In response to the tainted milk scandal, several bloggers have questioned the moral foundation of Chinese society.
The Chinese expression “quede” (缺德) , meaning “short of virtue,” used to be one of the most vicious insults in verbal arguments. Nowadays, the expression seems to have lost its admonishing power and has simply become a portrait of reality. Last year, a Chinese blogger cyber-named “David” attempted to analyze this. In his widely read article “Why have Chinese become ‘quede’ now?” he lists a few representative views on the Chinese moral sphere: all citizens worship money; no more baselines exist for minimal morality; today is the worst time of moral degeneration in China’s history; China should return to its traditional values.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis comments at China Brief on the moral valence of the recent tainted milk scandal, as well:
I find it hard to believe the Chinese executives at Sanlu, when faced with the request to recall their defective products deliberately set out to hospitalize or kill Chinese babies. Yet their actions, in not recalling product, and those also of the local government officials who failed to act, demonstrate a deep rooted inability to determine between right and wrong. They were amoral.
Earlier on in the article, Devonshire-Ellis accounts for this moral insufficiency in citing a lack of religious education:
[…]the deeper implication however is an essential lack of morality within Chinese society. With China being an atheist state, religion is strictly controlled. There is no religious education in Chinese schools, a situation completely at odds with most of the rest of the world. The impact of this has been to create a society largely amoral, ignorant of the differences between right and wrong.
Religious education notwithstanding, Eberlein also offers the contemporary Confucianist Jiang Qing‘s take:
To [Jiang Qing] the essential problem is the lack of state ideology and a corresponding political system. Since the Cultural Revolution led to the self-destruction of Communism, that once ideological monopoly has lost its past aureole, and common Chinese have been unable to find the ultimate meaning and value for their individual lives.
“The problem isn’t that people don’t follow moral standards; the problem is that there no longer exist moral standards,” says Jiang Qing. He attributes the loss of morality to five decades of atrophy under Communist political power, plus two decades of corrosion under the money and wealth brought by the Western market economy.
See also CDT guest blogger Josie Liu’s recent post.