A photograph that shows some railway staffers helping passengers get into a train through the windows cost two station managers their jobs.
Last Thursday, some 1,500 passengers waited at Dongguan railway station in Guangdong province to board a train, which was scheduled to stop there for only 4 minutes. When some of them tried to get into the carriages through the windows, some staffers gave them a helping hand.
After seeing the photographs on Internet websites, the Guangdong Railway Group sacked the station's director and Party chief for "poor management of the station". The decision triggered a debate both on the Net and in the traditional media.
While 90 percent of the respondents in online surveys have sympathized with the sacked officials, the commentaries focus on whether they deserved the punishment. Most of the commentators agree with the Guangdong Railway Group that the "chaotic state at the station" suggests the station managers had been negligent and were incapable of handling situations, though they acknowledge the "kindness" of the railway staff.
In my opinion, the fact that so many people have sympathized with the sacked officials - when usually the public exults at news of officials being punished - deserves more attention than whether the managers deserved the punishment.
In the Dongguan incident, railway employees showed concern for the passengers, most of who were migrant workers. It is inconsistent with the stereotyped image of employees of government organizations or certain State-owned enterprises that enjoy monopoly. In people's impressions, such employees are usually arrogant and indifferent.
Many passengers have unpleasant experiences of traveling in public transport. They have memories of being directed here and there by staffers or confronting a cold face when seeking information. Others remember being scolded for some unintentional offense.
Admittedly, railway employees' attitude has improved significantly in recent years. It is not uncommon to see carriage conductors helping the weak and senior citizens to their seats.
But I suspect they do so more out of concern for the "performance assessment" in the annual selection of "advanced train" and less because they sincerely want to help passengers. But there indeed are some staffers who are sincere and kind-hearted, and they do help passengers.
What makes me suspicious is the difference in attitude I have seen when there is no such assessment or selection in progress. You just have to walk to a ticket counter or a station entrance and see the cold, rigid faces of employees and hear their answers to find out whether my judgment is right or groundless.
But the Dongguan railway station case is different. The staffers were definitely not acting to get favorable assessment when they helped the passengers get into the train through the windows. On the contrary, they were running the risk of getting a demerit point, because they were violating the rules. Anyone who has seen the photographs will agree that those staffers were sincere.
Boarding a train through a window is what a passenger should never have to do but sometimes has to in our country, because the railways' capacity to carry passengers is far short of the demand, especially during festivals.
I have had the experience of squeezing my way into a train, including using the window as a door.
Nearly all the common people have had the same experience. We all understand how one feels in such a situation when a government staff, who otherwise should have stopped you, gives a helping hand.
The Dongguan railway station staff have shown the best part of human nature. That is why they have moved so many readers, viewers and commentators. The station managers may need to be punished but the staffers merit commendation.
I hope to see more such heart-warming scenes in government organizations, public service venues and public transport facilities.
(China Daily 02/03/2010 page9)