I always thought Ronaldo made an odd shill for Chinese cough drops. About three years ago, around the time–coincidentally enough–when Real Madrid came to Beijing for an exhibition game, the Brazillian striker started appearing in ads for Jinsangzi or “Golden Throat” a popular mentholated lozenge. The honey-colored pastilles come individually wrapped in a cute little box decorated with stripes and lent a degree of gravitas by an oval-shaped black and white portrait of a bespectacled Chinese man, presumably the remedy’s inventor. As careful readers of this blog know, I happen to be partial to another Chinese throat-soothing potion, but I am not immune to Jinsangzi’s charms. In 2004 I relied upon them quite heavily when I was traveling frequently to Guangxi (where Golden Throat is headquartered) and the condition of my own throat was less than golden. Ronaldo, wearing a dazed grin and holding a box of Jinsangzi aloft like a Little Red Book, greeted me every time I arrived at the airport in Guangxi. I’d see him on the sides of buses, on billboards in remote mountain towns, even on television. I always wondered what was up with Ronaldo’s agent. Was the guy really into Chinese medicine or did he just have a perverse sense of humor?
Neither, it turns out. Ronaldo never signed up for job. He was, well, suckered. Last week, the China Daily reported that Ronaldo is suing the Chinese company for using an unauthorized photograph of him in its huge advertising campaign. The lozenge maker invited him to a banquet in 2003 (and paid him a handsome sum for him to attend), but apparently never mentioned how all of the pictures taken that night would be used. (Danwei smelled foul play back in November 2003 when the ads first appeared.) But Ronaldo, alas, only learned about his purloined visage when another Chinese company invited him to become its spokesman and asked him to terminate his relationship with Golden Throat.
I know. I know. Intellectual piracy isn’t supposed to be funny. But sometimes in China it’s not quite unfunny either. This whole affair, after all, puts Ronaldo in distinguished company. I haven’t seen one in a while, but there used to be a kind of electrode-bedecked facial mask that you could buy at Chinese department stores which, according to the box it came, was a product Bill Clinton swore by. Then of course there were the condoms that hit the market in 2005, named “Kelintun” and “Laiwensiji” for the wrinkle-zapping President and his oval office amor. “We chose the name because we think Clinton is a symbol of success and a man of responsibility,” the condom maker explained at the time. “And Lewinsky is a woman who dares to love and dares to hate.”