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Yueyue and the Good Samaritan

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I have been saddened, as I'm sure many of you have, by the video of the tragedy of Yueyue. More particularly, I have been both angered and troubled by some of the overly simplistic commentary discussing the significance of this incident in terms of political ideology which says more about the writer than China. As someone who cares deeply about China, I am taking the opportunity to humbly offer some of my thoughts. Because my moral views are so fully informed by Christian scriptures, my reflections are rooted in a biblical parable. However, I do not intend to "preach" or to set myself up as morally superior. I only wish to speak to this tragedy in a way that reflects the teachings of Jesus.

As I reflected on the video and commentary, I was struck by the similarities between Yueyue's tragic story and the story that forms the basis for the primary teaching on charity in the Christian tradition. In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus described a situation where various people chose to ignore a person who lay injured and bleeding on a public road. In Jesus' story, it was an adult who was injured rather than a two-year-old child. However, both Yueyue and the man in the parable were innocent individuals who suffered grievous injury through no fault of their own. Since Jesus was telling a story to make a point, he chose to make the heartless people who crossed in the other side of the road leaders of the religious establishment -- a priest and a Levite -- rather than ordinary citizens.

In the parable, the person who finally took pity on the injured stranger was a Samaritan -- a member of an ethno-religious group despised by the Jews. This compassionate person had even less social standing than a rubbish collector. Jesus finished his parable by asking the penetrating question, "Who was the neighbor to the person who was injured?" This was in the context of Jesus setting out the second most important commandment as to how we should live our lives: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

The parable of the Good Samaritan has resonated with people through the centuries and informed the discourse of desired social behavior in western societies. It is the teaching of Jesus in keeping with his commandment to love God but it is a standard of social rather than religious behavior. It does not apply only to Christians or exemplify an exclusively Christian doctrine. The fact that the bad guys were religious leaders shows that Jesus understood this act of mercy came from an innate and visceral compassion rather than from any sense of religious duty.

Maybe the parable of the Good Samaritan opens the door for China to move beyond the painful images of a real life tragedy in Guangdong when discussing the experience of Yueyue. The dialogue China needs to engage in is, "Who is my neighbor?" Traditionally, the answer to that question was oriented to family and clan. In the communist era, the meaning of "neighbor" has been informed by the collective and political groupings imposed by the Communist Party. Maybe the Party should have the humility to cast some of its officials in the same unflattering light that Jesus cast the priest and the Levite in. However, the Party wants to portray itself during this time of national dialogue, the discussion should not be about greed or pursuing only wealth. Rather, it should be about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

It was not because she was poor that the rubbish collector, Chen Xianmei picked up Yueyue and carried her off the road. Similarly, the compassion demonstrated by the Good Samaritan had little to do with his class or economic status. It is not because he belonged to a class reviled by the majority of people that the Samaritan stopped to help. He helped because he saw the injured man as his neighbor. China does not need an ideological debate that focuses on issues of "class" and "capitalism." China has already fought a revolution on those divisive issues. China needs a debate that can unite and uplift its society. Properly understood, "Who is my neighbor?" is a moral and ethical question as relevant to the inhabitants of Zhongnanhai as it is to the shoppers who passed Yueyue in the market street. It is an inquiry that transcends social standing, economic class and party affiliation. Jesus dealt with the question in relationship to the love of God. Can China explore this question in a non-religious context that reflects the reality of contemporary China? If it can, the death of Yueyue might have a profoundly beneficial influence on the whole country and help China come to an understanding of charity that is simultaneously global and Chinese.

These are just some thoughts from a lao pengyou who hopes that I myself will not fail to help my neighbor when I encounter him lying bleeding in the street.