Mainlanders do have a moral compass

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am


That hundreds of people rioted in Xian at the weekend over the death of a child provides a bleak sense of hope. Unbearably sad as reports of 10-year-old Xu Yueqi's death in a traffic accident undoubtedly are, this shows that mainlanders do indeed care about the well-being of their children.

In October, this was not something that you might have taken for granted, after learning that a two-year-old girl, Wang Yue and nicknamed Yueyue, was killed in Guangzhou and left to die after being hit three times - twice by the same delivery vehicle that first struck her when she rushed into the street. According to reports in the mainland media, surveillance footage showed that 18 people walked past Yueyue's body in seven minutes, none of whom stopped to help her as she lay in a coma. Eventually, a rubbish collector came to her aid. Yueyue died a couple of days later and the outrage was so great that it even made the foreign media. But no one took to the streets to overturn police cars, as they did in Xian on Friday night.

In the case of Yueyue, anger and distress seems to have been confined to the opinionated classes, with commentators expressing outrage over 'modern China's moral decline'. As this newspaper reported three weeks after her death, 'angry and worried journalists, scholars and members of the public [are] 'soul-searching' for solutions that might have saved' her.

It is too early to tell whether this 'soul-searching' produced anything meaningful. In any case, soul-searching is not what inspired the rioters in Xian to take to the streets. Moved by Xu's death, their anger was directed against the authorities for taking five hours to respond to the accident that killed her.

If anything, the rioting in Xian does suggest that the shameful indifference shown towards Yueyue was not typical. Give the people a reason to rise up, as the Xian incident suggests, and they are indeed likely to seize the opportunity.

Alex Lo is away