What's wrong with showing filial piety?

By Shan Renping Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-16 20:45:03

Zhou Qifeng, the president of Peking University, knelt down before his mother during her 90th birthday celebration on July 13. The sight was quite moving. However, after this news was reported on July 15 and many websites reposted the picture, there was a surge of debate about whether the whole thing was a publicity stunt.

Firstly, it must be pointed out that it is praiseworthy for Zhou to kneel down to show his filial piety. According to Chinese traditional morality, filial piety is the most important of all virtues. So there's nothing to criticize there.

But does such an action deserve to be singled out for praise? I don't think so.

Filial piety should be a basic value, not a way of showing off. The presidency of Peking University is a lofty position. The public expects the officeholder to do more than just show filial piety.

Of course, we should not rule out that Zhou may not know that his private affairs would be reported. Under such circumstances, Zhou himself and Peking University should take measures in response to the publicity. However, they failed to give a timely response after the story went public.

The Internet has changed the context of news report and has influenced the public point of view. Online news is complicated by extensive interpretation.

Since no one can be shielded from popular opinion, public figures, especially those in sensitive positions, should be cautious and build a firewall between their private and public lives in advance. They need to do this in order to manage their work properly and deal with the slings and arrows of public opinion.

This isn't the first time a university presidency has proved a sensitive position. Since such posts are halfway between being officials and scholars, they can cause a lot of concern and confusion. The Internet cannot distinguish private matters from public ones, which the officeholders should be aware of.

The presidents of Peking University and other schools need to excel both ethically and academically. They have to take greater care of their affairs than regular scholars and officials do, especially in today's online age.

Peking University has been a vanguard in the changing social atmosphere. Under the current circumstances of social contradiction and hot debates among different opinion leaders, it is not unexpected for the president of Peking University to get involved in matters of public opinion.

Currently, China is going through a stage of transition. There is a great need for high-level public figures who can face challenges for their society and country.

The author is a commentator with the Chinese edition of the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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