In the mid 1800’s China faced a growing debt with England as a result of opium addiction. Officially opium had been banned by the emperor but corrupt officials continued to allow the drug into the country for the right price. The problem was not only destroying the fabric of Chinese society, but the empire itself.
Finally in 1838 a man with an impeccable reputation for being impervious to bribes was sent to deal with the illegal imports, his name was Lin Zexu. Not only was he effective in limiting the amount that entered the country, but was also adept at seizing it from warehouses. In 1839 he managed to destroy more than 2.5 million tons of opium, and wrote a letter to the Queen of England demanding she stop the trade of this “poison.”
The result of his noble efforts? The first Opium war, which forced China to sign a number of treaties that left them weak for nearly a century.
Nevertheless Lin Zexu is considered a role-model for being an upright an incorruptible official, which was a rare commodity in the 1800’s too.
With Lin Zexu in mind, allow me to introduce to you a man I consider to be the modern version, Mr. Li.
He is the son of a former provincial leader, married to a woman in a key gov’t position, and has a personal connection with Hu Jintao (the current leader of China), and yet he never abuses his power.
Generally school leaders of Mr. Li’s rank would require their subjects to greet them in an incredibly formal manner, they would have a driver take them to every meeting in a new black Audi or Cadillac, and they would use their influence to ensure their own personal wealth.
He is none of those things, and because of that he is one of the few leaders I have met that I have a deep respect for.
I used to work at his school and found that he was personally involved with helping to rebuild schools in Tibetan areas, building greenhouses that provide better nutrition to poor children, and helped organize training events for rural “barefoot Doctors”. All of this without seeking any personal benefit or promotion.
The only time he ever mentioned his connection to Hu Jintao was in order to get local officials to co-operate on a project in Hunan province that brought financial assistances to the hundreds of people infected with AIDS.
In a country currently racked with scandals, protests, and a long history of corruption, I’m slightly relieved to know that there are men like Mr. Li who still believe in the ideals of communism, in that they actually work to bring about a more equitable society.
Mr. Li’s service has been done quietly in a way that is incredibly rare today in China, which is why I felt that he deserved recognition on my blog. He continues to work for the greater good of the people of Sichuan and China.
I hope if you know more men like Mr. Li you will share more about them in the comments section.
Lin Zexu, scary face of him, as I can recall from my Chinese History books pictures.
Mr Li is worthy of our respect but I am intrigued. His personal moral code differs greatly from most of his peers. I think that either he is Christian (which is allowed, up to a point, in China) or he is a secret member of the Fa Lun Gong (which is banned). Their moral code is based on honesty, compassion and benevolence.
I can tell you that he is neither Christian nor Fa Lun Gong. Although he does work closely with Christian organizations, since they have the funding he lacks.
Meryl, that he appears to have a different moral code than many of his peers in China (or elsewhere throughout the world, for that matter) is not an equivalent to being Christian, a member of Falun Dafa or any other organization. In fact, that is a dangerous corollary to make and often leads to misperceptions or invalid stereotypes that only serve to further divide and alienate people. Being incorruptible is not a sign of Christian morality (I can name more than a few “Christians” who do not exemplify those standards) and those are among a few other adjectives I have heard used to describe Falun Dafa (none of the rest of which are nearly as positive).
Conversely, I can think of many people who adhere to no particular religion (Mr. Li, apparently, being one of them) who live very moral lives according to those religious dictates. I applaud Mr. Li and his efforts to better the lives of those to whom he serves but it would be best not to assign or assume such labels without further evidence.
(And, re-reading this response, it’s not intended as a criticism but merely an alternative point of view, so please don’t take this wrongly.)
I apologize, Mr Kuaizi, for my crass remarks. Mr Li is exceptional because of his obvious humanity which is unaffected by his power. I actually have never been a member of any organised religion but I know that many people welcome the fellowship of like minded individuals who adhere to a strong moral code. In my limited experience in China, it’s the middle aged people who have asked me about my religious beliefs (and been disappointed in my lack of belief) and I kind of sensed a spiritual vacuum sometimes. Maybe someone with more knowledge than me will give their comments. Britain, where I live, is a largely secular society but we enjoy freedom of expression (mostly!) and I wish that for the rest of the world.
Meryl, there is no need to apologize. I did not read your original remarks as crass. My intent was only to point out what I saw as a non-equivalent in your statement – just because a b does not mean that a = c. (Sorry for the math analogy, sometimes the techie in me just comes out like that. :-))
I don’t think I have ever been asked about my own religious beliefs in China (though it seems to come up frequently outside of China) and I can’t address that situation in China. I know that there are Christian churches, both sanctioned and not, inside of China but each person follows what they wish. An interesting aside is the term rice christian which I sometimes think about when it comes to Christianity in China – though I doubt it is applicable today in the sense it was a century ago. I know Christians in China and Chinese Christians who live outside of China and they are like Christians elsewhere in the world in my experience. Perhaps others can address that better than I…
Next week we are going to be starting a series on Religion in China, looking at buddhism, taoism, islam, and christianity in the middle kingdom. There is a lot to say on the topic.
I think it should be pointed out that long before Lin Zexu’s time China had been growing poppies and making opium and thus had many many addicts.
As regards the supply and importation the Canton traders spotted a market which they needed as China bought very little from the traders. Also at that time opium was not banned in England. The amount destroyed is a big exaggeration ( according to Wikipedia) see below.
He arrested more than 1,700 Chinese opium dealers and confiscated over 70,000 opium pipes. He initially attempted to get foreign companies to forfeit their opium stores in exchange for tea, but this ultimately failed and Lin resorted to using force in the western merchants’ enclave. It took Lin a month and a half before the merchants gave up nearly 1.2 million kilograms (2.6 million pounds) of opium.
For the first time… I gave you only 4 stars in grading this posting. I WANT MORE!!!!!!!
I would REALLY enjoy learning so much more about this fellow, his family, his parents, grandparents, etc…. HOW is able to stay, “pure” when so many others around him are… rascals?!
Thank you! A really great post!