.e. senior members of the communist party, build cathedrals to themselves as part of an economic modernization that benefits greatly by in large only a few. It is different, that's all I can say. My memory is of communist party officials driving Audi A6's - go figure. Funny thing is that I bet if you looked out of a window of the building shown, at say 2pm in the afternoon, on many a day you would struggle to see the sun due to the air pollution that now plagues the cities there. Like I said, it's different.

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38. Alex on September 12, 2011 2:21 PM writes...

the three able bodied black female wealfare card users wearing designer clothing and gold who bought Alaskan Snow Crab and New York strip at Walmart last night before driving off in an 8 cylinder muscle car with rims

I think the technical term is "photos, or it didn't happen".

More original trolls, please, whose talking points have been updated since 1980.

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39. MoMo on September 12, 2011 3:48 PM writes...

I dont know why everyone is making a bid deal over this typical office space in China, it only cost 49.99$ in US currency to build-and that included labor.

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40. Terry on September 15, 2011 8:33 AM writes...

china can be more richer, i live same life quality here in bj as in US

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