Be wary of public opinion veering to ‘soft violence’

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-18 0:18:01

A local official in Yuyao, the city in Zhejiang Province recently hit by a typhoon, was removed from his post for accepting a piggyback ride through flood water from a village leader. The incident was first reported on China's social media platform Sina Weibo on October 13 with a picture of the incident.

The caption for the picture read that the official was visiting a flooded village and wearing a pair of expensive shoes. He asked a 60-year-old villager, who is also the secretary of the village's CPC committee, to carry him through the water.

An online fuss was soon created, with the majority condemning the official's actions. Bai Yansong, a well-known commentator on China Central Television, criticized the official , saying, "He doesn't have wet shoes, but has a bubble brain."

The official's seniors in Sanqishi township government gave a quick response to this online exposure. The very next day, the "offender" was discharged from his post as director of the township's construction office. He was also given a warning by the local committee of the CPC.

However, with more details being disclosed, the incident was not as black-or-white as people thought. According to a Beijing Youth Daily interview with both the village leader and the official himself, they were fellow villagers and good friends. The official had intended to take off his shoes to wade through the water before he was stopped by the village leader, who insisted on piggybacking him through the water. Further, the official was not wearing "expensive shoes" as cited on Weibo, but a pair of 100 yuan ($16.39) shoes made of cloth. 

As a public servant who vowed to serve the people before taking office, the official misbehaved when he was on an official visit, and deserved the appropriate punishment, even though his misdeed is probably based on other people's good intentions. However, this so-called grass-roots triumph is not fully based on fact. The intervention of public opinion also makes a great difference.

In recent years, a phenomenon has emerged along with the magnification of individual voices in the Chinese community. It is putting great pressure on the authorities, and attempts to control the progression of certain events, even at the cost of giving up what they are advocating - justice, legitimacy and transparency.

I am not in the position to judge whether removing the official from his post is legitimate or not. But according to Ma Junhui, deputy secretary of the township's CPC committee, public opinion has had an influence on the decision-making process.

Public opinion is an absolutely necessary force for supervising the authorities in modern civilization. But this force cannot be overused as a form of "soft violence."

Besides assertiveness and courage, it needs to be more prudent and objective, making their voices impersonal and constructive for the public's benefit.

Posted in: Observer

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