Here is how one of the most controversial Chinese blog posts in recent memory begins:
“I have been engulfed in sadness that I was not born in a country like the United States, a country which respects freedom, democracy, and human rights! This is due to the pain I’ve suffered in the 10+ years since graduation, and it’s also due to the 17 years of pathetic education that I received before that. I’ve repeatedly questioned God: why did you give me such a freedom, and truth loving soul, but then force me to be born in a dark, authoritarian China? Why are you forcing such suffering upon me?”
These are the words of earthquake survivor Fan Meizhong (范美忠), a man who has also been given the moniker “Running Fan” (范跑跑).
The recent earthquake in Sichuan has become a mirror for the nature of Chinese society. In this mirror, we’ve seen corruption, growing media freedom, explosion of public charity, and proud nationalism. And now, in this mirror, we see reflected a deep conflicted argument between “morals” and “freedom”, between Oriental Confucianism and Occidental Christanity. Thousands of students have died from collapsing schools in Sichuan. Along with sadness, memories of some of their teachers have been elevated to sainthood status in China. Many sacrificed their lives, their ruined bodies found in the rubble, still vainly trying to protect the students they were responsible for in life.
Fan Meizhong is a high school teacher from Dujiangyan, a city carrying a heavy toll from the recent Sichuan earthquake. During the earthquake, he behaved in a way that many of us wouldn’t applaud, but can understand: without a word of warning or instruction to his students, he rushed from his classroom at the first tremor. His students waited in terror in the classroom, having no clear idea what they should next do. Fortunately, the building didn’t collapse, and not a single student at the school was injured or killed. His actions weren’t heroic, but that’s not what’s controversial.
He wrote the above blog post 10 days after the earthquake, even as the rescue process was on-going. The love that he expresses towards America and freedom is also not what’s controversial; as this earlier blog post mentioned, many “rightists” in China feel the same way. The controversy relates to the rest of the blog post. Alice Poon provides an outline of what was said (translated from Southern Metropolis):
The story of the Diujiangyan teacher running away is like this. This teacher was teaching a class of students when the earthquake struck. As soon as he felt the quake, he bolted out of the school without even calling out to his students to run for their lives. When he later faced his disappointed students, he explained in writing: ‘I have never been an altruistic person. I only care about my own life. Don’t you know that last time when there was a fire in the middle of the night, I was also quick to run for my life?’ ‘I am someone who seeks liberty and justice. But I do not believe in sacrificing myself for another person. In such a life-and-death moment, the only person I would consider sacrificing myself for would be my daughter. I would not care about other people, including my mother, under such circumstances.’ In short, ‘I do not have the least amount of moral guilt ‘.
In his own defense, “Running Fan” has escalated the debate with a second post, suggesting he was only writing to break the “morality kidnapping” that represents Chinese society.
One of the reasons I wrote what I wrote is as a negative reaction to the “morality kidnapping” I’ve seen around me. This includes the criticisms aimed at Wang Shi (heavily criticized for donating very little to the effort), Liu Xiang, and Yao Ming.
… This is also a reaction to the fake-goodwill I’ve seen around me. With this earthquake, I don’t deny that many people feel true pain, but I believe there are also many manufactured tears. I know that during the earthquake there were some who sacrificed themselves in order to save others, but from the media coverage and social discussions which followed, it seems like these actions have been followed with “morality kidnapping”. I believe I have to resist this trend of manufacturing heroes (Lei Feng)!
… I also wanted to poke at some commentators on morality, use this opportunity to expose their hypocrisy… The sort of self-righteous moral indignation that has been aimed at me confirms my verdict on Confucian philosophy: the most substantial outcome of Confucian philosophy is the manufacture of a batch of perfect, fake gentleman, fake saints… Although they believe they’re honest and have integrity, but I say all they have is given us a “performance of honest morality.”
… All people are sinners, and no one can be held up as a moral standard! And if I’ve held myself up as a standard in the past, then I was wrong! And yet this sort of candid admission is why the great majority of writers and thinkers in China are of lower quality than me; saying it in a different way, this is one of the primary readings why I don’t read the writings of the vast majority of Chinese writers and thinkers, and instead focus on American and European writers.
… After this incident, I again believe that only by believing in God can this country and people be saved. Although saving individual souls isn’t intended as a tool for rescuing a country, that will be the effective result.
Just like about everyone else in China, including the South Metropolis (translated in the Alice Poon article), my judgment of “Running Fan” is not kind. Due to whatever frustrations he might have felt in China, he has projected his hopes and desires onto a set of ideals that he simply doesn’t understand. I don’t know how many Christians world-wide would respect “Running Fan” for his actions, or the selfish defense he’s given for such actions.
This quote from Rednet best reflects my point of view:
During a disaster, we have the freedom to care only for ourselves, and not protect or rescue others. But those who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save others, that can only be an act of great morality. Between freedom and morality, every citizen can make their own choice. For those who exercise the freedom to save their own lives, we really can’t make excessive demands of them… but we certainly can’t commend their actions either. As far as those who dare to sacrifice their lives, that’s the kind of spirit we should promote, because it represents the fountain that allows human society to forever thrive.
PS. I’m trademarking “Running Fan”. No one else in the English blogsphere has picked up that obvious pun! 😉