• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
That’s the message of a modern-day tale that has set China’s only space for free expression, Internet chat rooms, abuzz with indignation.
The harsh punishment meted out to a man who says he thought he was simply doing a fellow citizen a good turn casts a sad light on contemporary Chinese morality and illustrates the low ebb to which civic consciousness has fallen.
The story is that of Zhang Jun, or at least that’s the name the man used when he told his tale on a blog that has since become a cause célèbre. He related that he was driving to work in Shanghai, waiting for the lights to change, when a man came up to his car and begged for a ride home. He was suffering from a stomachache, he said, and could not find a taxi.
The guy’s home was en route to Mr. Zhang’s office, so he told him to hop in. When the sick man offered him 10 RMB ($1.30), Zhang refused. When the passenger asked Zhang to stop, he did so. Immediately, the passenger grabbed the car key from the ignition, and Zhang was dragged from his car by seven or eight uniformed men, he recounted.
They – and the man who had faked a stomachache – turned out to be from the municipal traffic department. They roughed up Zhang, accused him of driving an unregistered taxi, and told him he would have to pay a 10,000 RMB ($1,300) fine to get his car back.
When he rang the traffic bureau to complain about this blatant entrapment, Zhang said, his explanation of why he had given his unknown passenger a ride was met with a blunt statement of the new morality: “What business is it of yours if someone has a stomachache?” the official asked.
Once upon a time in this country, selflessness was one of the most prized official virtues. “Serve the People” was a cardinal Maoist slogan. A soldier named Lei Feng was mythologized for his good deeds. March 5 is still “Learn from Lei Feng Day.”
But Zhang has taken a different lesson from his experience, he said on his blog. “I should not have shown any sympathy for others,” he wrote. “At over 30 years old, I should not be so naive as to give a ride to a stranger. A piffling little citizen like me should not aspire to act like Comrade Lei Feng.”