The images of tiny Yue Yue being run over twice and treated as an inconvenient lump of trash by 18 passers-by is a deeply disturbing shock to all of us and our collective consciousness. Naturally people are asking why such monstrosities appear today in China. How widespread is this callous indifference to the fate of others? Is there something numbing the senses like a general moral anesthetic? Is there hope that underneath a barbarity of indifference there is a wellspring of humanity that simply lies dormant?
Of course there is no morally perfect society, where all care about all. Sophisticated industrial societies have spawned unspeakable and uncountable acts of industrial scale torture and violence, followed by apparent collective amnesia. However, small collective tribes based on simple communist life can also engage in acts of collective cruelty.
Lu Xun's Diary of a Madman saw the eyes of cannibals starring at him from the most unexpected quarters. With the global reach of human intercommunication we learn of children, locked-up and raped for decades by their father, in the cellar of the family home in prosperous Austria; of knife wielding manics, who slaughter nursery children in China. We see school-kids, wielding machine-guns, wiping out their schoolmates in the United States and Germany, and the recent massacre in prosperous and tolerant Norway; and we hear of Russian alcoholics who killed their drinking partner and sliced him up to eat and to sell his flesh at a butchers stall. With each such tale humanity cries out, 'what kind of a world do we live in?'
No wonder religious belief provides solace, not simply from the personal traumas of the cycles of life, love and death, but also, by acting as a moral compass, it helps define a pathway towards good and create a social order based on these principles, commandments and laws. This does not prevent evil and abusive behavior by those with faith. But true believers hold personal visions of good, and fight evil with their energy, power and spirit. Fighting for moral values has driven human actions for millennia.
When the material interests of the few manipulate the moral views of the many and their rule becomes corrupted and degenerate, the yearning for a rebirth of beliefs, visions and values often seeks its voice. Widespread money worship, gross individualism and egotism are deeply negative side effects of the tremendous development in China since 1979. The argument that people avoided helping Yue Yue for fear of becoming financially burdened with health costs is false. The people walked past her without even considering helping her; they did not show any human sentiments from the onset. They reacted like heartless, brutalized automons, like stones.
The extraordinary socio-economic development of China is laying the material basis for a harmonious socialist society. However, this same process dissolved the social, cultural and collectivist bonds to which many of the older generations look back with great nostalgia. Material incentives replaced moral incentives, and individualism replaced collectivism as the dominant daily experience. Alienation, isolation, loneliness and a lack of elementary collectivity are common urban phenomenon. They are exaggerated in China by the historically unparalleled scope of urbanization. The twinkling light from a distant high rise represents the beauty of others, but the rat race to survive, acquire and advance, wrenches human values from relations with all but the closest family and friends, who often live a thousand miles away.
China must find a way to help foster new forms of collectivism within the masses, in the ever-changing environment of development and modernization. Urban collectivity requires community engagement and popular control over community life, the promotion of creativity, and democratic participation in administration, education and work. This can act as counter-veiling forces to alienation, unifying the people and forging a new sense of social solidarity, like that displayed by the selfless sacrifice of the millions who helped with the relief efforts following the Sichuan earthquake. Lets hope Yue Yue's tragedy acts as a call to arms!
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
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