The Chronicle of Runner Fan
(yWeekend) What Were The Turning Points In The "Runner Fan" Affair? By Chen Wanying, Wang Yuan and Jiang Wenjuan. June 19, 2008.
The teacher who fled first, Fan Meizhong, was given the nickname "Runner Fan" which became famous all over the Internet. Everybody is aware of how much he has been cursed out on the Internet. But when he made an appearance on a Phoenix TV program, a friend asked on his behalf, "Is it wrong to be frank?" and suddenly he got the sympathy of certain members of the public. Then the Ministry of Education tried to please the public by rescinding Fan Meizhong's teaching license. As a result, Fan Meizhong got even more public support because his freedom of speech was violated. This simple Internet incident had many twists and turns, and became a public debate over social values.
At each key developmental stage of the affair, there were certain key persons. They are Internet forum editor, renowned writers, tv program host, debate participants, school principal, government officials and every netizen including yourself. Of course, there is Fan Meizhong himself. Every choice that these people made tipped this "trial" towards a particular direction until the affair evolved into its present form. So what did these people specifically do? Why did they do it? How do they assess their roles in retrospect?
Turning Point #1
At 9:10am on May 22, a post titled <At that moment, the earth moved -- a personal experience of the May 12th Wenchuan earthquake> appeared at the <Leisurely Book Talk> forum of Tianya. The author was Fan Meizhong, who is a teacher at the Guangya School in Dujiangyan city. This essay described how he abandoned his students and fled for his life, plus what he did after the earthquake. This immediately created a huge storm on the Internet.
The yWeekend reporter contacted the webmaster of the <Leisurely Book Talk> forum via QQ. He said that Fan Meizhong is a veteran netizen at Tianya who has posted regularly at the <Leisurely Book Talk> forum. "He often says things that ordinary people cannot. Therefore, his posts draw attention and create controversy." As soon as this particular essay came out, it drew a lot of attention. Many netizens followed up with comments to condemn what Fan Meizhong wrote.
The hits continue to pile on, and this post continued to occupy a prominent position in the <Leisurely Book Talk> forum. It even rose to the front page of the Tianya forum and became re-published in many media. Fan Meizhong has become a celebrity.
"We did not have to think too hard. We saw that this post was hot and the comments were not uniform. Therefore, we put this post on our front page." This was what the person responsible for editing the posts at Tianya said.
"<Leisurely Book Talk> is a place about book reading. As a result of his post, there was no book talk at the <Leisurely Book Talk> section. If we did not move this post aside, the associated posts would have overwhelmed the place with Fan Meizhong everywhere," said the webmaster. "This post continued to draw comments. At first, everybody was condemning him. Fan Meizhong posted comments and it became a cursing match. The forum was a mess."
The yWeekend reporter saw that Fan Meizhong's Tianya blog was "The cries and howls of a wolf in the wilderness." He began blogging in early 2006. There has been no further posts since May 22, 2008. At his Sina.com blog, the first post was made on May 26, which was <At that moment, the earth moved -- a personal experience of the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake>. There were four more blog posts after that. The Tianya person said confidently: "Fan Meizhong shall return!"
Later, Fan Meizhong told yWeekend during an interview that he did not start the Sina.com blog. Rather, the people at the Sina.com blog service started a blog for him, but he has never visited it.
Five Mountains Man Of Leisure is a renowned Internet writer. This name will be familiar to people who are avid Internet users. Like Fan Meizhong, Five Mountains Man Of Leisure likes to hang around <Leisurely Book Talk> during his spare time.
"I learned about the Fan Meizhong affair through this post. At the time, I did not feel that he had been wrong in running away, but it seems inappropriate to publicize the matter like that."
The yWeekend reporter located the reply post from Five Mountains Man Of Leisure: "There is no need to ask too much as long as people are safe. After all, there is no special training for this sort of thing. One has to act according to the unique situation. Frankly, under the circumstances, we ought to ask ourselves whether we are capable to doing certain things. I personally feel that I might choke."
After reading the battle of words between Fan Meizhong and the netizens in the comment section of the post, Five Mountains Man Of Leisure did not have much to add himself. After thinking about it for a day, Five Mountains Man Of Leisure blogged: <Freedom and Morality -- The "Run Run Fan" Affair>. This was how the term "Run Run Fan" (or "Runner Fan") came about.
"At the time, I did not intend to condemn him. As I said, I thought that his fleeing without caring about his students was an instinctive reaction. This is not quite deplorable. The nickname 'Run Run Fan' was something that I made up. When I write, my thoughts usually jump around and I came up with this nickname. I did not realize that this would become popular. I actually feel embarrassed," explained Five Mountains Man Of Leisure.
In his essay, he pointed out: It is not that a liberalism based upon humanism refuses to consider collectivity and morality. Rather, it has to be based upon a guarantee of individual human rights. During the interview, Five Mountains Man Of Leisure said: "If Fan Meizhong had adequately enjoyed certain rights as a teacher, then he should shoulder these responsibilities. When he has not enjoyed enough rights, then one can only say that he has not met the publicly recognized moral standards, but one cannot say that he was morally irresponsible."
Yet, talking and doing are two independent parts. At the end of the interview, Five Mountains Man Of Leisure said: "Fan Meizhong over-exercised his freedom of speech and challenged the moral bottom line of the public repeatedly. He will definitely be paying a price for that."
Once Fan Meizhong's essay appeared at Tianya, it drew a great deal attention from netizens. Most people disapproved of what Fan did, and they wrote to condemn him. During the initial period, Fan Meizhong counterattacked his critics.
Zilu Houren 2008-5-22 12:16:16 -- For your own sake and for the sake of others, please change jobs. You are not suitable to be a teacher.
Fan Meizhong 2008-5-22 12:20:46 -- Zilu Houren, you are obviously a brave person. The historical Zilu was beaten into a pulp for his bravery. So why haven't you become a martyr yet with your own bravery. I think you should kill yourself.
Zilu Houren: 2008-5-22 13:40:20 -- The thing that I find most repulsive is not that Mr. Fan abandoned his children and fled on his own. Before fleeing, he "calmly assured the students: 'Not need to be afraid! Earthquake, it's alright! ..." (Aren't you scared yourself? The students may make a fatal choice on account of what you said). And it isn't even about making an analysis in front of the students without any embarrassment, thus treating extreme selfishness as fashionable individuality (even though this is somewhat shameless). I know that many teachers have died protecting their students. Many more people stayed at their posts even though their families perished and they did not even have time to cry until days later. This standard is too high and I cannot expect Mr. Fan to meet it. But at a moment when there is no risk to your life and it only takes a small effort, can you offer a tiny little consideration for the students, colleagues, children and others? Can you comfort the children whose homes are at the earthquake epicenter? Can you help the students settle down before you leave? ... At this time, can you visit the children first and help as much as possible, instead of busying yourself with playing soccer, chatting, roaming around and worrying only about how to get to your money and clothes? Is that too much to ask?
Fan Meizhong: 2008 5-22 12:29:14 -- I ought to sacrifice my life so that you can be moved to tears.
yWeekend: When you first made that post at Tianya, did you intend to provoke people? Did you expect to attract such a lot of attention?
Fan Meizhong: Frankly speaking, I had the intention of challenging this kind of culture in China. The Chinese people are phonies. Everything from politics to media, especially education, is very fake. Although I was born here, I don't like this place deep down inside my heart. I was psychologically prepared when I wrote this so honestly and people reacted so strongly. I know that the Chinese people are accustomed to seeing fake stuff. So when I wrote something true, they find it unacceptable. They do not realize that they are under the control of the illusion created by the media. Frankly speaking, I don't like the Chinese media. But I did not expect such a huge response. I thought that it would be limited to the education forums. I usually visit the education forums and Tianya's <Leisurely Book Talk>. It is not the first time that my essay stirred up controversy. My expectation was that there would be a debate at this forum, but I did not expect that it would be so widely cross-posted with most of the media joining the fray as well.
yWeekend: In your blog post, apart from narrating the scene and your actions, the first two paragraphs were written to irritate people's nerves. Did you do this to be deliberately provocative?
Fan Meizhong: Some people feel that I should not have written the first two paragraphs. They wondered what it had to do with the earthquake. I feel that it is very simple. Previously, I was not leading a happy life. The system gave me a lot of pain, and then I encountered this natural disaster. I wanted to say that each generation has its own hardships. For some people, if they don't feel that they have any hardships, they naturally cannot understand me.
yWeekend: Are you a liberal? I want to know where your ideas originate from?
Fan Meizhong: First of all, I am someone who loves freedom and I am totally not influenced by theories. I grew up in a rural farm. In the 1970's, especially in the rural areas, there is no pressure to work. After school, I would play outside until it got dark. Therefore, I have retained my natural tendency to be free. I am also naturally rebellious. I had good results in school, but many teachers did not like me. I asked them why and they said that I kept asking difficult questions. Many people criticized me after the blog post appeared. But I don't care whether the critics are professors or whatever. Their fame do not impress me. Such is my nature. When I got to Peking University, my fellow students called me a liberal. I eventually received certain western ideas, such as the separation of the three powers, constitutional democracy, etc. There are my theoretical influences. Once I feel that I like certain moral theories, I accept them. So you can say that I was a liberal at the university. Since I studied history, I emphasized the cause of events and I looked for tight logic. That is the reason why I despise most of the so-called commentators in China. When they attack me, they lack basic research knowledge and they only know how to wave the big moral stick.
yWeekend: You mentioned that certain commentators making comments without even basic research. But you cannot deny that these are the opinion leaders in our society. Their viewpoints can influence more people. Don't you want to be like them?
Fan Meizhong: It is not that I cannot be, but I don't want to be. I personally like pure philosophy, literature or art films. But this time, society is causing me trouble and I was forced to be concerned about this. Some overseas commentators were speculating about what would happen to me if I were in the western world. I think that they must sick in the head. I am in China. Like many Chinese persons, I have no confidence in the quality of the buildings. I was sure that the building would collapse within seconds. How much time do I have to consider whether to save the students or not? Besides, there are frequent emergency drills in schools in developed countries. They would not be totally surprised and at a loss like I was.
Turning Point #2
Many people who hadn't watched <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu> would have thought that the "flight" of Fan Meizhong was "unforgivable by natural morality," and that "anti-Fan" people are everywhere. But after <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu> was aired, public opinion was "miraculously" transformed because that program presented a netizen named Guo Songmin who objected to what Fan Meizhong said. He has been nicknamed "Jump Jump Guo" (aka "Jumper Guo").
So <A Chat With Hu Yifu> was the second turning point of the "Fan Meizhong" affair, because it allowed more people to understand more about Fan Meizhong.
As soon as the yWeekend reporter opened his mouth and before he explained the purpose of the interview, Guo Songmin asked: "Are you asking me about Fan Meizhong? I have received many such telephone calls today. Right now, anything that I say will be over-interpreted. Therefore, I am not saying anything more. My viewpoints have been already adequately presented during the television program and also in the blog posts that I wrote later on."
As to whether he regretted participating in <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu>, Guo Songmin laughed and said: "I am not going to answer your question. We can have a good chat when I have time later. I don't want any more reportingon this affair. I might try to make an issue clearer, but it become even less clear. It is better for others to interpret this."
After the interview was over, the yWeekend reporter visited Guo Songmin's blog. There was a blog post entitled <If everybody supports Fan Meizong ..." in which Guo Songmin wrote: "Ever since I appeared on the program opposite to Fan Meizhong on Phoenix TV's <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu>, there seems to be a wave of public opinion in support of Fan Meizhong. Although there are voices which supported me, these do not appear to be the mainstream. Concerning his pre-mature flight during the earthquake, I feel that this was dereliction of duty and below the moral bottom line. But Fan Meizhong is exceptional because he positioned 'doing your duty' as a noble act 'to sacrifice oneself for others.' This meant that very few people are expected to be able to attain the 'highest standard of morality.' Of course, during the debate, I also went past certain 'moral bottom lines' such as interrupting other people, using rude language and even walking out. I admit to these deeds. But I will not admit to the other things."
After watching the <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu> episode about Fan Meizhong, many netizens remembered "Jump Jump Guo" and they also remembered another person -- Fan Meizhong's friend Wu Liming. Many people thought that what Wu Liming said on during the program helped people to understand Fan Meizhong from a different angle. When he asked, "Is it wrong to be frank?" many people agreed with it. In truth, minutes before the program began, he still had not realized that the program was going to be in a debate format.
When interviewing Wu Liming, he kept telling the yWeekend reporter: "I am not good at debating. I only wanted to clarify one fact." During the interview, Wu Liming disclosed one piece of information: "Fan Meizhong has a good friend who is an executive deputy editor at an education journal. At the instant of the earthquake, he did not call to his colleagues. He has felt guilty ever since. Previously, Fan Meizhong was rejected by many schools due to his unique approach to education. In his moment of greatest difficulty, this deputy chief editor gave him work at the journal and therefore helped him a lot. Fan Meizhong has been grateful ever since. Therefore, one of the reasons for Fan Meizhong to write that blog post was to tell the the deputy chief editor not to feel too bad because it is hard to make a decision at the spur of the moment. Many netizens may have read about Fan Meizhong through the print media which has produced many partial and biased reports. This makes it hard to understand the kind of person that Fan Meizhong is. Concerning these points, I expressed my actual thoughts at <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu>. After all, I know Fan Meizhong better than others and I want people to understand teacher Fan better."
As early as 2004, he got acquainted with Fan Meizhong at the "New Syllabus" education forum. In his eyes, Fan Meizhong was someone who immersed himself in books all day. "He has read more books than I have. He likes Lu Xun a lot. He is deeper into things, and I admire him. He is not good with the practical aspects of his life, because he is not as calculating as others are."
Wu Liming said that when he first read Fan Meizhong's blog post about "fleeing," his immediate reaction was: "I thought that he was writing about what he thought after surviving the disaster. The essay was a record about the situation and it also contained certain reflections. This essay was written in haste. It was somewhat disorganized and lacked the usual style of expression. That was what created the misunderstanding by people. If an individual person can be strong enough to save his own mother, wife and children, he would do so."
Concerning the other key person on the television show Guo Songmin, Wu Liming said: "I have read many of his essays. I understand that he is a person with a strong sense of morality. This time, he seemed to be angered, but that is understandable. The real Mr. Guo was not present at the studio. If he were a bit more calm and approachable at the time, it would have been better. The netizens obtained more information and it was normal for them to understand teacher Fan better. I really hope that people can be a bit more tolerant towards Mr. Guo and Teacher Fan."
A netizen summarized the three major reasons why Guo Songmin lost the debate.
The first reason was: A debate should be a discussion in which you use reason to convince others, not to use morality to overpower others. He said: "Driven by anger, Guo Songmin interrupted Fan Meizhong many times, using extreme language such as 'shameless,' 'beast,' and so on. This greatly reduced his own persuasiveness. A debate must be based upon reason versus reason and reacting to what the other party is saying. The battle must be won one hill at a time in close combat. Neither side should think that they own the moral high ground and bombard the other side from above."
This netizen thought that the second reason why Guo Songmin lost was: He was too casual and careless and had not done his homework. "If Guo Songmin is going to participate in a debate, he should do his research and prepare carefully. Guo Songmin erred with his first statement: 'If Runner Fan is said to be doing his job, then even a rabbit can become a teacher.' This immediately put Guo Songmin on the defensive. Actually, there are many brilliant comments on the Internet. He could have consulted them."
This netizen continued with his analysis: The third reason was that Guo Songmin did not hit on the key points. Runner Fan's position contained many flaws, but Guo Songmin was oblivious to them and chose to bite at the toughest parts: 'Does Runner Fan have the obligation to protect the students?' Runner Fan easily pushed this issue to the extreme case when the earth is trembling and a decision has to be made in an instant. This situation was occurring all over the disaster zone. So Runner Fan's hypothetical case was apparently very "objective' instead of 'extreme.' To speak of the responsibility of the teacher at this moment is like 'using morality to kill people.' The scope of 'duty' is too broad. In 99% of the cases with no risk to their lives, it is commonly accepted that professionals should carry out their duties. But the problem is that Guo Songmin emphasized the 1% of cases in which there is risk to their own lives but he still insisted that they must carry out their duties. Runner Fan was very smart by restricting the debate to this 1% of the cases and thus controlled the moral high ground of 'opposing making people die for moral reasons.' Thus, he became a thought warrior in defense of the right to live. As such, he could not be defeated.
Many netizens who watched the debate between Fan Meizhong and Guo Songmin in <A Chat Session with Hu Yifu> reflected: "Guo Songmin was routed in this debate, thus giving a chance to Fan Meizhong."
"I particularly detest Fan Meizhong. I felt that his original image was enough to cause negative feelings, and then there are his deeds and speeches now. I was sitting right behind him, and I saw that he kept shaking his legs. So I thought that he must be reflecting on what he did. Based upon his deeds, I am definitely disapproving. But now I feel that I have suddenly changed ... I don't how to explain that ... I am not willing to approve of him, but I am also unwilling to disapprove of him." This was what a female audience member of <A Chat Session with Hu Yifu> said.
On the Internet, there are still some diehard "anti-Fan" people who are defending their viewpoints, but certain former "anti-Fan" members have now joined the "pro-Fan" camp. "Switching sides" has become the most noteworthy characteristic on the Internet during this period.
"I am a member of the 'anti-Fan' camp. After this debate, the majority opinion is still for condemning 'Runner Fan.' But people now recognized that even if we disapprove of what Fan Meizhong did, we still have to protect his basic rights. He has the right to do what he thinks is right as long as it is not against the law. Correspondingly, Mr. Guo who had not personally experienced the earthquake but was mouthing moral imperatives produced no evidence to prove that he was a 'true gentleman.' If Teacher Guo wants to be fully qualified as a moral paragon to condemn 'Runner Fan,' he might start off by thinking about his uncivilized language in those personal attacks and genuinely apologize to Fan Meizhong. Otherwise, more people will chose 'Run Run Fan' over 'Jump Jump Guo.'" A member of the Baidu forum wrote the preceding.
yWeekend: <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu> is a debate program. Did you prepare on certain debate techniques before you got on?
Fan Meizhong: It went through my mind one or two days earlier that the other side might attack me. But these are minor issues, because I feel that very few people can best me in a debate. I despise the commentators in China. They only know how to wield the big stick of morality and they never talk reason. Everybody can observe from the live show that the other side only had this weapon and he did not use it well either.
yWeekend: Do you feel that you won the debate totally?
Fan Meizhong: I would not say that this was a total victory, because Guo Songmin kept interrupting me, or else he heaped abuse on me. The audience behind him also interfered with me. When I speak, I address my opponent. But towards the latter part of the show, I did not even feel as if I had to address him. My viewpoints were not adequately expressed.
yWeekend: Do you feel that there is anyone in China who can debate with you?
Fan Meizhong: I cannot specifically name any opponent, but there should be at least some assurance of character and whether this discussion would be conducted on genuinely level ground. The second factor is that the person should be clear-headed. There are actually many such people. I have seen many very clear-headed people but none of them are our so-called commentators. Sometimes, the more stupid you are, the more support and fame you get because the audience is very stupid. Among the famous people, I am relatively more satisfied with Zhou Xiaozheng as the opponent. I don't agree with his viewpoints, but I think that he is a good person. He adheres to the principle that we must talk reason. In addition, we can criticize each other's viewpoints, but we cannot make personal attacks against each other. You can take what I said as sarcasm. He is a university professor and a famous sociologist, but I only ask this much of him and nothing else.
yWeekend: On the program, we saw that some audience members in the "anti-Fan" camp switched sides. What do you think made them switch sides? Was it debate tactics? or what?
Fan Meizhong: I did not think that the audience is so rational. The main reason has to be the performance of Guo Songmin. On my side, I appeared to be more sincere and I explained certain issues. It is the sensations on their sensory organs that can change them. I don't expect them to understand the reasons right at the scene.
Turning Point #3
During the first two phases, many netizens expressed their opinions that Fan Meizhong is not worthy to be a teacher. But after the news got out that the Ministry of Education "had cancelled Fan Meizhong's teaching license," this action that seemingly appealed to popular demand drew a huge negative reaction. Legal scholars believed that the netizens objected to Fan Meizhong's speech, but as long as what he did was not against any laws, the government should not have interceded. At the same time, certain people began to oppose this administrative decision.
On June 15, a netizen posted the latest news at KDNet: The Ministry of Education has canceled the teaching license of Fan Meizhong.
On June 16, the Ministry of Education spokesperson Wang Xuming was interviewed by reporters and indicated that the decision to dismiss the "running teacher" Fan Meizhong was made by his school, and not by any directive from the Ministry of Education.
Wang Xuming also said that the Ministry of Education has never issued any notice to cancel the teaching license of Fan Meizhong. According to his understanding, the school where Fan Meizhong worked has issued a formal letter of dismissal. The Guangya School in Dujiangyan city where Fan Meizhong worked is a private school. According to the laws related to private schools, the school has the legal right to dismiss its teachers without any demand from the Ministry of Education. But Wang Xuming said that "it is also possible that the local Department of Education and the Guangya School reached an agreement, but this is unconfirmed at this time."
Also on June 16, the Dujiangyan Department of Education director Zhang Qing made a clarification with respect to the news reports about the cancellation of the teaching license of Fan Meizhong. Zhang Qing said that upon learning about the case of Fan Meizhong, the Department of Education asked the Party Organization Secretary Zhou Zebang and others to proceed to the Guangya School to investigate. "Upon establishing that Fan had spoken improperly and seriously discredited his status as teacher," the investigative team asked the school to rescind the employment contract with Fan Meizhong. The Department of Education Personnel Division director Zhang Hualiang said that Fan Meizhong violated the <The Laws on Teachers> and <The Regulations on Teacher Qualification>. When the yWeekend reporter asked for the specific articles involved, there was no answer.
On the same day, Dujiangyan Department of Education Disciplinary Committee Secretary Zhou Zegang said that the investigation showed that Fan Meizhong had never taken a teacher's qualifying examination and is therefore not qualified to teach. Therefore, the Internet assertion that "the teaching license of Fan Meizhong has been canceled" is false. However, the school has dismissed Fan Meizhong.
Zhou Zebang said that the Guangya School is a private school and it had not followed <The Laws on Teachers> when it hired the unqualified Fan Meizhong.
On the morning of June 16, the news about the Ministry of Education canceling the teacher license of Fan Meizhong had just gone out. China Politics and Law University School of Law deputy dean He Bing immediately wrote a blog post titled <Serious illegal step to cancel the teaching license of Fan Meizhong>.
On June 17, the yWeekend reporter called He Bing, who urgently asked about how to contact Fan Meizhong. The China Politics and Law University Legal Aid Center was prepared to offer help to Fan Meizhong, but they had a hard time trying to reach him.
With respect to Fan Meizhong, He Bing said, "I am sympathetic, but this is not praiseworthy. When the earthquake occurred, the vulnerability of people in the face of death revealed itself. After all, very few people can become heroes. The frailties that showed up in Fan Meizhong are common human nature. When I sympathize with him, I am sympathizing with ourselves."
He Bing said that Fan Meizhong's flight was not against the law. As for the condemnations that he has received, they belong to the realm of morals. It would be illegal to impose administrative sanctions on that basis.
On the afternoon of June 16, the Ministry of Education spokesperson that they have not issued any such directive. He Bing said that this was an ambiguous explanation, so he changed the title of his essay to <The Ministry of Education runs even farther away than Fan Meizhong>. In this view, the clarification from the Ministry of Education was an attempt to evade responsibility.
He Bing told the yWeekend reporter that the Fan Meizhong affair can be analyzed from three angles. The first is about "running." When Fan Meizhong abandoned his students and ran away during the earthquake, he did not cause any serious consequences. None of the students in his class died, so there was no reason to punish him. The second is about "speaking." We live in a society under rule of law under which citizens enjoy the freedom of expression. Fan Meizhong's speech did not endanger national security. If you object to what he said, you can come out and criticize him. This is a discussion about morality, and government departments do not have the right to punish him. The most important point is that Fan Meizhong has been dismissed even though it is still unclear just who made that decision. If the Ministry of Education did it, they would be exceeding their authority; if the local Department of Education demanded the school to fire him, it would be selective and retaliatory enforcement; if the school unilaterally dismissed him, it is subject to the <Laws of Labor Contracts>. Therefore, it is an urgent matter to determine the reason why Fan Meizhong was dismissed.
"This is a case that requires in-depth research. If Fan Meizhong wants to file an appeal, we are ready to provide legal aid," said He Bing. He said that they will try to contact Fan Meizhong as quickly as possible.
Zeng Ying was interviewed because of a commentary that he wrote. On June 12, 2008, he wrote an opinion essay titled <'Runner Fan' help us learn about how to face 'dissidence'> that was published in <Southern Weekend>.
After the the 'Guo-Fan fight' ended, many people drew lessons from the switch in public opinion, and Zeng Ying was no exception. He wrote optimistically: "This type of humanitarian stance is the product of an open debate. Without such an open debate, there is no way for basic humanitarianism to take root and we would be left with bigoted moral judgments. We live in a time that is moving towards freedom of expression; this is a time when the wisdom of the people is shining through. Let us move forward and begin by learning how to face and cope with 'dissidence'!" He also cited the example of the teacher who was dismissed for saying that "people study in order to earn money and marry a beautiful girl" and he thought that Fan Meizhong is living in better times than that other teacher had been.
So has Zeng Ying lost his confidence about the great forward progress of popular wisdom after the Ministry of Education took action a few days after his opinion essay appeared? Zeng Ying laughed over the telephone and said that the conclusions in his essay have not changed. His hope about "learning how to face and cope with 'dissidence'" was directed at government officials.
"I know the Guangya School principal. He is a trailblazing type of person. He clearly understands the seriousness of condemning someone for their speech. Therefore, I cannot believe the Ministry of Education's claim that the decision was made by the school. The various levels of education officials are speaking in vague terms, which shows their extreme lack of self-confidence. If you think that you acted correctly, you can convince the other side by offering your reasons. But they are acting out of weakness right now." Zeng Ying said: "In addition, many people who are opposed to Fan Meizhong continue to run opinion polls to prove that they are in the majority. This is counter-evidence because it only proves that the so-called absurd ideas of Fan Meizhong did not influence the mainstream. But it is also clear that Fan has triggered off a public debate over this affair and caused people to re-evaulate."
Although the truth seems still unfathomable, the news of the Department of Education canceling the teacher license and the Guangya School dismissing Fan Meizhong seemed to have created a turnaround in public opinion. Previously, the netizens were one-sided in cursing out Fan Meizhong's speeches. Since June 16, the yWeekend reporter noted that the netizens have become more objective and rational in their comments about the case. Many netizens have clearly moved into the pro-Runner Fan camp with their viewpoints.
Sina.com netizen IP 222.217.28.* (Guangxi): When I read this piece of news, I felt grim. All along, I was hoping that our government departments make policies based upon the regulations and not just bending to public pressure. I am very disappointed with what I see.
Sina.com netizen IP: 125.33.78.* (Beijing): The Guangya School principal said all along that he would not dismiss Fan Meizhong, but he has done it now. If not due to pressure, then why else? The Ministry of Education came out to say that they they did not demand the dismissal of Fan Meizhong. Would they dare say that they did not pressure the principal? This is the typical style of government officials. This made me feel helpless in this kind of society. I used to think that Fan was wrong, but now I understand the diversity that Fan was after. Whether a society can tolerate dissidence is a landmark for civilization. I clearly observed a barbaric force.
Rednet netizen: I disagree with the deeds and words of teacher Fan, but the Ministry of Education did not have to cancel Teacher Fan's teaching license. The qualification to teach is based upon an affirmation of knowledge, not based upon whether their thinking is acceptable. Teacher Fan graduated from Peking University. He is obviously qualified to teach. As to whether he can be a teacher, it is up to the school, the students and society as a whole to decide.
yWeekend: After you learned about the decision by the Ministry of Education, did you communicate with them?
Fan Meizhong: No. But if I can obtain the telephone number of the Dujiangyan Department of Education person, I would call and curse him out. Is there a document that cancels my teaching qualification? Yesterday, a reporter called me and said that he had contacted the Dujiangyan city Department of Education, and they said that this was about teacher ethics. Is that a reason? If they cannot give me a convincing reason, I will still go to class the next semester!
yWeekend: At <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu>, the host said that you are perhaps better suited to become a detached and objective commentator as opposed to a teacher. Will you take the opportunity to switch jobs?
Fan Meizhong: I think that it is easy to get a job. For example, I can go work for the media. I can also go into business. Yesterday, a company boss called up to say that I could be a salesman at this company. He wanted me not so much because I speak well but because he understood me. But these jobs are just means of earning a living and they do not provide a sense of value.
yWeekend: Previously, you had gone through many schools. You do not seem to be very popular. Why do you insist on being a teacher?
Fan Meizhong: I am able to tell my ideas to the students. They can disagree with me, they can debate and argue with me and they can have their own ideas. The Guangya School is an international school whose students do not sit for the university entrance exam. They do not have pressure and they can truly learn. I am obsessed with this kind of occupation.
yWeekend: You mentioned that you experienced a lot of hardships because society kept giving you trouble, especially this time. Do you feel that you are a loser?
Fan Meizhong: Lu Xun once said that China rarely has losing heroes, nor tenacious resistance, nor lone fighters. My life is not over yet. So far, I am not willing to make a simple judgment about whether I succeeded or failed. Although I had been dismissed from many schools, I feel that I affected certain people at each of the schools, mainly students. I also did education, I brought many people together, and I influenced many people. From that point of view, I was effective. But since I kept being dismissed, I did not reap many economic results. From that point of view, I am not successful. But I don't mind.
Previously, Guangya School Party Secretary Qing Guangya confirmed that on June 11, Dujiangyan Department of Education Party Organization Secretary Zhou Zebang and others came down to the school to investigate the case of Fan Meizhong. They also notified the school that Fan Meizhong's teaching license has been cancelled and he should be dismissed. "The local Department of Education has the authority to do so, and the school is determined to carry out the order!"
On June 17, the yWeekend reporter called the mobile phone of Principal Qing Guangya twice via landline telephone. The telephone rang several times, and then the connection was dropped. That evening, the reporter used a mobile phone to call Principal Qing and got through.
Concerning the latest statement from the Department of Education, Qing Guangya's explanation deserves to be pondered: "I feel that the explanation was very careful. There aren't any problems. The Ministry of Education can say whatever they want, and what they say is the standard." Principal Qing said that he has received nothing further after the initial demand to dismiss Fan Meizhong. Thus, he only read about the statement from the Department of Education in the newspaper early morning today.
Since the Ministry of Education has denied that they canceled the teacher license of Fan Meizhong, Qing Guangya was asked about whether the school might rescind the dismissal notice to Runner Fan. He did not comment except to say "Anything is possible."
Previously, Guangya School principal Qing Guangya had said on many occasions that while he does not agree with what Fan Meizhong said, he would not dismiss him for that reason. "I explained my viewpoint on <A Chat Session With Hu Yifu>, and I have not changed my mind. But my viewpoint only represents what I think. In practice, I may do things differently. As long as this is not about the teacher license, there has to be some legal basis for dismissing Teacher Fan Meizhong." The words of Qing Guangya are ambiguous.
The yWeekend reporter mentioned that ever since the news about "Fan Meizhong being dismissed after his teaching license got canceled," the netizens' attitudes took a huge turn. Qing Guangya said that he did not sense that: "One cannot say that there is a change. There are still netizens who want him dead. This is not enough. Over the past several days, there are still netizens calling me to say that I ought to resign as the principal of this school!"
We firmly believe that the Fan Meizhong's affair will not stop here, and we don't want it to stop here. When the government intercedes, this is no longer an issue of the career of Fan Meizhong himself. It affects the definition of the boundary between the actions and the speeches of each and every one of us, as well as the bottom line tolerance of our society.
Is the punishment of "Runner Fan" an affirmation of mainstream opinion, or a blind, unreasoning suppression of a dissident voice? Who will show up in the next battlefield? Who will change the final outcome? Will the sword of the law be brought out to put a quick end to the matter?
We wait together for the next turning point.