Taxi driver loses licence to help old and disabled
Mark O'Neill in Beijing
A model taxi driver who carried elderly and disabled people in his cab has been spat on, insulted and driven out of business.
The China Youth Daily recounted the sad story of Xu Guoqiang, 37, who started driving a taxi in 1994 in Zunyi, Guizhou,the site of one of the most important meetings in the history of the Communist Party, in January 1935, at which Mao Zedong took major steps towards becoming the undisputed leader of the party.
Mr Xu put a notice in the back of his taxi, with his telephone and pager numbers, saying that he would carry old people, pregnant women, soldiers and disabled people for nothing, in the spirit of Lei Feng, a model soldier of the 1950s who also helped such people.
Mr Xu made the offer despite the fact that his wife was unemployed and the three members of his family relied solely on his income.
During the next five years, Mr Xu made nearly 10,000 free journeys and earned numerous awards from the city and the province as a 'model young worker', allowing him to name his taxi a 'Lei Feng car'.
But it also earned him the hatred of his fellow drivers.
On several occasions, dozens surrounded him and shouted obscenities and he also received threatening telephone calls.
The next blow came when he lost his licence.
In 1998, Zunyi municipality decided that all drivers should re-apply for their licences and pay 53,700 yuan (HK$50,480) for them.
Mr Xu only found out about this in June and, when he went to register, discovered that applications had closed on May 29.
The city refused to accept his application. Officials said that there were already too many taxis on the streets and that they had to limit the number.
Last October, Mr Xu made a special appeal for a new licence, promising to set up a team of 'Lei Feng cars' that would provide free services to those in need.
City officials said that they respected Mr Xu's sense of public spirit but feared that, if they made an exception for him, they would not be able to refuse other applications.
The story is especially poignant in that it happened in Zunyi, a name every Chinese schoolchild learns as part of communist mythology.
The spirit of Lei Feng, a good man who did good works, seems as remote from the reality of today's China as that meeting in 1935.