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What Yue Yue’s Death Tells Us About What’s Wrong With China

11:40 AM, Oct 28, 2011 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Kiev – A close friend from the Republic of China (otherwise known as Taiwan) lived for several years in Foshan, in the southern province of Guangdong in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). One day, when feeling rather hopeless about Chinese society, she remarked, “what I hate about this place is that no one cares about human life. If someone is killed in a traffic accident or from some other cause no one does anything because the police say ‘oh that is just a person, it does not really matter.’ But if a car is stolen then they are on top of it like a flash because the car is worth money to someone—particularly if the police find it and can persuade the owner to pay them to give it back.”

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Those words came back to me last week with the news that Wang Yue (nicknamed Yue Yue), a 2-year-old Chinese girl, had been mowed down on October 13 by a minivan in one of Foshan’s typical narrow streets—lined on each side with vendor stalls—and then was run over a second time a few minutes later by a truck. The drivers of both vehicles later claimed not to have seen the toddler in the road.

Video of the incident—caught on one of China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras—went viral on the Internet within a few days. Unlike similar incidents that take place every day all over China, the video was seen by millions inside the country and all over the world. (Here’s video of a truly horrific compilation of surveillance camera footage at just one major intersection. Warning: The footage is graphic.) CNN and other global news outlets broadcast the surveillance camera footage while Yue Yue laid brain-dead in a coma in a hospital, before she finally died early on the morning of October 21.

What has outraged the public in China and around the world is not so much that a girl would be hit in traffic but the fact that she laid in the street for seven minutes while 18 different people walked (or drove) by and did nothing to help her. “I’ll bet if it was the new iPhone laying in the middle of the road, people would be diving out of windows trying to save it from being run over,” wrote one blogger—echoing the earlier sentiments of my friend from Taiwan.

This callous disregard for human life is, alas, nothing new in China, despite the bragging for decades by its Communist leaders that it is a “harmonious society” and its people “united” in their quest for building a better future. The people of China may be united from time to time, but that unity only appears to function when they are positioned opposite the “Foreign Devils” or “Japanese invaders.” In their relations with one another, they too often show the lowest possible regard for their countrymen.

Which brings up what “harmonious” actually means in the Middle Kingdom. A colleague who works in that part of the world told me once “we have a joke that when you translate the characters that are written in Chinese to mean ‘conflict of interest’ what they really mean are ‘harmonious opportunity.’” Of course, saying such thing earns one the denunciation of China's “patriotic bloggers” who denounce those who utter such criticism for being “no friend of China.” Inconveniently for these hacks, the children of the most senior party officials—some of the most privileged members of that same society—say the same things.

Just six days before Yue Yue was flattened against the pavement in Foshan, the Sydney Morning Herald’s John Garnaut wrote about a meeting of “princelings” that took place on October 6 at Beijing’s famous World Trade Centre located in the middle of the capital’s posh central business district. These “princelings,” as they are called, are the sons and daughters of the heroes of the revolution and occupy a special place in the Chinese elite.

Ma Xiaoli is one of these, the daughter of revolutionary hero, Ma Wenrui. She was at the meeting with her close friend, the daughter of Xi Jinping, currently vice-president and the man who has been announced as the successor to General Secretary Hu Jintao, when he retires in 2012. Ma and the others, despite their comfortable lives as Chinese Communist royalty, denounced what Garnaut reported as “the party’s moral decay, its attack on civil society and its revival of destructive Cultural Revolution politics.”

“The Communist Party is like a surgeon who has cancer,” Ma told those assembled. “It can’t remove the tumor by itself, it needs help from others, but without help it can’t survive for long.”

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