Road rage versus unfair criticism
A21-year-old Chinese, surnamed Duan, studying in the US was killed in a road accident in California recently. It was an otherwise ordinary accident, except that Duan was driving a Ferrari.
The news of the accident generated some nasty reactions from some people, especially netizens, probably because the victim was a rich man’s son. Some comments on the popular Sina micro blog are especially scathing, with one netizen saying: It’s better for him to die than to kill others (while speeding).
According to a Los Angeles Times report, however, “the Ferrari was traveling at an appropriate speed in a 35-mph (56 kilometer per hour) zone, but the Hyundai (which hit the Ferrari) was moving ‘well above the posted speed limit’”. Besides, the driver of the Hyundai is under investigation on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. In fact, so far, no evidence has been found to suggest that the victim had done anything wrong.
Last week, in an accident of a different nature in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, a BMW driven by a young man named Hu Bin overturned at a curve. Local police saw nothing unusual in the accident and said no one was injured.
But as soon as news of Hu’s involvement in the Hangzhou accident emerged, netizens criticized him for being a “show-off” who refuses to change. Some media outlets reported the accident in a similar tone.
Perhaps Hu’s background has a lot to do with it. Five years ago, Hu knocked down a pedestrian on a Hangzhou street. And although police later said that Hu was not speeding, the death of the pedestrian prompted many people to ignore the official report. Hu was sentenced to three years in prison but was released nine months earlier after his sentence was commutated.
Despite his criminal record, there is no evidence to show Hu violated any traffic rule in last week’s accident. Many netizens, however, will have none of this because of their hatred toward rich people like Hu and Duan.
Over the past three decades, China’s reform and opening-up have helped many people become rich (and some, superrich). While these people’s wealth has increased exponentially, there has not been much improvement in their haughty behavior and arrogant attitude. Many media reports show China’s nouveaux riches are prone to showing off their wealth in public and making reckless remarks that irritate the poor, leading to simmering resentment against them among the public.
Although some media outlets have played a dubious role by twisting some rich people’s remarks and thus misleading the people, the public resentment against the rich is perhaps rooted in the popular belief that they have accumulated wealth through dirty deals with the complicit help of corrupt officials, jeopardizing the general population’s interests. Indeed, the central authorities have intensified efforts to fight corruption, but they are yet to root out such business-related corruption, which contributes to the public hatred against the rich.
Nevertheless, critics should distinguish between rich people who have suffered tragedies, such as road accidents, without committing any mistake from the haughty and nauseating nouveau riche.
Criticizing people like Duan and Hu even when they have committed no wrong is a dangerous social trend. It is detrimental to fostering a reasonable and constructive atmosphere for public discourse, which in turn will harm the healthy development of society as a whole.
In a society in which holding a rational public discourse is not possible, everyone’s interest, including that of the poor, will be at risk.
To bridge the social chasm, however, we should not pin our hopes solely on the improvement in the sensibility of some irresponsible netizens. Instead, we must accelerate the pace of building a clean economy and fair society, where people can get rich through honest means, by the sheer strength of their hard work, and the rich-poor wealth gap can be gradually narrowed.
China’s Gini coefficient, widely used to gauge the wealth gap in a country, is 0.47, much above the warning line of 0.4. Only when China makes substantial headway in bridging the wealth gap can emotional outbursts and unfounded criticism against the rich diminish. The author is a senior writer with China Daily. firstname.lastname@example.org.