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A young Chinese girl, plays with a Chinese flag while standing in an alley of Houhai district in Beijing Thursday. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)
A young Chinese girl, plays with a Chinese flag while standing in an alley of Houhai district in Beijing Thursday. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Globe Editorial

In Foshan, China, a street without a heart Add to ...

The questions China needs to ask itself about the criminal indifference shown to a desperately injured little girl lying on a roadway are the most basic ones about the value and purpose of life.

If a two-year-old can be left in the middle of a street while a busy life of commerce goes on around her, that commerce has been devalued unto worthlessness. It is empty, hollow. It has no moral core.

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The government of China accepts that the problem is a serious one, but seems to point at ordinary Chinese as the source of it. The Central Committee of the Communist Party declared this week that it wants to build a “powerful socialist culture” to improve “the nation's ideological and moral qualities.”

This is a society where basic trust between the government and the governed, and among the governed, has been weakened. China has suppressed religion, suppressed civil society, suppressed the natural instincts of people to join together in the pursuit of something larger than themselves. And not so long ago, the Communist Party urged people to report their fellow citizens to the state for being ideologically impure.

But that is not a complete answer. Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who spent much of his life in China, recalls an incident in China in the 1970s in which his local friends tried to persuade him not to help an older man in distress. The society is organized around families and relatives, ingroups and outgroups, he explains, and though China has suppressed large civic organizations, there wasn't much to suppress.

If the government thinks it can impose a solution to the inhumanity shown the little girl known as Yueyue as it imposes five-year economic plans, it is horribly mistaken. The days of a “powerful socialist culture” – of, in another context, the new Soviet man, who sincerely values the collective above the individual, have been exploded forever. Young people in China are on the Internet, they have their Facebook and Twitter equivalents. They are the vanguard now. If anything positive is to emerge from this horrifying incident, it will come from their willingness to look at the video and talk about it honestly and openly.

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