This week has seen some interesting developments across the Taiwan Strait. Most significant was President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) announcement of the possibility of signing a peace accord with China within a 10-year time frame. The politics of such a move are a case for discussion in their own right and precluded from this discussion.
From a purely economic standpoint, one can readily see the pros to deepening relations with the world’s second-largest economy — an economy many analysts believe will be the world’s largest by 2020, the same time frame associated with Ma’s suggested peace accord.
However, China’s amazing growth has come at a very dear price. The environmental concerns facing China are woeful and well documented. The Chinese Ministry of Health itself said that pollution has directly led to alarming increases in cancer, so much so that it is now the leading cause of death in 30 cities and 78 provinces nationwide.
While economies in the EU might be floundering, it is indicative of a very different problem that only 1 percent of China’s city dwellers breathe air that the EU would deem safe. However, pollution of the environmental type is not the only danger stalking the Chinese landscape.
Consider the massive social cost of economic growth — a type of pollution all of its own. Perhaps the most startling evidence of this “social pollution” is a video that was originally posted several days ago on Chinese video-sharing Web site Youku. The video, which quickly went viral, had so far received 2,722,358 hits on that site alone. It shows a van running over a two-year-old girl — the driver does not stop — a tragedy to be sure. Even more sickening is the fact that in the following 7 minutes, in which another van also runs over the girl, not one of the 18 passersby tried to help the victim or even call the police or an ambulance.
Eventually the little girl was helped by a rubbish collector. Soon thereafter, the girl’s mother arrived and the toddler was rushed to hospital; she died there on Friday.
How does a society become this ill? Simply put, it has been a long time coming. The -combination of rapid economic development and the correspondingly rapid growth of greed, the prolonged prohibition of religion and the decline of Confucian ideals, culminating in the Cultural Revolution and continuing today in the swelling urban slums, has left China bereft of a moral anchor.
While lofty communist ideals might once have echoed in the halls of government, there can be no greater proof of the loss of innocence or the abandonment of the communal philosophy of socialism than the sad story of this poor little girl and the bystanders who did not lift a finger to help her.
One of those who commented on the Youku video postulates that perhaps the public had not dared to help for fear of facing a “Nanking judge” — a reference to a ruling handed down in Nanking in 2006, where a man who helped a woman to the hospital after she had fallen was accused of assaulting her. The judge in question, citing common sense, ruled that only the person who had hit her would make the effort to take her to hospital.
How very sad that a society has reached the point where people are afraid to help their fellow man. Still sadder and further indicative of China’s moral decay is the fact that a judge can identify only one motivator for people to help one another: guilt.
Ma has noted recently that he heartily endorses students’ reading of classical Chinese texts. Presumably he finds value in their moral teachings, a notion we could all support.
Detractors have vilified his comment as representative of a push for reunification based on cultural grounds. What they would do well to note, though, is the large socio-cultural differences which exist across the Taiwan Strait.
Democracy and the ideals of freedom and liberty, including freedom of religion as well as a true sense of community, have long guided Taiwan’s moral compass. It is these principles on which Taiwan must stand when dealing with China, no matter which path it takes in future. This way the horrific events captured on the video in question may never find their way to Taiwanese shores.
Jean-Paul Mouton is a master’s degree candidate at National Chiao Tung University.
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