【明報專訊】IN mainland China, the Chinese New Year holiday period just past saw two social events that caused an uproar on the Internet. The kind of social discussion triggered by the two pieces of breaking news — which was full of mood swings, vociferous and charged with emotions — is a reflection of the restlessness, distorted values and pervasive atmosphere of grievance and hatred of today's mainland society, which is worthy of the authorities' serious contemplation.
On the afternoon of 29th January, which was the second day of the new Chinese Year, a man who came from Hubei but worked in Zhejiang visited the Ningbo Youngor Zoo with his family. He bought tickets for his wife and two children, which were 150 yuan each for adults and half the price for children. But to save money for himself, he climbed over two walls, which were three metres in height, and crawled through the wire fence, paying no regard for the warning — "Wild animals inside, do not climb over". Having jumped onto a hill of lions and tigers, he was mauled by a tiger, which would not let go of him. Security guards and police arrived and took him back from the tiger, but he was pronounced dead in hospital. The tiger was shot dead during the rescue efforts.
A travel safety accident that seemed straightforward, it, however, became a topic of heated discussion on the Internet. Not long after the accident, it emerged that the man was trying to evade fare, and the good wishes and compassion turned into denunciation and verbal abuses. Soon afterwards, it became known that the deceased was a low-status worker earning just several thousand yuan a month, and was the breadwinner of the family. During the Chinese New Year holiday, he took his wife and children to the zoo. But he was really reluctant to pay 150 yuan for a ticket for himself, and chose to climb over the fence. The tide of opinion turned again, with the zoo being accused of overcharging tourists, making frequent price rises, obtaining the site from the government at a low cost and failing to have adequate protective facilities in place. Shouts of "collusion between the government and business" and "tyranny is even fiercer than a tiger" reverberated through the cyber world.
Some might say that the politicisation of the mauling was an outburst of emotion. But the opinions expressed online regarding the killing of a policeman must be a true reflection of the political reality on the mainland. On 27th January, the Chinese New Year Eve, Qu Yuquan, a civil policeman in Harbin, went to a karaoke bar to mediate in an argument after receiving a report. He was beaten to death with a brick. His wife, a nurse on duty in a hospital, insisted that she had to stay in the hospital until her colleague was there to sit in for her. She rushed to her husband afterwards, but it was already too late. The story of a policeman who died when performing his duty and a responsible nurse is indeed a heart-rending one. But after the incident happened, many netizens called it "uplifting" instead, praising the killer as a "hero". Last week two netizens in Guangzhou and Nanning were arrested one after another for "insults to police".
Even if some opinions on the Internet are no more than verbal abuses, outbursts of emotions or sensationalisation, the authorities cannot turn a blind eye to them just because they are not rational. They should not treat opposing views as a danger and prosecute people for what they say without good reason. The authorities should instead turn netizens' attention on hot issues into a chance to develop citizens' civil awareness so as to build a mechanism for the public's more mature participation in public affairs in a gradual affair.