With the death toll for the tragic earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai finally slowing, Chinese authorities declared yesterday (4/21) to be a national day of mourning. Many newspapers and websites went to grayscale colors for the day and posted headlines memorializing the victims1. In the real world, flags flew at half mast and all television became CCTV1 for a day.
While everyone agrees the earthquake was a tragedy, not everyone agrees the “forced mourning period” was a great idea. Xujun Eberlein’s Inside-Out China blog ran an interesting translation of a letter from a friend of hers.
Every channel broadcasts only one thing; every person before the camera passionately agitates “transform sorrow into strength, tomorrow will be better!” Such a rolling-broadcast every 30 minutes is capable of causing you a nervous breakdown.
Now it is already 9 pm. I turn on the TV again; every channel still has the same picture and the same language. This is probably something that can only be achieved by China’s and North Korea’s governments.
A few days ago a public servant friend said that, for the Wenchuan earthquake last time, at least the employees had been “mobilized” to donate; this time they simply had our salaries docked. The boss hypocritically notified everyone: Whoever doesn’t wish to donate, come talk to me in my office. Who dares to go to his office and say “I’m not willing to donate”? Unless one doesn’t wish to live!
The “forced donation” thing isn’t new, of course, nor is it entirely foreign to those of us from “The West” — you know you’ve been cornered at the company Christmas party and guilted into “donating” to something before. Nor is the abrupt change in TV programming unfamiliar to Americans who were in the States during the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which sent a shock so big across the airwaves that it actually turned MTV into a music channel again for a month.
Still, company forced donation sets a rather dangerous precedent, as Mrs. Eberlein’s friend notes. If workers are docked a 100 RMB “donation” every time there’s a natural disaster, what happens when there’s more than one major disaster a year? Moreover, what counts as a disaster. If coal mining accidents and rescue attempts count as disasters, then most workers in China would probably be paying their employers to work every year, unable to keep up with the flood of mandatory “donations”.
Still, I’m on the fence about this. On the one hand, forcing people to donate takes all of the meaning out of it. And the government should have funds in reserve to deal with disasters rather than having to rely on this kind of coerced “national spirit.” But on the other hand, money is money, and there’s no doubt that the rescue effort needs it, so assuming this “donated” money is actually getting to them, it’s hard to call the whole thing evil.
Evil for a good cause, perhaps?
In any event, if you’d like to donate here are some links for you. We’re not going to force you to donate, but this post is installed with a virus designed to email porn to your grandmother constantly until you donate at least $20.
- Including a really interesting one on QQ’s news site that reads: “Remembering you…So I will grow up into a tree” [↩]