When crime can be seen as protest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2012, 12:00am


Outrage and condemnation should be expected to follow the brutal murder of a hospital intern by a patient and the invasion of airport runways by passengers. But not on the mainland. Both events were greeted with sympathy for the perpetrators - in the first case, yellow smiley faces on a newspaper website's opinion poll, and in the second, praise on microblogs. It is resounding proof of how broken essential public infrastructure has become on the mainland.

Elsewhere, there would have been shock and disgust. Medical staff pledge to protect life and limb and their services are much in demand and equally valued. And airports are no place to break the rules. Hundreds of lives could be at risk when they are ignored. Why, then, did the majority of respondents to a People's Daily poll posted in the wake of the intern's brutal killing in March at Harbin Medical University determine that a smiley face was the best way to indicate how they felt? How could Shenzhen Airlines offer 1,000 yuan (HK$1,225) in compensation to each of the more than 20 passengers who rushed onto the tarmac at Shanghai Pudong International Airport to protest against a delayed flight, forcing a taxiing arriving plane to brake heavily? The answer is simple: frustration. So decrepit has the mainland's hospital system become that thousands of doctors and nurses are attacked each year by disgruntled patients and their families. Overcharging, unnecessary procedures and prescriptions to pad incomes and even bribery to get basic services are commonplace. They are the result of medical professionals being paid appallingly low wages and the lack of a credible malpractice system.

Passengers go to airports expecting delays, hoping for no more than a few minutes, but sometimes finding half a dozen hours or even a day or two. It is what happens in the world's fastest-growing aviation market when there is bad weather, military restrictions on airspace and infrastructure and procedures that have not kept pace with demand. Tempers flare when there is a lack of information and staff members are perceived as unhelpful or rude. With more than half of flights being delayed, sympathy for sit-ins on planes and the storming of restricted areas early last month by passengers in Shanghai and Guangzhou is perhaps understandable.

Authorities have stepped up security at hospitals and an investigation is under way over the Shanghai runway incident. These are essential moves, but they will do nothing to lessen public frustration and anger. That will come about only when officials have put the necessary investment into the medical and aviation sectors. Reforms have been promised and are slowly being implemented. Until essential services meet expectations, crimes could be perceived as protest.