China Radio International

On Thursday, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion about moral ethics in China by China Radio International. A producer from the English language service got in touch after reading my article about Little Yueyue and China’s moral crisis in Observer.

Here’s the link: http://english.cri.cn/8706/2011/11/03/2861s665669.htm

The one hour long program was live, presented by a young American Brandon with a booming voice and a soft-spoken Chinese lady. The other panelist is David Moser, an American academic and an old China hand. Since China Radio International is one of the three oldest state-owned media, along with China National Radio and China Central TV, I asked before the show if there was restriction. One of the points I was going to make was the spiritual vacuum in today’s society as the result of the collapse of Communism in China, both presenters assured me: “No worries. Say whatever you want.” Wow! Well, I understand that the cencorship for English langague media is more lenient.

We began by talking about the state and sources of China’s moral ethics and then discussed the different aspects of morality, following roughly along the questions we were given the day before. One of such questions was if different countries have its own moral code. The answer is most definitely yes. As I was researching this, I came across a highly interesting book entitled Did the Pedestrian Die? by Fons Trompenaars. The author interviewed many people from many different countries and asked them to put themselves in the same situation: you sit in a passenger seat, driven by a good friend of yours. He drives too fast, say at 35 miles per hour and knocks down a pedestrian. There is no other witness. Would you lie to the police, claiming that your friend is driving within the speed limit? Almost all Swiss people say that under no circumstance they’d lie but 35% people from Venezuela say they would and it is the similar case in China. I am just surprised that the percentage isn’t higher, because it is a classic case to show compassion and kindness to people within guangxiwan – the network of connections.

In the final part of the panel discussion, we talked about how to address the issue of moral decline. Legal enforcement, to start with. I am strongly in favour of introducing a law which imposes the duty to rescue – the only way to make people to take action. Of course it is not enough. There should be education.

Sure, China places so much emphasis on propaganda. But what the kids get at school have been political education instead of moral education. And the young people often find the heroes they are introduced to irrelevant, such as semi-fictionalized Lei Feng who supposedly went out every Sunday to do good things for strangers. Some call Lei Feng rudely shabi, stupid c..t.

In the long-run, the state-sponsored and enforced laws may not work that well. Look at Mao era, only an authoritarian aberration. The incentive to become a Samaritan has to come from each individual. To reach that level, China needs to vigorously develop a civil society where the government can retreat a little bit and slowly and gradually plays a smaller role. And we need to introduce the idea of
humanitarianism – to show compassion to all fellow human beings, regardless of race or class,friends or strangers. Only in doing so that we can rise above the narrow confines of our net of guangxi.

I much enjoyed the experience. I often accept such invitations to take part in panel discussions, or to do some presentations, such as the recent one at the US Embassy or to be interviewed by some media not only because I am flattered that people want to hear what I have to say but also because I enjoy the intellectual challenges.  I've learnt a lot about morality and ethics and I cherished the chance to voice something I feel so passionate about.

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One thought on “China Radio International

  1. About a month ago I was on local radio. This happens pretty randomly and without warning at least two or three times a year. I know a lot of local media. This was my first time both in Chinese and live at the same time so I’m glad the host did not warn me beforehand.

    As the conversation meandered from tourism in Hainan to tourism in China to my favorite places for travel to best things I’ve seen/done in the Chinese countryside, the topic of rural poverty came up. Three or four minutes later the host is all “okay, thanks for that and time to go.”

    It wasn’t until I saw him at a dinner maybe a week later that I found out the station censor had told him to stop this conversation and get me off the air as soon as possible.

    I suspect that your radio hosts, English speaking though they may be, also have a listener-in who will let them know when the conversation has crossed boundaries into unacceptable and it’s time to let the interviewee go finish their lunch “thanks for your time.”

    -M

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