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Demoralized China

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  • Demoralized China

    Demoralized China
    Radio Free Asia's "Listener Hotline" gets an earful.
    by Jennifer Chou
    11/10/2003, Volume 009, Issue 09

    BEIJING'S CRITICS and supporters agree that something is wrong with the moral fabric of China. Visiting journalists and resident foreign businessmen comment on falling ethical standards. When an orgy involving 380 Japanese tourists and 500 Chinese prostitutes in a luxury hotel in Zhuhai came to light in mid-September, Chinese Internet chat rooms were inundated with angry postings. Some called for a boycott of Japanese goods; others lamented the deteriorating values of Chinese society, warning that as people become more concerned with materialistic pursuits, they become less concerned with the consequences of their actions.

    But are things really so bad? To explore that question, the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia expanded its daily open-phones "Listener Hotline" from one hour to two on October 9 and 10 and invited comments on the state of ethics in China. Callers were allowed up to five minutes each. Joining the program's regular host, William Zhang, was Perry Link, a professor of Chinese literature at Princeton who is interested in the subject. Their exchanges with some 40 callers from across China, ranging in age from 18 to 75, suggest that in a generally gloomy picture, not all is dark.

    With few exceptions, the callers voiced outrage over what one of them, a Liaoning man in his fifties, called "the unprecedented and total disintegration of moral principles." Nearly all argued that China lacks any moral foundation.

    Some faulted the godlessness of communism for the spiritual vacuum. Others said moral decline is a result of the breakdown of Confucian values. A few attributed the slump to the widespread rejection of Marxism-Leninism, an ideological system that prescribes moral absolutes and that once had an almost religious fascination for many Chinese. Numerous callers held the one-party political system accountable for all sorts of ills that plague China--from garbage-strewn waterways, to the reemergence of prostitution, to rampant official corruption.

    For a Kunming resident in his forties who phoned the hotline, the defining value in China today is cheating. And a Fujian retiree warned that the younger generation, obsessed with money but lacking ethical beliefs, could sink even deeper into an abyss where words such as loyalty, trust, and civility have no meaning.

    One striking feature of these calls was the palpable indignation they expressed. Hardly representative of a people in moral free fall, the callers exhibited strong moral sentiments. They were far from resigned to the amorality around them.

    The hosts made a point of drawing callers out on the sources of their own values and principles. A few professed to be Christians or followers of the Falun Gong movement, but most said they adhered to no organized religion; they were not influenced by any concept of a Last Judgment in their daily moral choices. Instead, they said they rely on an ingrained sense of right and wrong--often instilled by their parents. Several factory workers said their "natural conscience" guides them in making value judgments.

    The quality they valued above all seemed to be honesty. One Shanghai man in his fifties defined honesty as "being the same on the outside as on the inside." A 30-year-old self-employed worker said that "since time immemorial, social mores have never been this bad" because nowadays honest people are treated as "doormats." A lawyer from Yunnan confessed to wondering whether he should continue to teach his child to be honest since "honest people sometimes end up getting hurt." And a Shanghai retiree proudly announced that one night he'd found a wallet containing several hundred yuan but had returned it to its owner the very next morning.

    Civility also ranked high on the list of most-desired qualities. A cab driver from Henan told the hosts that he does not charge passengers who ask to be taken to church because "they are nice people who treat others with kindness." A Changchun man expressed admiration for people with religious beliefs because "they never swear" and "never bawl people out." A college student from Guangdong labeled people who practice tolerance but are atheists "cultural Christians."

    Self-sacrifice and compassion for the disadvantaged are other virtues to which the Radio Free Asia callers aspire. Several voiced reverence for the ideal of living for a cause greater than oneself. Recalling Comrade Lei Feng, the heroic model of self-sacrifice and rectitude built up in Maoist propaganda, one Jiangsu man in his fifties said he would volunteer to be a guinea pig in a medical experiment if it might lead to the discovery of a means of exterminating mosquitoes. He said, "It's more meaningful to live for ten people than for myself." And a factory worker from Shandong recounted how people in his impoverished hometown once donated quilts and food to a homeless old woman, while others, equally poor, offered to take her in and care for her in their homes.

    Caller after caller voiced similar sentiments--yet many reported loneliness and a sense of swimming against the tide. But if the special "Listener Hotline" proved anything, it's that these Chinese are not alone. A great many of their fellow citizens clearly share a passionate interest in the spiritual well-being of their nation. While the moral fabric of China is apparently in tatters, these people's concern suggests it is not beyond repair.

    Jennifer Chou is director of Radio Free Asia's Mandarin Service.

  • #2
    LOL...... its funny to hear the people who are wiping out tibetans, mongolians, manchus, uighurs and hundreds of other indigenous peoples talk about their moral values.
    Brahma Sarvam Jagan Mithya
    Jivo Brahmaiva Na Aparah


    • #3
      Morals keep the Morale Up. And Morale keeps the Morals Up.

      "Some have learnt many Tricks of sly Evasion, Instead of Truth they use Equivocation, And eke it out with mental Reservation, Which is to good Men an Abomination."

      I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.