Sunday, March 05, 2006
The Future Leaders of China
As I stood watching the children in this small, rural orphanage, I suddenly heard a commotion coming from the baby room's door. Turning, I was surprised to see a small crowd of High School students, many dressed smartly in their school uniforms, entering the room with bags of candy and fruit. They were as puzzled by my presence as I was by theirs. They quickly dispersed into the room, each student searching out a small child to introduce themselves to, and to engage in a simple conversation or game of play.
I watched one of the eighteen students as they knelt beside a small boy, his smile marred by his severe cleft pallet. The little boy gazed into the face of the the girl as she addressed him, sang some songs, and gave him a small treat. He beamed. Another student walked over to a nearby crib, a newborn infant lying in some blankets, and began to gingerly stroke its hands. The backlighting on the student and infant produced a solemn effect of intimacy and connection, two hands touching in a quiet and peaceful gesture.
I approached one of the students and introduced myself. "Why are you here today?" I asked her, "Today is Sunday, a school holiday, is it not?" She explained that all of these students were in her class, and that today was "The Day of Lei Feng". "We have come here to help the orphans, to give something back to our community."
Lei Feng Day was first announced by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong forty-one years ago today. Lei was an altruistic soldier who selflessly devoted his life to others, assuming a life of simplicity and poverty for himself. He died tragicly in a truck accident in 1962 at the age of twenty-two.
Each year in China thousands of students perform acts of service for others to celebrate the life of Lei Feng. Some visit the aged in rest homes, cleaning rooms and giving baths. Others pick up trash and do recycling programs. Today, as I watched, eighteen students knelt in front of two scores of orphaned children and sang, talked, and laughed with them. The children beamed, full of pride and excitement at being the center of such lavish attention.
It is difficult to describe, let alone quantify the changing attitudes of China's youth. In contrast to their grandparents that hold tenatiously to dying traditions of patriarchy, the youth of today sport cell phones, IM endlessly on computers in one of the many cyber cafes located in each town and village, and watch pirated Western movies in their homes. Decried by their elders as often slothful and disrespectful, the rising generation displays a progressive and open-minded attitude towards themselves, their country and the world. As this generation assumes control of the political structure in China, I have no doubt that phenominal and dramatic changes will occur.
"May I ask you a question?" a male student asked me as I watched the action around me. "What should society do about the disabled?" The question was so unexpected that I did not know how to answer articulately, but uttered something about providing opportunities. I was, however, impressed that this student was asking these types of questions. What is our responsibily indeed! As these students interact with these children in this orphanage, no doubt they will take home images of the faces and smiles much like I do. As they mature and become influencial in Chinese society, they will work for change. I am certain few of them will contribute to the problem of abandoned children.
Today I saw China's future, and it is bright. Perhaps in a decade or two I will return to this place, and take a tour of a cultural artifact that one stood here. Perhaps, in that day, a progressive and powerful culture will have risen and taken its place among the noble and best of the world's civilizations.