Sorry, But I'll Have To Hurt Your Feelings

(Xinhuanet)  Sorry, But I'll Have To Hurt  Your Feelings.  By Yang Hengjun.  May 14, 2008.

[in translation]

The following is one of the 45 emails that I received today.  I have reproduced it below after eliminating a small portion of the content that might disclose the identity and location of this netizen friend:

Old Yang, I know that you share the same grim feelings about the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan just as I do.  When we see those life-and-death televised scenes, we really cannot bear to watch even as tears rolled in our eyes and our hearts writhe in pain.  Why do these dreadful disasters occur again and again in China?  Can earthquakes really not be predicted?  [deleted words]  My daughter came back from school today and asked me: "The Tangshan earthquake could not be predicted 22 years ago, but is the level of prediction technology today still stuck at the 1976 level?"  I had no reply.

Perhaps, there are many questions about this disaster and we have much anger.  But we can only keep our silence right now and hope that our government and our army can actively save lives.  We can only pay attention to the situation quietly and pray for the safety of our compatriots in the disaster zone.  I have signed up to donate blood.  [one sentence deleted]  I think that this is the small thing that I can do for the people in the disaster zone.

This is a sensitive period now.  We don't feel good.  I think that you should stay low for a while and not used your pen to poke at the hidden darkness.  Otherwise certain netizens may feel that you are mean and nasty.  The overworked Premier Wen is up at the front lines and his tears moved the hearts of many Chinese.

Old Yang, I know that you are a brave man who is filled with a combative spirit for the motherland in your heart.  But I am really concerned whether your inappropriate speech could hurt the feelings of many netizens.  At this time, they won't understand you and they can't appreciate your intention.  They will lash at you because they think that you have betrayed them.  This is not something that I want to see.

You should not go too far or too quickly.  Sometimes, you have to stop and wait for your netizen friends to catch up.  If you want to enlighten your compatriots and fight for your ideals, you should not be too flagrant.  You should use a different method or style, and you may achieve unexpected results.

I think that silence is golden right now.  Silence is best.

Take care!

A netizen friend who really cares about you.

During the past couple of days, I only wrote a couple of essays which are not all about the Sichuan earthquake.  But when I looked at the comments in my blog, about one-third of them are critical or even abusive.  I also received up to one hundred emails per day with some of them being abusive.  Frankly speaking, none of these emails or comments touched me.  This particular netizen friend is new to me, but I like him and I think that he understands me (note: he read all 2 million words in my published works within a short period).  His letter was sincere.  However obstinate I am, I ought to stop and reflect.

Am I moving too fast?  Have I gone in the wrong direction?  When a person's writings keep hurting the feelings of the readers, is it time to stop and reflect?  At the very least, I think that before I begin to reflect, I should say "Sorry" to all those netizen friends that I have hurt.

But having said sorry, I still want to reflect because such seems to be the duty of a writer and an intellectual.  I don't know if I am right.

In terms of the facts, the biggest earthquake in thirty years -- and this is the biggest natural disaster since the reforms began -- has occurred.  Which Chinese person is not pained?  We all wish that we could have super powers to help the victims.  In terms of the facts, the Secretary General and the Premier have toiled hard and long since the earthquake occurred -- especially the Premier at the front lines.  Anybody must be touched.

(Note: I disagree with certain netizens questioning the earthquake prediction problem, because this is not a problem just for China.  The most advanced nations in the world, such as the United States, are not able to predict earthquakes.  Although the United States was able to announce the earthquake quicker this time, they obviously were not able to predict it because there was no reason why they would not communicate the prediction to China.)

After the earthquake occurred, everybody joined together.  Would I differ at this moment?  Here I will relate the evolution of my ideas to share with netizens.

What do we need most when we encounter a disaster?  Unity, of course.  But this unity is not the kind that will not allow any opinions.  For example, if the earthquake was actually sabotage or if someone continues to sabotage, or if someone prevents us from making rescue, we should unite against them.  But there is no such problem now.  The existing problem is how to render help better.  As of now, we still many brothers and sisters buried in the rubble and there are other disaster victims who are left homeless.

The netizens are touched by Premier Wen, and so am I.  But he did not move me to tears.  Instead, I was almost moved to tears by another person this morning.  She had no name.  Her face was covered with mud.  She was probably a middle-aged woman.  She appeared on CNN.  Her right leg was injured and she was lying down on a plastic sheet in the street.  It was raining and she only has one umbrella.  So she moved the umbrella sometimes over her injured leg and sometimes over her head.  People kept rushing past her, but nobody took care of her.  On this morning, I did not have the Premier on my mind.  I only had eyes for this nameless woman.  My heart also had those many disaster victims who remain underneath the rubble out of sight.

The Chinese government is doing its best in this disaster.  In terms of the speed of response and the amount of human and material resources, this is unprecedented in the long history of China.  This deserves our encouragement and applause.  But do we stop here?  Hasn't our government done its best?

When many netizens saw me criticizing and nitpicking on the government at this time, they thought that I must have an axe to grind.  At the very least, they said that I am not being kind and honest.  They accused me not being a Chinese.  They said that I should support the government, or at least be touched by Premier Wen.  They wondered, "Have you no heart?"

I am sorry if I have hurt the feelings of everybody.  But I want to tell you what I was thinking about.  At this moment, I could join everybody in prayer, or write stirring essays, or even maintain a silence.  After the earthquake, many netizens indeed wrote many good and stirring essays, such as "Tonight, we are all people of the disaster zone" and "Today, we are all disaster victims" and so on.

But you should visualize that if you were really a disaster victim, what would you be doing?  You definitely would not have the time to write this kind of essay.  Not many people in the disaster zone will be reading your essay today.  Your essay was not written for the people in the diaster zone.  So what are the disaster victims thinking about?  I can categorically tell you that they are definitely not being touched to tears, because most of them are still bleeding from their bodies and their hearts!  For those disaster victims who are still waiting for help, they will always be thinking:  If your work is the best ever in history, then can you do even a bit better?""

Let us supposed that we are really disaster zone residents.  Our hearts are joined with theirs, or we are disaster victims, or we are even lying underneath the rubble waiting for help.  What would we be thinking about in that case?  Would we be grateful towards the help?  Of course not.  All the help in the world, even if it is the best ever in history, will always need to be "better" in the eyes of of the people in the disaster zone.  Besides, is the the best ever help in our history also the best in the world?  Do we fall short of the help that is rendered elsewhere in the world?

Two hours after the earthquake, I was already seeing the scope of the damage.  Based upon our nation's rescue effort (especially in terms of delivering the personnel and materials to the diaster zones, and the latter is the most critical part of all rescue work), we fall short of the levels in western countries such as the United States.  At that moment, I was thinking how it would be better if we can contact the American rescue teams which are positioned in Thailand but unable to enter Myanmar and ask them to help in Sichuan instead.  (Note: The American president immediately made the offer to provide support and also donated money immediately)  That was what I meant when I first wrote my essay.  But the netizens cursed me out.  I thought that if your brothers and sisters were slowly bleeding underneath the rubble, you would not be cursing me, would you?  Is it possible that you only know how to shout "Tonight, we are all disaster victims" in your essays but you are not willing to think in the place of a disaster victim?  Frankly speaking, the so-called donation after the disaster is merely a symbolic gesture because China does not lack money.  What good is money anyway?  The urgent problem of the moment is how to save disaster victims who are on the brink of life and death.  This is not something that can be solved with money.

This morning, I learned from the news that the Chinese government has not only expressed a willingness to accept money and materials from other nations, but they are willing to accept the rescue teams and equipment into the disaster zone.  The Chinese rescue teams said that they are encountering tremendous difficulties in the diaster zone.  I applaud the government for this decision!  Although I had thought about the government doing this as soon as I learned about the earthquake, I was cursed out by netizens.  I want to know that when the government decided to do what I recommended two days later, why are the netizens silent now?

Rescue teams around the world do not care about nationality or politics.  You may not know but when there is an earthquake in the United States, rescue teams from around the world rush over there.  If we had a regularly trained rescue team, we can also ask to go there.  (I have a recommendation here: After this earthquake is over, China should form a world-class rescue team.  We are presently counting on the army and the armed police to do rescue work.  Their rescue training is far less than that for a professional team)  I learn from the international news that the United States has assembled a powerful rescue team in Southeast Asia at this time.  If we have an earthquake now, we can use them "for free."  This would be so important for the people in the disaster zone.  Although our own rescue teams are not bad, everybody knows that when an earthquake of this scope and magnitude occurs, no country in the world (including the United States) can afford to use only their own rescue personnel.  (No country can afford to have that many elite rescue personnel on their own.)

Besides, according to my information, some of the American rescue personnel (such as those on the Los Angeles rescue team because Los Angeles is a high-risk quake zone) are worth twenty American soldiers.  What is the point of being worth 20 people?  Everybody knows that many rescue scenes cannot allow too many people to work at the same time.  Therefore, a rescue expert worth twenty people is actually as good as an entire squad of ordinary soldiers.

I watched the CNN reporter interview the leader of the Los Angeles rescue team.  The interviewer ask, "You have the best rescue team in the world.  Are you ready to go to China?" The American rescue team leader said, "We are prepared.  We are part of the international rescue force.  We are ready to set off as soon as China makes the request."

I really want to pick up the telephone and call, "Brother, come over right now.  You can eat lunch on the plane.  Then you head to the disaster zone with your Chinese brothers and save the Chinese disaster victims!!!"  A professional rescue team would mean so much to those lives underneath the rubble.  I think we all know that.  Let the Americans come.  All these rescue teams come for free.  More importantly, our elite rescue teams can work with them and learn to elevate their own skills.  Someday, when the United States needs us, we can send our elite rescue teams over there.

At a time when the nation is facing a disaster, we should united together.  But we should also plan and work as a group instead of allowing a single voice to dictate.  We should not let the government and military do all the thinking.  They are at the frontlines and they are offering their blood and sweat.  But more often, we at the rear are more alert.  A natural disaster is not like a terrorist attack in the manner of 9/11.  We do not need to unite to fight an enemy.  Our enemy of the moment is a natural diaster.  We have seen that our Chengdu troop commander leading several hundred soldiers arriving at the epicenter of the quake after a quick march of 30 hours over 90 kilometers.  Who could not be moved by the sight of a commander leading his troops in person?  If at this moment, we raise doubts from our comfortable location in front of our computer, we would clearly be regarded as unfair, even perverse.  But can't the compatriots who have been waiting 30 hours underneath the rubble ask questions?  Why don't we ask on their behalf?  You can donate billions of RMB and donate all your blood, but what is the point if their lives have drained away before then?

Even as we are moved, we must not forget to ask, "Why did it take 30 hours to get there?  How much time does it take to march quickly over 90 kilometers?  How far is the Chengdu military district from the earthquake center?  As soon as they arrived, they immediately rescued more than a hundred people?  If they got there 20 hours, 10 hours, 1 hour or even 30 minutes earlier, could they have rescued more people?"

Of course, my doubts are not always right.  The commander can tell me, "No, we have tried our best.  It is impossible to do more."  I will nod my head to accept this answer, I will be heartbroken, but I will not satisfied.  I would ask, "If this was an American rescue team, how many hours will it take for them to arrive here?"  Perhaps they will be even slower, perhaps they will take the same time, or perhaps they will be quicker.  If the answer is the latter (that is, ther American rescue team is quicker), then I would continue to ask, "So where do we fall short?  How can we get better?  How long will it take?"  If the answer is that we don't have the equipment, we will buy the equipment.  If the government does not have the money, we will donate it.

It is that simple.  When our troops hear these questions, would they stop and say, "You are not giving us encouragement and we are quitting"?  Some netizens say that this is not the time to criticize and doubt, which should wait until after the disaster is over.

Don't you know that China has faced many disasters?  Each time afterwards, it looks like a happy stage to shower praises.  Since when have people seriously summarized the lessons from the disaster?  Since when have ordinary people and intellectuals be given the opportunity to raise doubts?  After the snow storms, people were waiting for a summary but there was nothing but praises.  Even the Railroad Department gave itself high marks.  Please tell me where the lessons and experiences are summarized?  Did anyone compensate the disaster victims for their losses?

This time, many buildings collapsed.  Some people asked, "Why did the schools collapse whereas government buildings mostly held up?"  (I have not verified the facts behind this assertion.)  I think that if this is true, then it involves the state investment in education as well as the quality of the buildings that might involve corruption.  Should this be brought up at this time?  Will it affect the rescue effort?  If it affects the rescue work, then it must not be said.

I don't think so.  The problems in education did not appear only today, and the quality of the elementary school buildings are a lot worse than government buildings not only just today.  Of course, we can wait until after the disaster is over to remind people again.  But thirty years have passed and haven't we been criticizing the investment in education every day?  Compared to our economic growth, has it gotten worse?  How much did the Maglev cost?  How much does it cost to build better schools?  The children are buried under the buildings not just because of the quality of the schools.  But our school buildings are required by the state to resist certain levels of earthquake.  Did those collapsed buildings meet those standards?  Do government buildings have higher anti-earthquake standards than school buildings?  We can check it out.  It is one thing to say that we are poor.  But isn't it fact that our government buildings are getting better and better?

I am sorry if I hurt people's feelings in saying so.  But I absolutely do not believe that this will affect the rescue effort.  What kind of person would stop the rescue effort because the quality of the the school buildings was poor?  If I did not speak out, my conscience would be panged and I would feel that I have let the dead and dying disaster victims down.  Some people suggest that I have done anything of practical value and I should shut up while the soldiers and government officials are rendering help at the frontlines.  The soldiers at the frontlines and the Premier obviously have more right to speak than I do.  Aren't the 5,000+ newspapers and television stations reporting on the latest directives and actions all the time?  I am only just someone who is expressing my views (which were frequently deleted) about the relief effort on his own blog.  So why is that not allowed?

When I read the email from the netizen friend at the beginning, I felt bad.  I am sorry that I have hurt the feelings of the netizens.  But at the same time, I have to say sorry again because I cannot help hurting your feelings.  Because if I don't hurt your feelings, I would be acting against my conscience and I would feel that I am betraying the disaster victims who perished or are waiting for help.  After the disaster struck, the people united behind the rescue effort and it was politically correct to be continuously moved by the government's efforts.  If we so much as offer some recommendation, then it may discourage the several million People's Liberation Army soldiers.  But these people are ignoring what the disaster victims are personally experiencing.  This creates a funny phenomenon that when a disaster victim makes a complaint, someone would jump out and criticize, "What do you want?  Don't you see how much the government has done?  Even the aged Premier Wen is personally down at the frontlines?"  This phenomenon first appeared during the snow storms earlier this year.  After the snow storms were over, we heard only praises.  As for the disaster victims, they are only the supporting cast.

I understand that a writer should not be holding an opinion that diverges from the mainstream at this moment and thus becoming the target of criticism for everybody.  But this is how it is.  No matter whether it is the Tibet problem, or the Olympic torch relay, or the patriotic marches, many intellectuals have warned me about my views even as others among them kept silent.  I realize that it serves me personally no good whatsoever to write critical essays.  But there was also no way for me to stay silent.  At a time when the nation and its people are facing a disaster, it is alright for me to get cursed out.  I am not a famous writer, and I don't want to be a popular writer either.  At this moment in time, I only want to be a citizen in the disaster area -- just like what the fancy-writing intellectuals write about!