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Samuel Gregg: China’s Morally Hollow Economy

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On The American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the death of Wang Yue, a Chinese toddler run over — twice — in a public market while passersby continued on their way.


Accidents happen. But what made little Wang Yue’s death a matter for intense public discussion was the fact that nearly 20 people simply walked by and ignored her plight as she lay bleeding in the gutter.

What, hundreds of Chinese websites, newspapers and even state media outlets are asking, does this say about Chinese society? Have Chinese people lost all sense of concern for others in the midst of the scramble for wealth unleashed by China’s long march away from economic collectivism? One local official summarized the collective angst by stating: “We should look into the ugliness in ourselves with a dagger of conscience and bite the soul-searching bullet.”

Gregg points to widespread business-government corruption as a major contributor to China’s moral crisis:

The problem, from the perspective of China’s party-government-military elites, is such soul-searching may lead increasing numbers of Chinese to conclude that the circumstances surrounding Wang Yue’s death are symptomatic of deeper public morality problems confronting China, some of which could significantly impede its economic development.

One such challenge is widespread corruption. By definition, corruption doesn’t easily lend itself to close study. Its perpetrators are rarely interested in anyone studying their activities. Few question, however, that there’s a high correlation between corruption and widespread and direct government involvement in the economy. The more regulations and “state-business” partnerships you have (and China has millions of the former and thousands of the latter), the greater the opportunities for government cadres to extract their personal pound of flesh as the price of doing business.

Read “China’s Morally Hollow Economy” on the website of The American Spectator.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • tz

    Or, it might have been as simple as the poor woman who was murdered in new york 40 years ago where none of the neighbors helped.

    I forget which book – blink or tipping point maybe, but Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that if you are the only possible rescuer you have no excuse, but if there are a dozen or more people, they will stand around waiting for someone else to take the initiative.

  • Anonymous

    It is not that I think this isn’t horrible, only that there might be a simple psychological fault, yes – part of our fallen nature, where a crowd will not show initiative where one individual will.  One person will have 100% responsibility, a crowd of 20 will each only have 5%, and each can say “I don’t know first aid”, “I might make it worse”, “I will just interfere with someone who should be doing it”…

    A few months ago, there was a man dying – I forget if it was from being shot or a medical problem – caught on security camera outside the door in New York, where many passed by just like little Yue Yue…

    But I think many are making the mistake of socialists, blaming all kinds of external things, China’s 1 child policy making females disposable, Their corruption, their government, their crony capitalists.

    Solzhenitsyn I think said the line between good and evil goes through the middle of each person’s heart.

    Society and Culture can only make things easier or harder.  Only individuals can act.  Even the law is a very weak means of convincing to do the right thing, or not to do the wrong thing, but if it isn’t at the bottom punishing things that destroy peace, order, and rights some will choose evil easily.

    There are entrepreneurs and businessmen who will cheat or do evil.  The free market does not care how they win, but itself will be destroyed by the evil.  Rights to life, liberty, and property have to become more important, and each person ought to insist and take personal responsibility for enforcing the rights of OTHERS – If I believe in life, I must save yours as much as mine.  There is no market for that.

    We and they need another great awakening, a reformation or counter-reformation.  Only a return to righteousness – and repentance from our sins, individual and collective – can restore and redeem us.  No set of laws.  Even our constitution assumes a people who are already moral.

  • Hoser Man

    I think it was the period of the tsunami a few years ago when the world held out their hands to help. Concerts were given; the US Navy sent an aircraft carrier to provide water and power to an area of Indonesia—and China sent a few million dollars—that speaks volumes of China. The Communistic thought patters coupled with the Capitalistic greed has made most of the Chinese uncaring peoples, a far cry from the wonderful people that helped American solders during WWII.

  • I haven’t read everything written about this sad incident, but I haven’t heard this yet:  The fact that the Chinese are even bothered about dying female babies in the street must count as a moral advance.  Both an advance over the communist past, and over the traditional practice of abandoning unwanted baby girls.