China’s economy grew at a much faster rate than expected in recent decades, and its citizens are grappling with the cultural and social implications. Jonathan Alter writes in his new column, “China Sees Growth’s Perils And Searches For Social Conscience”:
In an age of “golden collar” workers made rich in the new economy, the Chinese are struggling to locate their social conscience. To move to the next level of development, the government needs to do the same.
It’s an important sign that even as China’s leadership continues to censor the Internet, it’s allowing online safety valves to let off steam.
The authorities are letting anyone with a mobile device — that’s 900 million Chinese — use monitored social-networking sites to have a conversation about what’s wrong with their national character.
Last month brought a viral video from the city of Foshan of a 2-year-old girl hit by a truck. The girl was ignored as pedestrians callously passed by; then she was struck by another car. She later died. Like millions of other workers, the toddler’s parents had left the countryside and moved to the city, where they let their daughter play in traffic.
The Chinese have an expression, “shao guan xian shi,” which translates roughly as “Don’t get involved if it’s not your business.” They have heard of too many cases where would-be Good Samaritans find that the victims of accidents try to blame them in order to extract money. But this story pricked the conscience of the nation. The press and legions of bloggers have been chewing over the implications for days.