Why China Needs a Higher Righteousness

In June, video footage of a tragic traffic accident surfaced online, once again prompting questions of morality in Chinese society by Chinese netizens. The incident occurred on April 21 in Zhumadian, Henan province. The video shows a woman who was blindsided by one car while crossing the street and left there by pedestrians. Several people and several cars pass through the intersection without stopping to help. Sadly, the woman is struck again by another car and killed.

This is, unfortunately, not the first case of its kind in recent memory. The incident reignited questions of trust and Good-Samaritan laws in Chinese society.

In this article from the journal Territory, Pastor An analyzes the incident and comments that a cold wave of self-righteousness has swept through Chinese society. This wave threatens to drown all sense of self-sacrifice and inhibits Chinese from extending grace towards other broken souls. “What we need,” says An, “is a higher righteousness” in Chinese society to counter this wave of self-righteousness.

We Need a Higher Righteousness—Commenting on the Death of a Girl in Zhumadian

On June 7 video of a traffic accident in April in Zhumadian of Henan province drew the attention of the entire Internet. In the video, as a woman was crossing the street, she was struck to the ground by a car, and more than ten pedestrians and over ten cars all passed by indifferently, with not one stepping forward to help. As a result the woman was again struck by a car and crushed to death.

What sort of social atmosphere is reflected behind such an event? And in the face of ever colder reality, where can we find hope?

The hope of the world is not in having laws; the hope of the world is not in having good people; what the world needs is a higher righteousness—the righteousness manifested in the gospel of God.

Mass Indifference

One could say that this is a repeat of an incident in 2011 when a young girl, Xiao Yue Yue, was hit [by a car] in Foshan. That time, the car accident happened in an alley; this time, it happened on a large road, and what’s more, with everybody watching. The case of Little Yue Yue sparked heated debate among our countrymen; but this time, public opinion has been weak and powerless, and everyone has also lost faith in public opinion.

From the condemnation of the offending driver, to the analyzing of the countrymen’s cold indifference, one can indeed see a larger, chronic problem. The public has overwhelmingly castigated the people on the scene as “murderers” and “scoundrels;” they little imagine that many viewers are likewise detached passersby. That video you watched—was it not provided to you by a person on the scene? For this reason, from beginning to end, I did not have the heart to open this heartbreaking video; after opening it I could not watch it to the end. I do not think it is just because I have a compassionate heart, or because I cannot bear to see it with my own eyes. It is more that I didn’t have the strength to face up to this mass, popular, cold indifference.

Two thousand years ago, on Golgotha, Calvary’s hill, God’s son was killed for sinners. Many people stood there and watched from afar; they ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others, but couldn’t save himself” (see Matthew 27:42). As a preacher, I have criticized those present many times, and presumed that had I been there, I would have not been the same. But as a matter of fact, it was the self-centeredness of each of us that nailed Jesus to that cross. He bore the heaviest punishment because of our sin.

Self-Righteous Judgment

Friends, you might criticize their sins . . . but do you know what? It was our human self-righteousness—especially this “distinctively Chinese” self-righteousness—which killed that woman at the scene of the car accident.

Why did the driver who caused this trouble drive ahead and hit her? Because he had traffic rules that bestowed him with self-righteousness—in China’s intersections, there are too many voices like this: If you don’t heed traffic rules, then getting hit and killed serves you right!

And the indifference of passersby is encapsulated in the following terrible phrase: They might be bumping porcelain, serves them right! (“Bump porcelain” is originally from the Beijing dialect, and refers generally to behavior that seizes every opportunity to gain advantage through trickery or extortion.—editor’s note)

In that moment, every passerby, like a righteous judge, sentenced that woman to death. As for those of us who denounce them, have we not in the same way put ourselves on the moral high ground as self-righteous judges? Have those cold passersby already died in the judgment of our “kangaroo court?”

As the Catholic theologian Otto Schilling said, the law is nothing more than the lowest standard of justice, the minimum righteousness. If traffic rules are the bare minimum of righteousness, then I wonder, when did they become supreme righteousness? Such that this supreme righteousness even assigns the driver to revile a pedestrian and say that getting hit serves her right, so that one day he’ll actually put it into practice—and all the other pedestrians will likewise give their tacit consent. No wonder the Bible says, “Sin’s power is the law” (see 1 Corinthians 15:56), and “the law brings wrath, and where there is no law, there is no transgression” (see Romans 4:15).

Whether in the government or among the people, for many years China has sought the spirit of the rule of law. If this is what the spirit of the rule of law is like, then the rule of law’s efforts will inevitably be confounded: who then, and under what circumstances, distorted the meaning of the rule of law?

The Greatest Problem

Indeed, sin must be restrained by the law; but the law can also intensify sin, to the point that one can even sin in the name of the law. To get to the heart of the matter, sin is spreading unchecked while morality wanes, and it is using legalism and moral self-righteousness as a cover. So then, permit me to say this: China needs a higher kind of righteousness, which is the gospel—the righteousness that God manifests in his son Christ’s saving grace.

Modern pressures already leave people so busy that they feel unable to fend for themselves, let alone for others; and considering the pointlessness of helping others, disregard and cold indifference are inevitable phenomena. It is difficult to be a good person, and do you know what the greatest challenge is? It is that a good person does good all the way to the end. Not every person who “bumps porcelain” acts from deceptive motives. Their hearts have an orientation toward a religious belief, which is to encounter such a perfectly good person—but besides God’s son Christ, no person can assume the status of a “good person.” That is to say, the “porcelain-bumping” person’s biggest problem isn’t that he fell, waiting for someone to come help, neither is it his expectation that people will help him again and again. His biggest problem is that he puts the expectation for a “good person,” on such unworthy sinners as you and I instead of on Christ, the son of God.

You may remember seven years ago when the street lady rescued Xiao Yue Yue, and it immediately went viral online. In an instant, a bare minimum righteousness was praised as the highest righteousness. In the spotlight, that street lady looked weak and sallow.

If that driver knew that God bears with his sin, and has pardoned him countless times, then he wouldn’t have stepped on the gas toward that girl. If the passersby knew that even a person bumping porcelain was also a sinner, and a person bearing God’s image, then he would not have ignored a suffering and struggling life, and simply allowed it to “run its course.” If the person who viewed and forwarded that video knew that we are identical to each role in the video, then he wouldn’t have posed as a person of high morals, filled with righteous indignation, but instead would have repented and confessed his own sin.

A Higher Righteousness

Chinese people need a higher righteousness. Killing those who deserve to be killed, driving into those who deserve to die—this is the faith to which they already adhere. Saving those who don’t deserve to die is the effort they expect. As for saving people who deserve to die, this is something they have never considered—because up until today, China has too many people who have never received the grace of salvation that Jesus has for sinners. Before everybody was avoiding the reek of blood at the car crash, they were all along avoiding the precious blood Christ shed on the cross, as well as the redemption and salvation, resurrection and eternal life, all freely offered in the blood.

China needs a higher righteousness. Jesus said, “If your righteousness does not surpass the scribes’ and Pharisees’ righteousness, then you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The higher righteousness comes from the kingdom of heaven, and its coming challenges us to throw away our sham self-righteousness before people. Through the illumination of the kingdom of heaven, may you pray together with me to the Lord:

Oh, dear Lord,
If not for gazing up at your cross,
If not for uniting at your cross,
If I didn’t belong to you,
And you hadn’t taken my place,
I would be unable to face,
And unable to judge such a miserable condition as this
For that person being judged would be me.

Original article: 我们需要更高的公义——评驻马店女子之死 (Territory) (Translated, edited, and posted with permission)

Image credit: by Shengming Lee via Flickr