Aug 17, 2011 04:18 PM

The Self-Estrangement of Officials


It is no wonder that officials feel slighted by the recent popular backlash against them. Perhaps it is not even surprising that some have gone so far as to describe themselves as "unfortunates" in modern Chinese society. After the Wenzhou high-speed rail crash, online criticism has been very harsh – if they weren't being compared (unfavorably) to pigs and dogs, then they were being criticized for lacking basic humanity. Pretty much any and all imaginable insults, putdowns, obscenities and curses have been hurled at officials lately. That said, I want to share my opinions on the officials who have suffered these attacks. It's not that I want to rush to their defense or speak on their behalf, but I also don't want to simply berate them – there has been enough of that. Rather, I want to engage in a thought exercise, the goal being to better understand the backgrounds of these supposedly inhuman beings.

(A portrait photo of Lu Haitian, a young
victim of July 23 train crash, against
a pillar at the accident scene, July 29)

Why revisit the subject? Why not just condemn these people along with everyone else? Because even now, when it seems that all vestigial traces of confidence and trust in officialdom have vanished, I maintain a belief, slight though it may be, in universal humanity. I believe that the most base official, one who spends the day lusting after money before spending the night lusting after women, will still feel a spark of humanity, a stirring in the soul, when he returns home reeking of debauchery and sees his child fast asleep in bed. The humanity cannot all be gone, even from this hyperbolized and most despicable of officials. As his child grows, I have to believe that the official will not tell his son or daughter "Being a person isn't about your abilities or effort or attitude – all you need to worry about is taking shortcuts, greasing a few palms, and getting your payout."  Even though this is how the official himself might work, rising through the ranks on bribes and brown-nosing, he won't want the same for his child. He won't teach his child, "Ethics is a lie. Only power will bring you wealth. Do whatever you can to win the favors of women." He won't say these things, even though every day he abuses what power he has and indulges his every sexual impulse. I believe that even this official, for all his wickedness, wants to raise a child who is moral, kind, and righteous. But the official knows that his sins and his ideas about the world will tarnish the next generation. I believe it pains the official, makes him feel helpless, to realize this – to realize that he cannot help but pass on some of his wickedness. This pain means he is still human like the rest of us, and he knows right from wrong.

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