Chinese outcry over Harbin unit's glitzy headquarters

If you're going to fit out your offices with gold leaf and crystal, don't brag about it online. That's the lesson China's Harbin Pharmaceutical is learning the hard way. The state-run drugmaker has caught a lot of flak recently after photos of a facility in Heilogjiang province hit a Twitter-like networking site in that country.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the photos show huge marble columns, gold-plated ceilings, a crystal chandelier and a white baby-grand piano. "Now I know why Chinese people can't afford to go to the doctor and buy medicines," one Chinese internet user commented after viewing the images.

Harbin's defense, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua? The gilded facilities mostly belong to an art museum that's part of the company unit's headquarters. The HQ lobby is glitzy, but the rest of the business offices are simply furnished, Xinhua said. The art museum, which features wood-block prints, got the star treatment because Harbin wanted to promote cultural development, CEO Lu Chuanyou told Xinhua (as quoted by the WSJ). The museum also includes meeting rooms and parlors.

WSJ points out that Chinese citizens might be primed for an outraged reaction to Harbin's photos. There's been public discontent about the cost of drugs in China. Some 50% of total health spending in the country goes toward prescription meds, much higher than the proportion of drug spending in other countries.

- read the WSJ piece