Last Thursday a little girl was run over on a street in Foshan City in Communist China. A dozen passersby ignored her writhing moaning body as it lay in a pool of blood. Another truck came by, slowed down, and then ran over her legs. Yet more passersby ignored her until a garbage collector came and moved her to the side of the street and looked for her mother.
The images were gruesome and horrifying. The fact that so many ignored her as just some piece of road-kill has become the topic of controversy around the world. Why would someone ignore a small child in obvious need of help? If but one of them stopped to help she wouldn’t have been run over for the second time. What goes through the minds of people who choose not to get involved when such little effort could have prevented so much suffering?
An article in the National Post on Tuesday enumerated several possible reasons. The driver of the truck which initially struck the toddler said that,
“If she is dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan. But if she is injured, it may cost me hundreds of thousands (of) yuan.”
Some said that would-be Good Samaritans are usually held liable for damages or wrongly accused of being a perpetrator and do not assist out of fear of being arrested, imprisoned or sued.
Some blamed a lack of morals brought on by the destruction of the family unit, a lack of religion in officially atheist Communist China, a population crisis of too many people in such a small area.
Unmentioned in the article is neither the official one-child policy of the Chinese government nor the extremely high incidences of female child abortion or infanticide in that country.
What is highlighted in the National Post article is a belief that capitalism is to blame for the lack of compassion in Chinese society.
Professor James Miller of Queen’s University in Kingston was quoted as saying that,
“There is a gold-rush mentality – people are clambering over other people to try to make ends meet, to try to get ahead. With the adoption of capitalism, it is seen as being all about self-interest.”
There is so much wrong in Professor Miller’s statement it is hard to know where to begin.
People are trying to make ends meet all over the world including in this country and yet a child run over by a truck would receive immediate aid here as it would in many parts of the world.
To say that Communist China has adopted capitalism is laughable. It would be laughable for anyone who knows what capitalism means. For this I will need to distinguish between a person being a capitalist and the overriding economic term of capitalism.
Throughout history there have been capitalists, in every country, in almost every period of history. A capitalist is simply an individual who uses his property or capital as a means to create a profit. A land owner who rents out his land, a money lender who gives a loan to someone and charges interest, a wage earner who has saved enough to invest in somebody else’s venture, a Bed and Breakfast owner who rents out their bedroom for the night, an industrialist who owns a factory employing thousands to produce widgets. All are capitalists. They use their property or capital to earn income or profit.
Such people can be distinguished from others who, rather than having or using capital for gain, sell their skills or brawn for a wage: a line-worker at an auto plant, a farm hand, a government bureaucrat, a clerk in an office.
Prior to the mid19th century capitalists were referred to as individualists. But whether it was in 20th century America or 17th century England the individualists relied on government to protect their individual rights to use their capital to earn money. For many it was just a livable wage but for the fortunate and adept the rewards amounted to fortunes.
For the workers, this disparagement in wealth was inexplicable. They did not realize what efforts the capitalists took to gain their initial capital nor could they appreciate the risk the capitalists took when they invested their capital in ventures. This ignorance, led to envy which has led, in some corners of the world to civil wars. In the West it may not have led to such bloodthirsty revolutions as in Soviet Russia or Communist China but it has led to envy and hatred. Emotions fueled by a complete ignorance.
Capitalism is a political system which protects the individual rights of its citizens. When a person’s right to their life, liberty and property (amongst others) are protected then they can pursue economic activities beyond menial labour. They can invest, enter into long-term contracts, develop their property and employ people to create wealth. Without the assurances that their rights are being protected their risks are multiplied. They may find themselves victims of government bureaucratic whims, police corruption, graft, and bribes.
That is why it comes as no surprise when I hear a well-healed Canadian university professor blame China’s capitalism on the indifference shown to the little toddler run over in the street.
Professor Miller, like so many, has very little understanding of what capitalism means. Although a scholar of religion and Chinese culture he is ignorant of his own society’s history and culture. He is not alone. The thousands who are occupying Wall Street have proven themselves to be utter morons when it comes to understanding the society which has given them so much in terms of wealth and opportunity.
But capitalism is more than just a political or economic system. An ideal capitalist, or to use the arcane term, an individualist is a person who has come to an understanding about nature and knowledge. He knows that nature to be commanded must be obeyed. How else could an auto manufacturer mold the metal from the earth into cars and buses? He respects knowledge and years to learn as much as possible about his business. How else it to succeed in a world where there are many others to compete with?
But there is a virtue, held not only by capitalists but by many workers as well, that drives them to perform above and beyond their competitors and their co-workers. It is a positive sense of life. A understanding that life is good, whether you make $20,000 a year as a busboy or $20 million a year investing in other people’s companies. It is this love of life, your own life that drives many of us. It makes us be the best we can be at whatever we do.
It is this love of one’s own life which is the fountainhead for our ability to feel compassion for others. Only those who despise their own lives can walk casually by a dying child on a road side. And only those who love their own life and their own existence, to whatever degree, will stop to help the child because compassion comes out of love of life.
The fact that so many Chinese walked by the little girl is a symptom, not of capitalism but of 62 years of being told by a Communist government that your life is not your own, but belongs to the state.
The 1949 victory of the Communists in China marked the beginning of the end of any love individuals could have for life, their own or anybody else’s. The fact that only within the last few years that some have been allowed to start and grow businesses under the iron fist of a one-party state has not overturned two entire generations of death at the hands of communist rule.
Capitalism and the necessary government protection of an individual’s right to their life, their liberty and their property are integral in the cultivation of a love of life. Communist China is years away from achieving such a condition.
We should not only pity the little girl, dying on the street we should also pity those who walked by her as they are also dying. But their death is just taking a little longer.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #222, October 20, 2011.)
Update: It was reported on Friday, October 21, 2011 by Guangzhou Military District General Hospital that Yue Yue died of her injuries.