World / 2014 South Korean ferry disaster

Humane lessons from Korean tragedy

By Zhu Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-18 07:13

A close neighbor is better than a kinsman afar. Unfortunately, this Chinese adage, which people have believed in for centuries, was forgotten by some irrational Chinese netizens after a South Korean ferry met with an accident on Wednesday. The multi-story ferry carrying 477 people, a majority of them high school students, on an overnight trip to Jejudo Island, sank off South Korea's southern coast, leaving about 290 people missing - possibly trapped inside the vessel.

Chinese have always believed that a tragedy is a tragedy. Following that spirit, many Chinese netizens hope that the missing passengers will be rescued alive.

But some netizens, setting aside all human values, have asked: Why didn't the almighty "Korean wave demigods" Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Min-ho rush to save the passengers? Worse, some others have said South Korea deserved it - in a response to a South Korean TV anchor's irresponsible remarks on last July's Asiana Airlines crash-landing in San Francisco (in which two Chinese passengers died) and South Korea's "grabbing" of China's cultural heritages. Such remarks have sparked a heated online debate, with many netizens criticizing their irresponsible counterparts for their cold-blooded comments.

How could the thoughtless netizens forget that ever since Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, the attention of people across China has been focused on the search operations, which have been joined by many countries? Don't the people who have posted the reckless comments online know how the families of the 154 Chinese on board the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines plane have been feeling?

Just a week ago, a bus carrying 47 people, most of them primary school students, on a spring outing overturned killing eight students in Chengmai county, Hainan province. People across the country are still mourning the victims, with many urging the education authorities to tighten safety rules during spring outings. The South Korean ferry, too, was carrying 324 students and 14 school staff on an excursion.

All people have the same heart, goes another Chinese adage. People, irrespective of whether they are Chinese or South Korean, know the value of kinship and feel the same pain when they lose a dear one. Therefore, some Chinese netizens' insensitive "none of my business" attitude is a shame and deserves to be condemned.

Only people who know each other quarrel. You cannot possibly quarrel with someone you don't know. The same applies to countries, especially neighboring countries, and there is nothing wrong with it.

China is South Korea's largest trading partner country, and South Korea is China's third-largest. About 40,000 South Korean companies are doing business in China. Bilateral trade volume reached $25.63 billion in 2013, which also saw more than 20,000 people traveling daily between the two countries.

Given the geographical proximity, it is natural for China and South Korea to share cultural similarities. It is indeed essential to apply to UNESCO to get World Heritage status for China's cultural heritages. But is it necessary to condemn and hate South Korea for applying to UNESCO to get World Heritage status for ondol or Dragon Boat Festival? A country's development depends on its present and the future, so we should learn from the spirit of innovation that South Korean enterprises have shown.

Talking about culture, the "Korean wave" has created a controversy in China. While some young Chinese, especially women, have fallen in love with the "Korean wave", others despise the Korean TV dramas saying they are for "mentally retarded" people. The important thing is for people to agree to disagree. What may be naive stories for some could be the stuff of dreams for others. The "Korean wave" can be seen as a competitor of Chinese pop culture but not as a cultural invader. A rising China should be more open-minded and inclusive, instead of being insulated.

Indeed, after the Asiana Airlines plane crash-landed in San Francisco last year, South Korea's "A Channel" host Yinqing Min made an insensitive remark: "The latest news! Yes, two people, Chinese rather than Korean, died in the accident ... really lucky, eh!" But he had to pay a heavy price for that, and the South Korean foreign ministry later apologized for his rude exclamation.

People-to-people exchanges and their perceptions of each other are fundamental to bilateral relationship. Irresponsible remarks passed by an individual do hurt people's feelings. But that doesn't mean the other side should lose its humanity and sense of good neighborliness.

Confucius has said: "Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness." Therefore, to pave the way for good neighborly and friendly relations, people in China and South Korea, which share the legacy of Confucius, should refrain from passing irrational comments that will create or deepen misunderstandings.

The author is an editor with China Daily.

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