All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
- Marshall McLuhan
He was known as “The prophet of the electronic age”, coined the phrase “global village”, and is the patron saint of Wired Magazine. And if McLuhan was right, then no wonder cynicism rules the day. The more media we take in, the easier it is to believe there’s nothing to believe in besides self-gratification.
That’s why stories of selfless heroism, rare as they are, deserve as much attention as they can get. “Inspiring People”, an annual CCTV show begun in 2002, awards ten people each year for reminding us that society’s best are seldom on camera. The criteria for selection include outstanding contributions to society, acts of heroism, and manifestation of traditional Chinese virtues. Here are the ten top candidates for 2008.
David Ding- American teacher in western China
David began came to China in 1994, to teach at a private primary school in Guangdong’s Zhuhai. In1998, he took a post at Lanzhou’s Northwest People’s College. This wasn’t a typical teacher’s career move, in that he signed on for a monthly salary of 1,200 RMB. Even more atypically, after learning what his peers got by on, he demanded a salary reduction to below 1,000 yuan. It was a struggle to convince mystified administrators, but he prevailed.
David and his wife are still in Lanzhou, living happily on his decidedly un-expatriate stipend. The secret to his contentment is a combination of minimalism and sense of duty. He has only two changes of clothes and a few other necessities, and claims to maintain himself and his wife on three to four hundred RMB per month. One of his proudest possessions is the Chinese flag, displayed prominently in his room. It helps bridge the gap between him and his students, and keeps him mindful of why he came to China, to make a personal difference for as many students as he can.
Jiang Xiaojuan- “Policemom” at the frontline of rescue
On hearing of the Wenchuan earthquake, Jiang, a policewoman, left her six-month baby with her parents and rushed to Sichuan to help. Among the many suffering were scores of infants suddenly left without sustenance. In a unique position to help, Jiang breastfed as many as possible, often two-at-a-time, and took on full-time care of nine babies. Her actions won her the moniker “Policemom”, despite being separated from her only child during months of volunteer service.
Lin Hao – the young rescuer
Nine-and-a-half year-old Lin Hao was one of the lucky few to escape the collapse of his school during the Wenchuan earthquake. But leaving the rubble was his last thought. Instead, he plunged into the wreckage, carrying students out on his back, despite being injured himself. When asked why he had risked his life in the aftermath, Lin replied, “I’m a monitor. What’s the use of a monitor who lets other children disappear?” Lin appeared at the Olympic opening ceremonies beside Yao Ming, his scars still clearly visible.
Wang Yanna – organ donor
Mao Langjiang, a Uyghur boy, was in a state of acute renal failure. None of his relatives qualified for a kidney transplant, and there was neither money nor time to find another donor. Wang Yanna, a community youth volunteer in Urumchi, heard of Mao’s plight and made the decision to help. Hiding her intent from her parents, Wang quit her job and went to the hospital where Mao lay close to death. The medical institute rejected her request twice; only after her father, a construction worker, gave his unconditional consent did the hospital relent, after which surgeons performed a successful transplant.
Lu Songfang – coal – hauling philanthropist
Lu Songfang appears at once younger and older than his seventy eight years. He is still sprightly of necessity, earning his living transporting coal, but the dirt and strain of such manual labor has given him the gnarled aspect of a centenarian.
Lu counts it a good day when he earns thirty yuan for his efforts, hauling 400-kilo cartfuls of coal over miles of rough country road outside of Huzhou, in Zhejiang province. After years of scrimping, he had managed to amass 11,000 RMB, a small fortune earmarked for the fast-approaching day when he can no-longer perform such labor. He gave it all to the Wenchuan relief effort, however, with little fanfare and refusal to be celebrated. A local businessman who heard of his deed offered him a sinecure paying 1,000 RMB per month, which Lu refused, citing his wish to help others full-time.
Fu Baozhu – a stricken nurse
At sixty one, Fu Baozhu retired from a long career as a nurse, yet needing one herself. A brain tumor, artificial hip, and heart condition requiring a pacemaker would be enough to keep most seniors horizontal far more often than vertical. But when Fu learned of a leper colony in Guangdong in desperate need of caregivers, she promptly decided to return to service. Since 2003, she has been taking care of leprosy sufferers in the village, leading a life stripped of comforts but nonetheless full. Besides her fundraising trips, she has to make frequent trips to Hong Kong for medical treatment, lugging back medicine for both herself and her charges during the nine-hour journey. Fu tells people that “Using my life to help others is like using a candle to light other candles.”
Yang Yufen – Wenchuan martyr
Yang Yufen had been pinned beneath the ruins of her home for four days before rescuers found her. Her husband had died during the earthquake, while her daughter was busy saving thirteen lives at the school where she taught. Rescue workers tried again and again to get to her through the rubble, but their efforts were only making the few remaining rafters and walls more precarious. After yet another fruitless attempt, Yang cried out from her entrapment “Give me up and go help the others!” Wenchuan was full of heroes, and she went unheeded, despite the imminent danger. That’s when Yang slit her wrists with broken glass, the only way she knew to protect her would-be rescuers.
Luo Bin – millionaire by proxy
Luo Bin owns a shop in Chengdu that sells lottery tickets. A Mr. Zhang, out-of-town but believing Luo’s store was lucky, had sent along money and instructions to buy a batch of tickets to hold for him. Luo had neglected to buy any tickets for himself, so one may imagine what went through his head this past October 27th, when he found among Zhang’s tickets a five million yuan winner.
Zhang reports having assumed he would never see the money or Mr. Luo again. Thus his astonishment on getting a phone call from him minutes after the announcement of the winning numbers. Luo would only say, “I’d rather lead a poor but honest life than be rich and tortured.”
Ye Zhiping – the responsible schoolmaster
Ye Zheping is the principal of Sangzao Middle School, in Wenchuan County. Although he was not at the school during the earthquake, he had seen to it that both teachers and students were all highly trained in emergency response. Only rigorous drilling can explain how more than 2,200 students and hundreds of teachers managed to evacuate the school buildings and assemble on the playground in orderly rows, all in an astonishing time of one minute and thirty six seconds. In a section of Wenchuan where the rate of buildings damaged is close to one hundred percent, the school recorded no casualties. Students, teachers, and grateful parents all attribute the miracle to Ye’s assiduous planning.
The Tangshan Thirteen – twice the heroes
A group of peasant farmers ranging in age from nineteen to sixty-two, the Tangshan Thirteen rented a bus and traveled to Hunan’s isolated Chenzhou to pitch in with relief efforts, after the freak snowstorm that paralyzed southern China in early 2008. They had not been back home long when news of the earthquake came. Having acquired a taste for heroism, the thirteen made it out to Wenchuan under their own steam, among the earliest volunteers to assist the PLA in facing the disaster.
Thanks to Qiaoyi Li for her collaboration and translation.