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China could benefit from kindness day

Updated: 2013-11-25 22:01
By Ni Wei (

Nov 13 was World Kindness Day, the kind of holiday people rarely hear about. Compared to neighboring holidays, this day is truly less appealing.

Singles’ Day on Nov 11 brings good sales as a gala for online shopping. Halloween gives people the chance to put on fun costumes and hang out with friends. So, what does the low-profile and seemingly useless World Kindness Day have to offer?

To quote William Shakespeare, the holiday offers the “milk of human kindness”.

China, as a country with deeply rooted traditions, used to boast about its emphasis on manners.

A key teaching of the School of Confucianism is “Ren”, roughly translated as the spirit of benevolence that values personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.

But as a fast-changing country with roaring economic development, the old rules are quickly fading as new rules arise. People have become mentally disoriented, resulting in record-low moral standards.

Experts have said it is reasonable that the current emphasis lies on legal construction rather than moral developments.

But the truth is, citizens are baffled about how to behave, how to interact and especially about how to deal with strangers.

Standards of living are also changing quickly. Before, Chinese people lived clustered together in countryside neighborhoods.

In the spirit of cooperation and kindness, each member of the community or village identified himself as part of the larger group.

As Fei Hsiao-Tung, a pioneering Chinese researcher of sociology and anthropology, wrote in his book From the Soil, the traditional rural societal network was among acquaintances. This naturally breeds kindness among one another as social networks are built.

Now, the booming economic development has given birth to mega-cities, in which millions of people live together, but as strangers. With the fast pace of living, there is no need to be friendly to a stranger that you probably would never interact with again.

The broken moral norms and the change in our living environment together result in less people practicing the milk of human kindness, let alone showing it.

But there are people — especially youngsters — who are trying to make a change.

Starting in 2006, a young man in Hunan province introduced to his hometown the Australian-originated “free hugs” campaign.

It soon became a hot topic over the years whether a simple hug would suit the Chinese people and cure the lack of kindness in our society.

Regardless of its effect, it is true that in a communal environment, Chinese tend to act hostile.

Maybe it’s because we don’t know how to act in a public space, or maybe we’ve had a rough day and don’t bother to act nicely.

When I think of my encounters in the streets or on the subway, I see guarded faces with indifferent looks and shifty eyes. Rarely do I see a smiling face, kindness or natural goodwill extended to strangers. Where can positive energy be found then?

That is why it’s extra important to promote the idea of kindness and this holiday to China now.

The purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond cultural background, race and religion and create a universal link between people of all countries.

But in China, there’s a deeper meaning to unite Chinese together. Too often do people judge others too hastily and focus too much on personality differences rather than similarities.

Joseph Campbell said the meaning of life is to “feel the rapture of being alive.” There is a similar old Chinese saying, “Give out roses and you would be left with fragrance in your hand”.

The milk of human kindness is really significant to both sayings: To make oneself feel good, they must resonate with all of society and promote a virtuous cycle of positive energy.

When we extend the idea, World Kindness Day is really more about being kind to strangers.

It’s also about being kind to Mother Nature and everything that happens to us. The concept of Singles’ Day has only become the “in word” in recent years, showing the need for online shopping. With the never-dying need for kindness, I can see this holiday will one day become a trend.

The author is an intern writer with China Daily