The photograph is the most heart-wrenching, and at the same time disgusting, I have ever seen: An old man on a boat holding a rope tied to the arm of a dead person submerged in water with one hand and gesticulating to people on the bank with the other.
The body is that of one of the three 19-year-old heroes who sacrificed their lives to save two boys from drowning in the Yangtze River in Jingzhou, Hubei province, on Oct 24. Media reports say the old man is an employee of a local company that specializes in fishing out bodies from the river.
When the photo was taken, the old man's employer was negotiating the "salvage price" with teachers of Yangtze University, where the teenagers were students. The employer had told the boatman to keep the bodies in water until the teachers pooled in enough money to pay the "salvage fee": 12,000 yuan for each body.
After the three students were swept away by strong currents and drowned, their schoolmates had begged the boatmen to look for them. The boatmen refused to budge even after the students fell down on their knees and cried for help. They got going only after the teachers reached the spot and promised to pay.
Posted online yesterday was another photo that showed the "salvage company" boss counting money given to him by the teachers.
Imagine how the families of the three students would have felt seeing their loved ones being humiliated after death.
I wept tears of anger when I saw the photographs.
Almost all the netizens who have posted their comments on the incident on the web have expressed anger, too. But, as always, a few "cool-minded" and cold-hearted people have said the "salvage company" did not violate any law.
Do the bodies of heroes deserve to be treated like logs and held to ransom? How could the boatmen be so heartless? Couldn't they have pulled out the bodies and then bargained for the money?
At a press conference held on Saturday, the Jingzhou municipal government echoed the words of the cold-hearted netizens: The company had not violated any law.
We are talking about the sanctity of a human body here. We are talking about the law of the heart, not the market. Isn't it a crime to drag a dead person in icy waters with his friends and teachers looking on helplessly? Isn't it a crime to humiliate a human being after death? If such a way of treating the body of a hero is not counted as a crime, then where can we find justice in this world?
As if that was not enough, the company had the audacity to ask for 300 yuan as "tips" to buy cigarettes and bottled drinks.
Ironically, the local public security bureau has decided to detain the boss for 15 days and fine him 1,000 yuan for asking for 300 yuan in "tips", not for forcing out 36,000 yuan for pulling out the bodies.
According to reports, the company seems to monopolize salvage operations in the area, and hence its exorbitant charges. Have we thought about pressing charges against him for extortion?
More saddening is the fact that many people today have drowned the last iota of their conscience in the icy waters of the market and self-aggrandizement.
Chinese people's values have changed dramatically over the past few decades.
For many of them, pursuit of wealth is the only aim in life. They would readily abandon all moral concerns for just a few yuan. But this pursuit has dug a big hole in human and social consciousness.
The Jingzhou incident has its bright side because the heroic students have moved the entire nation with their deed.
The incident may not be the order of our society today, but it has shown that even when the majority of the people are out to make money by any means, there still are heroes ready to part with their lives to save others.
The irony of the Jingzhou incident, however, is that money has held heroism hostage. This should sound a shocking alarm for every person in this country.