Jan 27, 2015

    China citizens' irresponsible acts a vicious circle

    THE Chinese translation of The Good Citizen by Michael Schudson hit bookstores recently, offering Chinese readers a chance to gain an insight into the history of American public politics.

    While that is welcome, I find it more interesting to look into the lack of awareness about being responsible citizens among many individuals in China. In fact, many would frown upon the very mention of how some people behave in public.

    A tale goes like this: An old man lies on his back at a crossroads, waiting for someone to blackmail.

    A young man walks up to him and says he is too poor to be targeted for extortion. The old chap waves his hand, telling the young guy to leave him alone.

    Another man approaches the old man and says he is even poorer than the young man, and doesn't even have enough money to support himself. The old man gets up immediately and lets the other man lie down in his place, saying: "Your need to blackmail an upstart driving by in a fancy limousine is even greater than mine."

    I read this joke on WeChat. It illustrates the strong resentment some people harbour against the rich - they even justify the evil act of blackmail by categorising it among the favours people have done to alleviate their anger at social and economic inequality.

    Similar to this joke is a comparison between the misdeeds of ordinary people and the abuse of power by corrupt officials. When a person is reprimanded for failing to perform his duties properly, he retorts that the losses he has caused by doing a bad job are nothing compared to the huge sums of money that corrupt officials have embezzled or taken as bribes.

    It seems that the rationale is to use the rampant abuse of power by officials to justify the misdeeds of ordinary people. In other words, people have no need to perform their duties as good citizens unless they have a government that is run by clean and honest officials.

    The big question is: Do people with such a mentality have any intention of becoming good citizens? And the corollary: Will such people make good citizens?

    An old man blocks a bus by standing in its path, just because he is not offered a seat. Another old man slaps a girl in the face because she didn't get up to offer her seat to him.

    A group of passengers, angry over the delay of their flight, rush onto the tarmac and block the runway, preventing other planes from taking off. Several passengers, not satisfied with the explanation for the delay of their flight, force open three emergency exits of the plane, ignoring the protests of the crew members. Are these the acts of responsible citizens?

    The rampant acts of corruption by those in power and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots are indeed troubling.

    Ill-functioning social institutions and miscarriages of justice may be affecting people's mood or forcing them to lose their temper. And their dissatisfaction with reality may be clouding their judgment when it comes to dealing with a given situation.

    Instead of trying to become responsible citizens, such people expect a change for the better in society. They will not behave properly until they get all the conveniences they want.

    But they often fail to bear in mind that things will only worsen if more people share their mentality and indulge in the same behaviour. They do not realise that the behaviour of every individual is crucial in changing the social environment for the better.

    And they do not understand that, given their poor behaviour, they are in no position to ask what others can do for them and what society can offer them.