In the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, there was an outpouring of literary works that touched our hearts, among them poems. There was one by an anonymous author that assumes the voice of a mother talking to her dead child. It has simplicity tinged with sadness. One business executive, after reading it, pledged an additional 6 million yuan to the 4 million yuan already donated.
Recently, someone named Wang Zhaoshan published a poem, written in classic ci style, about the earthquake. He assumes the voice of a victim expressing gratitude from the grave for all the efforts the whole nation, especially our leaders and soldiers, have taken in rescue and relief.
Suffice to say, this is a horrible poem. It debases the purity of human love and compassion abundantly displayed in this tragedy.
True, we are mighty proud of the strong leadership from the central government, the speedy mobilization and commitment of the soldiers, the torrent of grief, volunteerism and donations from all over the country. We showed that we are capable of caring for our fellow human beings, especially when hit by misfortune of biblical scale.
Those who went out of their way to help deserve our praise, whether that person was an official or just an ordinary citizen. But that does not change the fact that what happened on May 12 was a tragedy, the biggest natural disaster in New China.
For people who suffered loss of life in the family, the pain is permanent. That was why Premier Wen Jiabao asked rescuers to "spare no cost and effort" in saving as many people as possible. A collapsed house can be rebuilt, but a life lost is lost forever.
Wang's poem has the overtone that, because of all the attention, a victim will "feel happy as a ghost". While this is disrespectful to the victims, he is not alone in this line of reasoning.
Shortly after the quake, I heard someone saying earthquake victims got "great postmortem honor". I was aghast. Yes, a victim would not have got a national memorial with three days of mourning if he or she died a natural death or was killed in a traffic accident. But to invoke the concept of "postmortem honor" is to put all of us back into the feudal era when subjects kowtowed to the monarch in gratitude even if the latter "condemned him to death".
The same logic applies to Wang's poem, in which he also "prays for a screen to be installed at the grave" so that "I", the victim, can watch the Olympic celebrations.
Not only is Wang not deferential to the victims, he is besmirching our leaders. By relentless fawning, he has inadvertently painted the leaders, whose presence and leadership were part of their "humanity-oriented policy", into emperor-like figures dispensing benevolence like a parent doling out candy.
The third party that Wang tarnishes in his poem is the image of the quake-zone people. We all remember the scene of young survivors standing at a roadside holding up banners that read "We thank you for your help!" That feeling of gratefulness was so spontaneous and beautiful. Even if victims could speak from beyond this world and want to express appreciation, it would not be what Wang spouted. It would be something simple and heartfelt, not chokingly schmaltzy.
Humanitarianism is based on the notion that everyone is equal and every life deserves respect. By placing victims at the receiving end of mercy, Wang has marred the beauty of human relations. His is the classic case of the painter who adds a pair of feet to a snake, turning an aching but exalting tragedy into a pretentious farce.
(China Daily 06/21/2008 page4)