China

Knowledge Yielding To Power? When The Professors Kneel Before The Politicians

In China, a group of professors at Yangtze University knelt down in front of the local municipality building to plead for the closure of a polluting steel mill. Some say it was a shameful sign of the times. But you know what? It worked.

Soldiers in Beijing (showbizsuperstar)
Soldiers in Beijing (showbizsuperstar)

BEIJING - On November 1, several dozen professors from Yangtze University in the Hubei Province knelt down in front of the local municipality building to plead for the closure of a polluting steel mill next to their campus. Two days later, local officials cut the power supply to the factory, halting its operation.

The fact that professors knelt down to the authorities has aroused lots of Sturm und Drang across China. For many, it's difficult to understand this behavior, which risks undermining the particularly prestigious status held by professors in Chinese society. As the intelligentsia, they regard bowing down to the powerful and privileged as an act of shame. Some have explicitly called it: "knowledge yielding to power."

And yet, it was undeniably efficient. Resorting to this unusual means of petition attracted the media and the public's attention and consequently forced the authority's intervention.

It's not the first time that people with particular status have pleaded for action in a conspicuous way and provoked a public reaction. Recent examples included protests by uniformed policemen in Shandong and prosecutors in Zhejiang. What is common in these cases is that normal channels of petition didn't work, and people were forced to take desperate measures to defend their rights.

Nevertheless, the incident is also a reminder that there are many ordinary folk who see their causes ignored, both by local authorities and the media. There are citizens kneeling down for days and months in front of courts or local governments in every corner of China, yet they rarely attract press attention.

Those unfortunate people whose houses have been wrecked, whose family members had been wrongfully jailed or misdiagnosed and disabled by incompetent hospitals certainly suffer more tangible physical and assessable property damage than the invisible pollution that those professors were subject to. Yet so few of them attract news coverage, let alone receive a speedy response from the government. There is no fairness of treatment.

One can't help think of the case of Qien Mingqi, who blew up three local city government buildings in violent revenge last May. For a decade, authorities had ignored his petition over the financial loss he suffered from the death of his wife indirectly caused by the forced relocation of his home.

These incidents demonstrate that any wronged soul should focus less on the grievance or the defense of one's rights than on the method for attracting attention. This explains why the way people plead looks more and more like performance art.

Nevertheless, though far from perfect, we can take comfort in the growing number of cases creating a public reaction. Indeed the number of cases where the media cover individual grievances is an index of the health of society's democracy and its legal institutions.

Read the full version of the original article in Chinese

photo - showbizsuperstar

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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