Five days after the June 15 bridge collapse that led to four vehicles falling into a river causing at least five deaths and leaving two men missing in Foshan, Guangdong Province, a story of selfless heroism emerged.
Wang Wentian and Xie Fengyun, farmers-turned migrant workers from Henan Province, happened to be passing the Jiujiang Bridge across the Xijiang River when a barge laden with sand ran into one of the bridge's piers causing the bridge to collapse right in the middle.
Instead of escaping to safety, the two Henan folks in their fifties remained on the bridge to warn unsuspecting drivers, and prevent the fast approaching vehicles from plunging into the river.
They did not tell their heroic deeds to anybody else until a local journalist accidentally heard about their actions from Wang's daughter four days later. When the local government awarded them 10,000 yuan ($1,316) each, they at first declined the offer, then donated the money to primary schools in their home towns.
"We cannot take the money. It was a normal act to save those in danger. Anybody would do the same thing," Xie said.
They are right. Many people would act the same way when faced with the prospect of seeing another person in danger. This value of life is intrinsic in human nature.
However, sadly not everyone would risk their own lives like Wang and Xie, who stood on the bridge teetering on the verge of another possible collapse.
What is more commendable is their refusal of the cash award and later their donation of the money to support education.
Considering these are two poor men who could legitimately use the money, this is a startling and refreshing insight into what people, at their core, can be really like.
The two were scrap collectors. Every day, they got up at 4 am and went home well after 10 in the evening. They were typical examples of those struggling for a meager livelihood at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
Their behavior dwarfs anyone who sits behind the wheel of a BMW or Lexus who abuses and bullies country folks in their way, as is often seen in urban streets. There have been hundreds of media reports of such outrages, most serious of which was the humiliation and affliction of a sanitation worker by a luxury sedan driver, a private entrepreneur, reported in this column on February 14.
In today's society, kind-heartedness and sympathy for the miserable are still the dominant values in human relations. But there are indeed some phenomena contradictory to these good traditions. For instance, there have been reports of passers-by looking on apathetically while street thugs stabbed someone to death or serious injury; and that hundreds of villagers engaged in mass looting of unattended public or private properties (as in a case in Nanjing reported the day before yesterday).
China is undergoing tremendous social change. New thought, attitudes and trends are influencing everyone on all levels of the social strata.
Wang and Xie's good deed without expecting anything in return has set a brilliant example for others.
While admiring them, we should continue to tell their story to others across the country.
Some Netizens have even suggested erecting sculptures of the two farmers at the Jiujiang Bridge. But others think that's going too far. I don't think it's excessive at all. The significance of the two old folks' deeds in safeguarding our nation's traditional ethics is no less valuable than what past war heroes did in defending our nation's territory.
(China Daily 06/06/2007 page10)