Conflation of Liberty and Shamelessness

I’ve translated this Southern Metropolis piece that tells the story of a school teacher who opted to run for his own life while ignoring his students’ safety, and who later tried to justify his act in writing. This reflects a disturbing social mentality in present-day China as the author of the piece sees it. Here is the translated article:-

“’Wielding the Morality Rod’ can be a disgusting thing. There is a saying: ‘Once bitten by a snake, you would be afraid of a string for ten years’. So, when Chinese people say they are particularly afraid of the ‘Morality Rod’ as they have for a long time been beaten by this ‘Rod’, I can understand.

Then there was a consensus that the rule of law should be the cornerstone of a healthy society, as morality is not operational. Another reason is that the ‘Morality Rod’ can be a cruel criterion and morality is not dependable. This, I can also understand.

But the problem is, there does not seem to be any room left for morality. I am not sure if this is acceptable.

As things transpire now, whoever speaks of morality would be accused of wielding the ‘Morality Rod’. Anything can be done, as long as it does not cause one to go to jail. Moral judgment should simply disappear from society. They have even invented an erudite term for this phenomenon and call it ‘Pan-morality’. If people say there is a need for morality, then it must be ‘Pan-morality’, and this is disastrous. Everybody must be devoid of shame – the only judge should be the rule of law. Only then can the disaster be averted.

According to those people, it is only through such an attitude change that there can be any humanity in society. An example: a teacher ran for his own life and left his students behind – this is humanity, because every human being should be responsible for his own life. Fortunately, those who remained to save the students’ lives were not accused of going against humanity! Look how generous those people are – not only have they absolved themselves for running away, they have also tolerated the others who tried to save lives by not branding them ‘inhuman’!

The story of the Diujiangyan teacher running away is like this. This teacher was teaching a class of students when the earthquake struck. As soon as he felt the quake, he bolted out of the school without even calling out to his students to run for their lives. When he later faced his disappointed students, he explained in writing: ‘I have never been an altruistic person. I only care about my own life. Don’t you know that last time when there was a fire in the middle of the night, I was also quick to run for my life?’ ‘I am someone who seeks liberty and justice. But I do not believe in sacrificing myself for another person. In such a life-and-death moment, the only person I would consider sacrificing myself for would be my daughter. I would not care about other people, including my mother, under such circumstances.’ In short, ‘I do not have the least amount of moral guilt ’.

When a person does not feel any moral guilt, there may be two possible reasons. One is that he did what was the right thing to do. The other is that he does not have morality. If a person does a right thing, it is natural that he does not feel any guilt on his act. But if a person lacks morality, it is equivalent to his having had a guilt vaccination shot. He would not feel any guilt about anything he does. The shot is good for life and is thus the most economical immunization.

But then it is alright if you want to get rid of your guilt. Only don’t associate your act with good virtues. The ‘run-away’ teacher can run away as he likes, but why on earth does he have to cushion his act with things like liberty and justice, as if people who pursue liberty and justice would really do such a thing?

Not only did the ‘run-away’ teacher run away, he also wrote down his experience. He ran away because he was pursuing liberty and justice and supporting ‘anti-despotism’. He wrote because he wanted to oppose ‘moral hijacking’ and hypocrisy. A lot of people applauded his act and said his running away exhibited humanity and basic instinct. I thought for a moment: running away can perhaps exhibit basic instinct, just as a rapist’s act also exhibits basic instinct. But humanity? How can leaving behind his students have anything to do with humanity? You can run away as you like, but your act has nothing to do with pursuing liberty, justice and anti-despotism. It is quite alright to oppose ‘moral hijacking’, hypocrisy, or the ‘Morality Rod’ and ‘Pan-morality’, but please, you have to have morality first before you can talk about how to oppose it!! A lie, after being repeated a thousand times, will become truth.

If you are shameless, just admit it, but don’t say it’s because you are seeking liberty or you believe in liberalism. I can really detect those claiming to be liberty seekers are actually the pioneers of anti-morality belief. They treat morality as the ‘big Rod’; any virtue is considered hypocrisy. I don’t know what kind of liberty they believe in – is eluding responsibility one kind of liberty too? Sometimes they would blame China’s backwardness on the lack of religious belief. But what does religion mean to the ordinary people? Isn’t it some kind of belief in moral virtues and kindness, the very things that they insist on throwing away?

When people become shameless, they can do anything. If they choose not to be thrown into jail and they won’t give a thought to morality, there are still a million shameless things they can do. But you can do what you like, just please don’t smear the good names of liberty and justice.”