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April 27, 2017

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Home » Opinion » Chinese Views

Give with humility: it’s about what you do at the end of day, not what you ‘sacrificed’

LAST week I came across a headline on a leading news portal in the country, which read: “Post-90-generation girl quit well-paid job, volunteered to teach in mountainous regions, now has a shower every two weeks.”

A quick browse of the story, released by Tencent on Friday, revealed that the headline was nothing but a stunt.

Nowhere in the story could one find how much the girl, surnamed He, had actually earned before she volunteered to teach in backward regions in northwest Yunnan Province, along with a group of volunteers. The story only said that she “quit her well-paid job in Beijing.”

It was an unsubstantiated claim, running against the basic teachings of professional journalism.

The purpose of this sensational headline, then, is perhaps to play up the “merit” of the girl. But, one does not have to quit a well-paid job to become a virtuous volunteer teacher in poor regions. Anyone who volunteers to teach poor kids is commendable, even if he or she was low-paid or jobless.

After all, a jobless person need not choose to teach as a volunteer in mountainous regions, as he or she may well try to work and make a decent living in cities. For them, volunteering to teach poor kids instead of going to cities incurs no less an opportunity cost than someone who forsakes his or her high salaries.

Teaching as a volunteer is virtuous per se, its value depending on no external conditions like the original income level of the volunteer.

Prism of money

That the Tencent news headline played up the importance of high salaries — through appreciation of someone who claimed to have taken the initiative to relinquish them — speaks volumes about how some members of our society have come to judge an individual choice through the prism of money.

Not just Tencent.

Type fang qi gao xin zhi jiao (“quit well-paid jobs to teach as a volunteer”) into the Baidu search engine and you get more than 4,400 headlines from various media telling similarly bloated stories, in which the salaries relinquished were often not really high, like 8,000 yuan (US$1,163) a month in today’s Beijing.

There was indeed someone with enviable income. Yangtze Evening News reported in 2012 that a private business boss from Suzhou had an annual income of several hundred thousand yuan. He decided to teach in a poor countryside school in Guizhou, south China, for one year. So he quit his job. But the story did not explain whether he quit the job temporarily or forever, or why he quit at all.

In China, there’re various favorable policies to encourage people to work as volunteer teachers in poor regions to close or narrow the country’s education gap between developed and less developed regions. Many volunteers can keep their original job and work as a volunteer teacher for more or less one year.

In many cases, such an experience is a boon for one’s future career. Of course, there are those who don’t need any incentive to teach as volunteers. Whatever the case, most stories of volunteer teachers are moving, except that the headlines often placed too much emphasis on the so-called relinquished high salaries.

By hyping high salaries, many media outlets have done disservice to our times in which everyone should be glorified if he or she volunteers to teach.

By hyping high salaries, these media outlets have left many more unsung heroes or heroines for every “hero” or “heroine” they report.

Our times call for a spirit of sacrifice for the benefit of others, especially the poorer others — not least a sacrifice of so-called high salaries.

He who has no high salaries and who does not dwell in urban comfort, is as commendable as anyone else in choosing to teach poor kids as a volunteer.


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