Opinion / Zhu Yuan

Who should kneel before whom?

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-29 08:57

Who should kneel before whom?Who should kneel, the woman or the environmental protection bureau director and local leader?

A woman, with a bottle containing water from a heavily polluted local river, went down on her knees before the director of the Huai'an environmental protection bureau in a program televised live by the local television station on Friday, beseeching the local government of the city in East China's Jiangsu province to clean up a heavily polluted river.

Instead of feeling humiliated, the director shamelessly said that his bureau was not authoritative and powerful enough to do anything about the polluted river. And he suggested that local residents should try hard to have their voices heard by higher-level authorities so that something is done to clean up the river. What the local district leader said about the issue is even more absurd: He said that he did not know about the pollution.

Kneeling is of great significance in Chinese culture. A person will never kneel unless there is a good enough reason to justify such an act. The saying that a person would rather die on his feet rather than live on his knees speaks volumes about how important an event it is for a Chinese to kneel before someone.

A Chinese will kneel down before a god to beg for a blessing or express his or her gratitude to the god for a wish that has been fulfilled. They may kneel before their parents on special occasions such as their parents' birthday or Spring Festival to show their gratitude for their efforts to bring them up.

They will also go on their knees when they are desperate, if someone is pointing a gun at them, for example, and they are begging for mercy for their loved ones, or a person might kneel and beg for a bowl of rice if they are starving.

So for this woman to kneel before these officials shows how desperate this woman and those residents she represents feel about the increasing pollution and the deteriorating state of the river, which poses a serious threat to their life. They would not have sent this woman as their representative and she would not have kneeled if they felt they had any alternative.

Even in imperial times, a local official was supposed to know that it was his responsibility to address the concerns of residents and try every means possible to solve their problems. Our society is supposed to be a civilized modern one, in which government officials, no matter how high their rank, are civil servants, paid to serve the people. They should feel ashamed if they fail to fulfill their responsibility to serve the people.

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