Let them take aspirin: a pharmaceutical company builds its own Versailles

 Crystal chandeliers, gilded wall moldings, grand pianos and reproductions of the great masters… Welcome to the plush headquarters of China's state-owned Harbin Pharmaceutical Group.



Crystal chandeliers, gilded wall moldings, grand pianos and reproductions of the great masters… Welcome to Harbin Pharmaceutical Group.


The group, with is one of China’s main public pharmaceutical companies, has published photos of its new headquarters, located in the city of Harbin in the country’s northeast. This grandiose building was modelled on the style of France’s Versailles castle, built under King Louis the XIV four centuries ago.


This modern castle’s ostentatious luxury has caused quite a stir among Chinese Web users – many of whom were already critical of the Harbin group for the environmental offences it has committed as well as the high cost of its medications. According to one of our Observers, Sui, these photos were taken down from the company’s site after they were hacked. The site was attacked on Sunday, but according to our Observer, the photos had already been removed beforehand.


One of the offical photos posted by the Harbin pharmaceutical group on its website.


A spokesperson confirmed that the building featuring in the pictures belongs to the company, but insisted that the luxurious rooms were not used as offices. He said that these rooms were actually part of a museum located within the company’s new headquarters. Savvy internet sleuths, however, have pointed out that the company’s website does indeed mention a museum, but its photos (below) show sparsely adorned rooms.



In addition, several rooms in what the spokesperson claimed was a museum appeared to be set up for meetings.



Harbin Pharmaceutical Group is a state-owned enterprise. Li Xiaomeng, a journalist from CCTV state television, used the microblogging site Weibo to remind her readers that public companies’ profits are only taxed 5% (compared to 25% for private companies). She added that these companies are not accountable to the Chinese people.


Two of our Observers explain their aversion to the Harbin group’s behaviour.

"I can even smell the toxic gasses inside my classrooms at the university"

Gao Hongjing is a student. She lives in Harbin.


The factory operated by Harbin Pharmaceutical Group has caused us a lot of suffering. It is located in the centre of the city [next to the group’s offices], and every day, it produces toxic gasses. [The group has been criticized in several reports, most notably because its toxic waste disposal did not meet hygiene and security standards]. The media has widely publicized these problems, but the company has not yet made any concrete changes. [Harbin announced in June that it would invest in a new water treatment system]. I can even smell the toxic gasses inside my classrooms at the university." 


The Harbin group's palace.

"A lack of regulation allows pharmaceutical groups ... to ask patients to pay exorbitant prices"

Zhang Zhen is a computer engineer. He lives in Nanchang, in western China.


Medication prices are extremely high in China. A lack of regulation and transparency allows pharmaceutical groups, as well as hospitals, to ask patients to pay exorbitant prices.


The Harbin group sells its medications throughout China. You can see commercials for them everywhere, so just imagine what kind of profits they are raking in. This building really reflects the company’s total lack of morality. The Harbin group should be working for the public good, first and foremost.”


The two photos above were taken by amateurs inside the Harbin headquarters and posted online.


The company's website, which was hacked on 11 September.