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Associated Press

SHANGHAI, China — Crisis has been in the air in China the past week — over pork.

The Cabinet held an emergency session. The highly popular premier made public appearances broadcast on state TV in hopes of reassuring worried citizens. There’s even been talk of tapping a national pork reserve.

The to-do over rising pork prices — up more than 43 percent in a year — speaks volumes about politics in China today. The juggernaut economy has fueled a dizzying rise in the stock market and widened the gap between rich and poor, a sensitive issue for the ruling Communist Party.

With a key party meeting this year and the hotly anticipated Beijing Olympics the next, Chinese leaders want to keep people satisfied.

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The crisis touches on concerns embedded in the national psyche. Pork is the meat of choice for all but a small number of Chinese. The word for "meat" means "pork" to most Chinese, and urban Chinese ate an average of 42 pounds per person in 2006, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Inflation has played a role in previous political upheavals — eroding support for the Nationalists who ruled 60 years ago and swelling the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989.

So Premier Wen Jiabao, who has made a reputation as a man of the people, signaled the degree of high-level concern with visits last weekend to farms and markets in the heartland.

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