Rabies vaccine scandal reveals China’s tattered moral fabric
Lijia Zhang says the Communist Party’s violent discarding of traditional values, suppression of religion and later embrace of cutthroat capitalism has severely damaged social trust. The party has attempted moral campaigns since then but, as the Changsheng scandal shows, they have not worked
Like other issues concerning children’s safety, the defective vaccine incident touched a raw nerve for Chinese parents and led to a public outcry.
Once again, the Chinese people are forced to ask the uncomfortable question: what has led to the moral decline of China?
The country has experienced a drastic social transformation ever since Deng Xiaoping introduced the reform and opening up policies of 40 years ago. The economy has made great strides and the enriched citizens have been enjoying, and sometimes abusing, their personal freedom.
The market economy brought in cold-hearted, dog-eat-dog capitalism to a society that was already on survival mode. To survive, to get ahead in the competitive market, to gain personal wealth and success, you had to take whatever measures necessary and bend the rules when necessary.
In 2004, veteran Chinese journalist Michael Anti reported cases in central China’s Anhui province where some infants developed abnormally large heads after consuming faulty formula.
This week, as the news of the faulty vaccines broke, he posted a photo of a child harmed in that earlier case, and said: “From that day, I understand that, to make money, some Chinese are even willing to hurt their own children.”
I believe that the lack of a value system and a spiritual vacuum lay at the roots of China’s moral crisis.
We have imported the concept of market economy but not the corresponding ethics. Traditionally, the core values were benevolence, righteousness, proper rites, knowledge and integrity, as mandated by Confucianism.
This mad political movement marked the beginning of China’s moral decay and lack of trust among the people. At that time, people were encouraged to report and denounce each other – even their teachers, neighbours and parents.
That’s China’s problem: there isn’t really a united value system that resonates with the modern Chinese society.
And there’s the crisis of a spiritual vacuum. In the era of the reforms and market-economy communism, which had been deployed by the Chinese Communist Party as a religion of sorts, more or less collapsed. It left a spiritual void that has allowed corruption to flourish and crime to rise.
In recent years, all religions in China – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism – have witnessed a revival (with Protestantism the fastest-growing) due to a relaxed control and the spiritual void. This revival has filled the vacuum, but only to a certain degree.
The rabies vaccine case must have involved multiple layers of rules violations, corruption and abuses of power by people of different levels and departments.
There’s no easy fix for China’s public moral decline. Law and order are badly needed. But the legal dose alone, no matter how heavy, can’t wipe out the problem all together. The tattered social fabric has to be fixed first.
The flies are now buzzing ever louder.
Lijia Zhang is a rocket-factory worker turned social commentator, and the author of a novel, Lotus.