For one farming community in central China, April Fools’ came earlier than expected.
Some 8,700 square meters of fields full of spinach were plucked clean overnight in Henan province after a short video circulating on messaging app WeChat said the vegetables were fair game to anyone looking for some free vegetables.
All it took was 11 seconds of footage, shot on March 23, of a sea of leafy greens and a woman offscreen announcing: “The spinach in this field in eastern Jiuwu Village is not wanted. Anyone who wants it, come here tomorrow morning as quickly as possible.”
A second short video filmed the next day offered a radically different view: Where there was once lush green spinach, there was now bare brown soil. A few dozen people with white sacks can be seen plucking the last of the plants. “There’s nothing left in the spinach field,” a different voice explains. “Those who didn’t get any spinach don’t need to come here anymore.”
Left: a screenshot from the video claiming the spinach is up for grabs, March 23, 2017; right: a screenshot from the video showing villagers picking the last of the spinach in Jiyuan, Henan province, March 24, 2017.
But the first video turned out to be a red herring. The crops’ owner, a man surnamed Sun, felt so helpless at stopping the vegetable thieves that he called in the police. “Who posted this video? Who would cheat someone as honest as me?” Sun said to Youth.cn, a website affiliated with the Communist Youth League.
After a police investigation, a 51-year-old woman surnamed Li was identified as the unscrupulous mastermind behind the first video. She went to Sun’s house to apologize and was “reprimanded and educated” by local police, according to a statement on their official social media account.
The root of the incident lay in something Sun told workers who were planting trees in his fields: He told them they could take away any of the spinach they had to dig out to make room for the trees, which Li interpreted to mean that all of the spinach was no longer wanted. Together with her daughter-in-law, she dug out her own share before telling her friends about the green treasure just waiting to be plucked by posting the video on social media.
An employee at the local police department told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper that after media reported on the story, many of those who had come to take their share of the spinach realized their transgression and offered to pay Sun for their portion.
“Though spinach is cheap this season, some people still gave him 100 yuan [nearly $15],” the employee said. “Sun was so touched that he recorded his own video saying he had received money for all of the spinach and had not suffered any financial loss.” Sun hopes Li doesn’t feel guilty about the ordeal.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: An elderly man holding spinach in Luoyang, Henan province, March 22, 2017. VCG)