/ Opinion

Netizen's arguments do not sit well with real life people
By Raymond Zhou(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-12 05:41

Offering your bus seat (rang zuo) to someone in need seems to be the right thing to do regardless of geography, culture or economic status. A recent backlash proves that not everyone takes it as such.

Earlier this year, Zhengzhou in central China installed an incentive scheme for rang zuo. That set off an online debate.

"Why should I give my seat to an elderly person? It's the young who need it more because they take off in the early morning while not fully awake and drag themselves home after a day of exhausting work," wrote one blogger.

The author further noted that senior citizens already enjoy benefits such as free rides. This treatment should be suspended during the rush hours to relieve bus congestion, he suggested.

I thought I was blas about outrageous opinions in the cyberspace, but this really jolted me. What's more frightening is that the author enjoyed wide support from about 60 per cent of the online population who participated in the debate on who's more worthy of a bus seat, according to one analyst.

What is wrong with these people? Aren't they going to get old someday and what will they think when a youth sitting in a bus seat turns a blind eye to them standing nearby?

Obviously it is too early for them to conjure up this scenario.

Most buses in Chinese cities are plastered with signs that read: "Please rang zuo to the elderly, the handicapped, the pregnant and women with young children." There are usually a few seats marked for this purpose.

The online outpouring of dissension is perplexing because it contradicts what I've observed in the real world of human interaction. In Beijing and Guangzhou, where I take the bus frequently, I've rarely seen a case of the four types of "needy" passengers getting the cold treatment.

On the contrary, when a person who looks older than 60 steps in, someone nearby will immediate vacate his or her seat. Occasionally the ticket seller will yell: "Who will rang zuo to this grandma?"

It is part of the social etiquette. People do it as if by intuition. There is no whiff of "doing something good so that I can write about it for my school assignment," which was sometimes apparent in the 1980s. Well, every kid in China is supposed to do essays on a "meaningful small thing."

It is a small gesture of altruism at the expense of a little discomfort to oneself.

I don't like the way that some teachers instil the notion in youngsters that it is some kind of moral grandstanding. It just seems to be natural. (By the way, we do not have the lady-first tradition of rang zuo to young women. That would imply they are weaker).

But to quibble who is more in need of a seat just seems misguided. It is not a sign of being rational, but rather, of being mean. Sure, there are young people who may need the seat more than an elderly, and I don't think anybody is legally or morally obligated to rang zuo. But if there's not a single person on a whole bus who would perform this random act of kindness, there would be something upsettingly wrong with our society.

But what shall I make out of the online opinion? I have often been warned not to interpret online voices as representative of the real world. If I talk to people on the street or even in the hinterland, I would get mostly balanced feedback that reflects common sense. But if I sample the netizens, it's usually the most virulent that stands out.

Sometimes I even doubt whether they accurately reflect the online demographic, which tends to be young and educated. Some from this group once told me that they had to be very opinionated in order to be heard and noticed in the vociferous cyberworld.

Wang Xiaofeng, a renowned blogger, does not hide his contempt for this group. He thinks they are just extremely selfish.

It would be interesting if some pollster would conduct an in-depth survey about the attitude of the young, say, those born after 1980. Just start with rang zuo. I still believe that most would not hesitate to offer their bus seats to people commonly believed to be more in need of them.

What if the result comes out more in tandem with the online majority? I dare not think about it. It sends shivers down my spine.

E-mail: raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 08/12/2006 page4)