On Ethic

To be part of the current society is not easy, if you still bear ethic in mind. Because it is not easy, the easiest way to handle the conflicts is to forget about ethic. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Check about Bozzetoo’s Yes & No and see how to obey the traffic rules in Italy. I don’t mean to offense people in Italy. I like this flash because it is exactly how traffic works in Shanghai.

I tried to stop at STOP signs, but the cars behind me may hit me, because no one stops and no one would expect a car before them to stop when there are no cars passing by.

When I yield for pedestrians, drivers behind me horn crazily and flash their lights.

I talked about it before. Recently, I was filled out with courage to do the right thing, according to ethic conduct, no matter what others do. It has been very painful in the last few days. I am so sad that people in this city has been so rude and show no sympathy to others, who is also part of the members in the city. Why there are no smiles on people’s face when they meet? If Shanghai is moving toward to be a city like New York, I hope at least people should not be as faceless as in New York, if you still think Shanghai is a little bit better than Wall Street now.

I fell in big trouble these days and I kept thinking and thinking everyday about ethic stuff. Do we still respect people telling the truth? Do we still respect people who take other’s benefit, and the general public’s benefit as a factor to consider to make choices? The ethical level of the society has reached to a new level these years, despite of the rocket-rising economic development in some specific cities. I am not surprised of anything terrible in the news at all – we have got used to it.

“Ethic? Hahaha. Ethic! Do you still believe in ethic?” These are the responses on this topic…

I am confused and feeling bad. The question is in my brain these days even after I fell asleep…

20 thoughts on “On Ethic

  1. I think the dilemma you had to some degree is related to the value system China had or don’t have. When I grew up in China, there were chronically movements like “Wu Jiang Si Mei”. It is nothing wrong with that, but it never had a completed and trusted value system behind it and put into the right context. In United States, most of people grew up with some sorts of religion, and at later stage of life people will chose to stick with it religiously or causally or becoming atheist. But the teaching of respect, love and fairness stay with their life in large extent. The law and enforcement of the law will help, however that can only take you to so far, China has been making great progress economically, but where China is going to spiritually, I guess we can only wait and see ……

  2. I want to first congradulate you Jianshuo. I totally understand your frustration in trying to do what’s right when there’s so little encouragement around you to do so. All I can say is to be true to yourself and your beliefs. Like most things in life, it’s going to be a constant compromise (i.e. don’t stop at the STOP sign if you’re going to get hit), but you do the best you can. Personally, I like to think in terms of, “Well, I can’t change the world, but I’m going to do my small part and at least set an example for my friends and close associates.” Other times, I give in, get lazy, or make up excuses and end up doing the wrong thing. But I try to recognize these times, and to tell myself, “Hey, relax, you’re up for the challenge, do better next time.”

  3. Religon does play a big role to teach people to become ones with good conduct. However even in u.s. there are big amount of people who are not affiliated or simply Atheists. The majority of those people’s conduct are just not bad at all. I am glad Mr.wang raised this question. Thats something I was so confused about when I was a kid, back in 1980s. It’s hard to say kids growing up in China receive less education regarding ethic than kids in the rest of the world, they do receive a lot. The problem is they grew up in an environment where unethical things happened everywhere and their teachers, their classmates, their parents do things unethical and they just learned that with good conduct they just can’t survive. Let’s see why kids’ teachers and parents are unethical. Because the sociaty is full of injustice, lack of rule of law, lack of enforcement of law – so that people know bad conduct may not necessarily get punished and those rule abiding ones just can’t compete if they keep being rule abiding. Now who is resposible for the existance of this kind of sociaty? The answer is the country’s one party system, under which the sociaty just can’t get better.

  4. When I was living in Shanghai, I had an Ah Yi to help with domestic chores. I chatted with her frequenty. My Ah Yi has a 12 year old son. One day I asked what she wanted her son to be when he grew up. She said she wanted him to be a government official as people with power makes all the money while the majority of the common people suffer injustice. This basically sums up the current ethical standard in China.

    After being shut off from the outside world for decades and deprived of many liberties and wealth, the economic opening up of China has led to a gold rush mentality and a corrupt system based on guanxi. Ethics is not highly rated in China where the money stands for success and power.

    However, this is normal for any developing country and it will take at least 1-2 generations to change this. Witness the US in the early 1900s with their robber barons and corrupt Hong Kong in the 1960s. It will be a long time before China develops an ethical way of life.


  5. People here don’t say “excuse me” when they push past you, drivers don’t yield to pedestrians, and folks often don’t provide help when you ask for it (such as for directions or advice on where to shop). I often see drivers run red lights, and vendors try to rip visitors off whenever they can. People litter as casually as they breathe. If these folks are examples of “living by your own standards” then their standards must not be very high. Ethical behaviors are best set by example (or by force – if need be), starting from the leaders and pop icons, to parents and elder relatives. Higher consistent expectations leads to improved consistent behavior. If more folks thought and behaved like JS in terms of human conduct, then Shanghai, and China, would be a better and happier place.

  6. Hi,i have to say this is a real problem that make overseas chinese hesitate to go back to china even they want very much. Many overseas chinese like me have no courage to drive in china even they have driven many many years.

  7. Thanks Jianshuo and all commentators for shedding light on an important but rarely touched on (in English media) subject. Very thought-provoking…

    Can anyone provide the Chinese characters for “Wu Jiang Si Mei”? Thanks.

  8. I was just in SuZhou this past July, I do have to admit that pedestrians try dangerous way to pass the streets. The cars just don’t stop. Cars, money and power rules, China is no way becoming a country that overseas Chinese want to go back to. The system is corrupted so badly. Licenses are bought, literally with money, so people could open businesses. The lack of law enforcement is encouraged with money dumping into the system. Money buys everything. Ethics, this word will be undefined in the near future. Ethics is disappearing as fast as China is growing. I do hope that the society will recover itself in a generation or two, because China is just a shell now.

  9. wǔ-jiǎng 五讲[-講] n. 〈PRC〉 the five essentials of personal behavior (decorum, manners, hygiene, discipline, morals)

    sì-měi 四美 n. the four points of beauty: mind, language, behavior, environment

  10. Well, discussing ethics in china will require someone who lives or lived there before, so I won’t comment on that. But, after visiting china a number of occasions, one thing I noticed is that strangers are not so friendly or even courteous to each other. It is a bit hard to generalize; but, my feeling is that strangers in a restaurant, for example, generally do not have a friendly chat.

  11. I remember an incident when visiting the Sam’s Club in Beijing. I picked some fruits which had to be weighed by a salesgirl. The salesgirl was serving a old lady so I waited patiently as I would in the States. Before long, a lady in red came along and immediately thrusted her bags of fruits to the salesgirl as soon as the old lady was done.

    Perhaps it was not obvious enough to her that I was in line as I stood there with my bag of fruits. I patiently waited for her to be done when an elderly man came by with quite a few bags of fruits. I respectfully let the elderly man had his go at the weighing machine first. O …. what a big mistake?

    It took a while for the old chap to be done by which time a crowd had gathered, each person oblivious to the fact that there were other people waiting there before them…each thrusting their bags to the salesgirl even before she was done.

    As I stood there as a foreigner (yes, I am Chinese and look totally Chinese but that was the first time I set foot in China), I felt the urge to do the very same thing as the rest – do as the Romans do when you are in Rome? No, I chose not to do it. I continued waiting and the salesgirl finally noticed that I stood there for a long time and pleaded to the others (at least that’s what I didn’t fully master my Chinese yet :P) to let me go first.

    Life is already too stressful as it is. If such a trivial task is so stressful, I can’t imagine the amount of stress that the average Chinese (or maybe I should limit it to Beijinger) has to go through everyday.

    I’d say, take it easy folks, treat everyone kindly. Your kindness may not be returned immediately, but it isn’t it a nice feeling to know that you have done something nice?

  12. It’s interesting that I wrote a similar one to remind Christians to obey government’s law, especially the laws on traffic. We should understand that we have no rights to select some laws to obey and some to disobey. Piracy is another sample of such situation.

  13. Chinese society is experiencing tremendous changes in almost EVERY aspect. As is the case in any society in a renaissant time, it will take a while (a painful process) for its members to adjust to the new or changing ways of life.

    For example, the problems on the roadways in China as described above are in part due to the recent, rapid expansion of the highway systems, the car market, the tourist industry, and the people’s wealth. They also are related to the relatively early stage status of China’s legal system and the law enforcement system. As China continues to develop, these systems will mature and function better. People, as a result of or along with these systems, will undoubtedly improve their own value and ethic system. Sure, individuals will always have different level of ethic awareness (meaning that there will always be individuals who behave badly), but on average such level of ethic awareness will advance towards the better.

    It is the actions and discussions initiated by Wang Jian Shuo and his readers that will promote and speed up such advancement. I salute all of you for these. Keep up the good work, everyone.

  14. The traffic in China is terribly, particularly Tian-Jin, according to one of the local taxi drive. He told me that Shanghai taxi master scared to drive in Tian-Jin. You can imagine how dangerous those drivers in Tian-Jin. To cross a street or road, you have to be very careful. Why? because all kinds of vehicles have no knowledge of who has the right of way-Pedestrian or the driver.

    To avoid potential accidental inury, I normally walked among the people, preferably position myself, of course my wife,in the middle, when crossing a road. Get it? For some reasons, I haven’t found out yet that pedestrian do ot afraid of the drivers who drove disorderly. My conclusion is that both pedestrian and drivers love to play their psychological game. Interestingly, most of the time, they all are safe.

    Traffic control and regulation, government should play a major role which to me, Shanghai is lacking. I do not dare to drive in Shanghai because my adventurous risk index is low. I personally believe that a major overhaul of Shanghai traffic rules and regulations are urgently needed. It is the one of the most desperate challenge to the law enforcement department. Police should carry out orders unmercifully if traffic overhaul is seriously under consideration. Sometimes, it is a nice sight-seeing when you vividly observe and witness how adventurous the Shanghai traffic looks like, especially during rush hour period. See, that’s my ambivalent personality pop up. Sometimes, I contradictory to my own statement. Advocate government to implement the traffic law or let the live adventurous action continue, even crossing a street is interesting.


  15. I think what you are doing is good, but if you ask me, its impossible to do in Shanghai. Shanghai has long been a city worse than NYC in terms of rudeness, where a smile on your face will only elicit a smile on another’s face if you are about to give them some money. Like a lot of things, the tide is against you and it sort of just beats you down and causes you to lose hope…Try to ignore it and promote ethics in those among you, maybe it can start to cause a change in how things go in the city…

  16. I believe that the ethics that a person displays are a direct result of ones upbringing. Your, culture, surroundings, parents, friends, religion, school, and business help shape the person you grow up to be. People are not born ethical, it is something taught and put into practice over a long time. This isn’t to say people who have grown up with a hard upbringing are not ethical, rather that they have a harder time establishing right from wrong and the rewards/consequences associated with it.

    If you are a good and ethical person, continue to do so, it would be too easy to fall into that frame of mind “they got away with it, why shouldn’t I” mentality. Try and help others achieve that which they have not learned yet, being careful not to offend them.

  17. The pedestrians here just surprised me so much the very first time I tried to cross a street. They don’t care whether it’s Walk or Stop. The same with buses, cars or bikes – there’s only one light in the traffic system that they respect and that’s the green light. It’s shocking ‘coz this is a big city and is aiming to be a world-class one. The city’s developments may be quicker than Moody’s goose, but the people’s manners are still (I’m sorry to say this) not at par or even backwards. I’m not pertaining to all but majority of the population don’t practice good manners and social skills, which is really sad and frustrating. I wanted to practice the old saying: “When in China, do what the Chinese do,” but I’d rather not. Well, I believe that change is good and I only hope that when things continue to change for the better in this country, so will the people’s manners and way of interacting to others.

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