Glee at students' deaths reveals desperation
Updated: 2012-04-19 08:14
By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily)
The killing of two Chinese students in the United States last week failed to stir sympathy and grief among some of their compatriots in China. Instead, their deaths were greeted with jubilation by some online.
In a society simmering with discontent born out of a sense of injustice, real or perceived, the students unfortunately became victims a second time, this time to the morbid state of mind of some netizens.
In fact, the two students possessed none of these. According to their classmates, the BMW was secondhand, bought by the male student only recently as a convenience to aid his job hunting. Neither student came from a rich family background and both were thrifty during their two years in the US.
It is easy to condemn the callousness shown by netizens toward their deaths, which has inflicted additional injury on the students' families. But to understand what is behind this unhealthy psychology that is eating away at our humanity, we need to take a look into what has gone wrong in our society.
In China, no one can deny that the wealth gap is widening at an alarming speed despite government efforts to narrow it. More than 30 years of economic boom has generated unprecedented affluence to a proportion of the population, but it is also leaving an ever-growing group behind. They include the majority of those living in rural areas and the low-income and disadvantaged groups in cities. About 130 million Chinese still live below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day set by the World Bank.
Though no official Gini Coefficient - a measure of equality in the distribution of wealth - has been disclosed in the past 10 years, Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor at Renmin University of China, believes the rich-poor disparity in China has become the largest in the world.
According to China Merchant Bank's Private Wealth Report, 590,000 rich people in China, or so-called high-net-worth individuals, possessed 18 trillion yuan ($2.86 trillion) in investable assets in 2011, accounting for 60 percent of the total amount of bank deposits of the country's 1.34 billion population.
Search for BMW in a Chinese search engine and you will find thousands of stories about how nouveau riche drivers have turned their vehicle into killing machines on the roads. Their unrestrained behavior in defiance of the law has added fuel to the public outrage.
"My father is Li Gang" became a catchphrase for impunity when the son of a police chief in a city in Hebei killed one college student in a hit-and-run case in 2010 and displayed contempt toward law. Such brazen disregard for the law by the rich and powerful has repeatedly tested the public's tolerance.
Many wealthy people in China enjoy showing off their fortune on a scale that is insulting to the poor. In the latest instance, a coal mine boss in Shanxi province squandered 70 million yuan ($11 million) on the wedding of his daughter. That could sustain 20,000 poor people in China for two years.
Li Changping, a grassroots official who became famous nationwide when he wrote to Premier Zhu Rongji in 2000 about the plight in China's countryside, said: "If you are not one of them, you will never know how despairingly the farmers feel about the countryside, and how resentful they feel about cities."
That warning still rings true today. From the online celebrations about the deaths of the two students who were presumed to be rich, I see not only the degeneration of social mores, but also the desperation of a group who are increasingly alienated and disillusioned, a sentiment that could easily turn into the tinder of social chaos if the affluence brought by China's growth fails to trickle down to benefit the vast majority of people.
The author is a writer with China Daily. E-mail: email@example.com
(China Daily 04/19/2012 page8)