Hu Yong: I Wish the Chinese People Would Have More Feelings of Awe

Chinese intellectual Hu Yong wrote an essay on his blog commenting on the first national day of mourning in China:

May 19th was the first national day of mourning in China since the nation’s establishment. A large group of people gathered at Tiananmen Square at this moment of nationwide grief for the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake. They stayed there for a long time, and shouted slogans such as “Go China!” and “Long live China!”

My dear compatriots, do you know that the departed need tranquility, and the living need reverence? I once said that we should not talk easily about curses or blessings. But we still need to have a feeling of awe. I want to ask the passionate people shouting slogans on the square, when you vowed to turn your sorrow into power, did you ever think about facing the disaster with awe?

Please treat nature with awe. Do not block rivers with dams or split mountains. Pay homage to the unknown deity, just as our ancestors did. We have an old saying, “There are deities a few feet above our head.” Pay homage to life, despite its fragility, for every human life is nurtured by heaven and the earth, and nursed by the labor of his parents.

I read Antigone, a classic Greek tragedy by Sophocles the other night. There was a chorus — who often commented on the fate of characters in Greek dramas — singing in it:

The cautious ones are blessed.
Do not treat the deities with irreverence.
Reckless talk of arrogant people invites severe punishment.
This has taught the elders to be fearful.

The chorus seemed to say that we can never be free of misfortune, however hard we try. The deities are omniscient. We should not think that we can understand or influence them. The wisest attitude for us is to treat them with awe, which is a mixure of fear and admiration.

Is there a Greek chorus for the Chinese people right now? If there were one, it might be singing the following words:

At this moment, we need churches to pray with awe, but we only have squares.
At this moment, we need music to console our souls, but we only have slogans.
At this moment, we need tranquility, but there is only noisy shouting.
At this moment, we need silent contemplation, but there is only a fevered crowd.

My disaster-ridden fellows,
if you do believe that there is heaven,
Can you just stare at it in silence,
and wish farewell to those who have departed first?

Hu Yong is a senior media worker who was one of the first to write about the Internet in China.