Migrant worker becomes latest 'hero of our era'
A young migrant worker who saved an infant from a 20-metre fall in Guangzhou has become the latest person to be lionised in a national propaganda campaign to counter a perceived lack of Good Samaritans on the mainland.
Zhou Chong , 23, has been showered with rewards, offered jobs by state-run enterprises and repeatedly asked to recount how he rescued a three-year-old girl he saw dangling by the neck while he was on his way to a job interview earlier this month.
He has had his face splashed across Guangdong's newspapers and television broadcasts. He was sent to Beijing to meet Politburo members, including propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, who dubbed him 'a hero of our era'.
Zhou joined a line-up of everyday heroes being built by propaganda authorities. The effort aims to foster positive media coverage ahead of the 18th National Party Congress this autumn, when the central leadership will hand over power to a new generation.
Other examples include Zhang Lili , a 29-year-old teacher in Heilongjiang province, whose legs had to be amputated after she pushed two children out of the path of an oncoming bus, and Wu Bin , a bus driver in Zhejiang province who managed to steer his passengers to safety after he himself was fatally hit by a metal object that smashed through his windscreen.
There was also Zhou Yulan , a teacher in Hubei province , who risked her life to protect 659 college entrance exam admission cards during a robbery.
The state propaganda machine has dubbed the trio the 'most beautiful teacher, mother and driver', with the 'most beautiful' superlative becoming almost an official status dispensed by authorities eager to find role models to show that society is stable and harmonious.
As such, Zhou has been dubbed 'the most beautiful passer-by'.
The three-year-old girl he rescued on June 3 climbed out of a window in her fourth-floor home and onto a flower rack. She slipped between the bars, leaving her dangling by her neck 20 metres above the ground.
Zhou climbed onto a third-floor ledge just wide enough for his toes and propped the girl up with his hands for almost 10 minutes until rescuers arrived - the whole scene captured by surveillance cameras.
When the girl was safe, Zhou quietly slipped away, setting off a government frenzy to track him down. He has been in the media spotlight ever since, receiving 90,000 yuan (HK$109,850) in rewards.
Zhou said he felt uncomfortable with the exposure: 'Don't enshrine me as a hero. I just wanted to help. It's not worth so much attention.'
But the provincial propaganda department could not have asked for a better subject to embody the 'happy Guangdong' campaign, espoused repeatedly in public by its provincial party boss, Wang Yang .
Such heroic stories help counter the image of selfishness and insensitivity exacerbated last October when a surveillance camera in Foshan caught a bleeding two-year-old girl, named Xiao Yueyue, being ignored by 18 passers-by after being hit by two vans.
The incident gained international attention and reignited a debate about whether Chinese society was losing its compassion and needed a Good Samaritan law.
'The authorities have been under pressure and criticism after the Xiao Yueyue incident,' said Peng Peng , a political scientist at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences. 'Zhou is perfect to rebuild the image that the delta is still full of 'true, kind and beautiful' figures.'
Peng said positive news was 'good to appease the public after the cascade of negative stories about the cold or dark side of society. Officials worry that distrust of authority could undermine social stability'.
Thus, the message from Guangdong authorities to local media has been straightforward: no negative news. 'We did receive assignments to carry high-profile reports about Zhou,' said one journalist at a Guangzhou-based newspaper friendly to the government. 'Our newspaper even sent a team to follow Zhou and stay at his apartment to report on the sensation surrounding him.'
After the uproar around Zhou began to die down, Guangdong media were quick to find another hero. They dubbed Deng Xiongfei 'the most beautiful vendor' after he too climbed out of a building and saved a child caught hanging in the air.
Media scrambled to run interviews with Deng after the June 11 incident, and officials have been keen to meet him.
Provincial officials have banned media from reporting stories that do not fit the hero narrative. None of Guangdong's more liberal newspapers for instance were allowed to report the suicide of a 40-year-old Guangzhou villager, who jumped to her death on May 9 after authorities took her into custody and illegally demolished her home to make way for a redevelopment project.
Another coverage ban was handed down on May 27. This time, Shenzhen's newsrooms were prohibited from publishing reports about safety concerns over electric vehicles a day after three people were burned to death in an electric taxi made by local firm BYD.