‘Seat-robbing’ on trains chronicles clash of traditional and modern social values
In recent years, China’s bullet trains have stunningly stepped onto the world stage. But the “seat-robbing people,” who insist on sitting in others’ reserved space, have frequently shaken public discourse. The issue has provoked debate. People are hoping that the speed of Chinese civilization’s development matches the speed of its bullet trains. The heated discussion shows that Chinese people now seek public order and social norms in the context of social transformation and fastpaced development. Then why does “seat-robbing” still take place frequently?
China experienced thousands of years of agricultural civilization with its society divided into clans and social divisions based on blood ties. The family-oriented society values familial ties more than individuals and the society, human relationship more than law, and morality more than promises. But in today’s industrial society, the spirit of contract has made rules and social morality paramount. Honesty and trustworthiness have risen above human relationships. However, the great social transformation hasn’t eliminated all the features of the society, which is still evolving. In agricultural society, double standards may be observed as to how acquaintances are dealt with in comparison to strangers, and family members are treated in comparison to outsiders.
Thus it is easy to see personal interest trump contractual relations in China, violating the principle of respect and equality in industrial society. Breach of etiquette and uncivilized behavior in public is often the result of a clash between norms of agricultural and industrial societies.
China is the world’s biggest developing country. As the economy grows, public resources accumulate rapidly, and the distribution and use of these resources are still under adjustment. Unfair and unstable distribution affects people’s attitude toward livelihood resources including education, employment, healthcare and transportation. For example, China’s provincial hospitals are packed with patients, prices of school district houses keep going up, and the job markets are almost saturated in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This leads to people’s distrust in the allocation of public resources. If laws are not strict, the ethics of competition will be thrown to the winds, and bullying and robbing will lead to the rule of rogues.
Religious belief and business activities have been playing an important role in Western civilization. Because of the religious tradition of forming contracts and the business tradition of honoring agreements, the spirit of contract occupies the mainstream of Western civilized society, and binds social relationships. Since the 11th century, the West has had its tradition of law, which stemmed out of religious regulations to bind people’s changing social characters. It also set up a social credit system on the basis of law to prevent people from breaching public morality. Personal credit becomes the prerequisite of the entire society’s honesty. But these traditions have not taken root among the Chinese population. Compared to the West, the socialist legal and credit system shows its immaturity, and it’s still a work-in-progress.
What is missing in the current Chinese society? It’s morals and discipline; law and external constraints. Chinese people haven’t experienced religious contracts or agreements in long-term business activities. Tradition Chinese cultural traits such as benevolence, righteousness, manners, wisdom and credit are not enough for the current developing and transforming China. Law is undoubtedly the most important and effective way. Law can stimulate discipline and oversee social honesty. With the help of social credit system, the cost of violating laws and morality is further increased. At the same time, we should establish the authority of law enforcement and emphasize the concept of morality. Only in this way can we establish laws and moral norms which tally with China’s national conditions and strengthen the soft power.
As a global brand, China’s bullet trains are bound to create another miracle. But Chinese people also hope to make our civilization stunning. It requires that every passenger should protect the rules to make our nation rise with the help of morality and law.