On April 16, Huang Yang, graduate student at the medical school of Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, was announced died. He, who was born into a poor family in a remote village in Sichuan province and has been living on scholarships and student loans, just recently got admitted to his school’s PhD program. But the only thing left now are tears on his parents’ face and a poisoning case that many Chinese neizens were trying hard to make sense of.
Huang started to have symptoms like vomiting and fever since April 1, and fell into a como since April 5. At first, no one knew what was wrong…until a mysterious text message containing the name of a chemical was send to Huang’s friend. It’s N-Nitrosodimethylamine, also known as dimethylnitrosamine, and it’s highly toxic.
Local police found the deadly poison in the water dispenser at Huang’s dorm. A Mr. Lin, who is Huang’s roommate, was taken by police as the major suspect. Out of the many guesses of what led to this tragedy, most Chinese netizens believed that it was because of jealousy – Huang was too good and he took one of the few positions at Fudan medical school’s PhD program, one of China’s best.
The case shocked the whole nation, not only because the crime happened in one of China’s best universities, but also because it wasn’t the first. Back in 1994, Zhu Ling, a student from Tsinghua University (probably the most prestigious and best know university in China) was sent to the hospital due to thallium poisoning. Failing to be cured, she is 100% paralyzed and her brain is completely damaged. One of her roommate at the university dorm was believed to intentionally poison her, again, because she was too good. But 10 years has passed, the case still hasn’t been solved and no one was found responsible.
A fresh case plus a horrible memory have Chinese netizens ask: “ Aren’t these students admitted to China’s best universities should be the best of the best? Why are they capable of crimes so evil?”
Some, like netiizen 阿水哥哥2013 blamed the country’s education system that focuses only on test scores: “Our education system is just as guilty as the murderer.” The official commentary channel of Sina News commented: “Huang’s case is a slap in the face of China’s education system…Qualities that cannot be measured by test scores will show themselves in real life. It’s a rare case and cannot represent all. But if an education system misses the teachings of how to be a good man, our society will only lose more.”
Others, however, thought it was too simplistic to point fingers at the education system. Like netizen 东方松 commented: “School is to teach knowledge. It’s the family and the whole society’s responsibility to teach how to be a good man.” Netizen Ladylaner shared the same view: “The same education system gives us Huang Yang and his criminal roommate. One befriends with gratification. The other jealousy. It’s time that we put an emphasis on family education.”
At the end of the day, it may be a combination of both. Huang, who was born in 1985, belongs to China’s “baby boomer” generation. (Huang’s parents’ generation is China’s true baby boomers, born in a time when the Chinese people were told by their government to have as many children as possible to build their country. As a result, though the one-child policy took effect in late 70s, the generation that was born in early 80s still has a very large population.) His generation, or China’s early post-80s generation, learns the meaning of competition from a very early age. The childhood nightmare of many post-80s generation is when their parents say: “You are bad. Look at XXX from XXX’s family. S/he is good and you should learn from her/him.” They compete with their peers for almost everything in life from school admissions to jobs, sometimes very fiercely.
What’s more unfortunate, China’s 30 years of at-all-cost development and deteriorating corruption and social inequality have led to a population more pragmatic than ever – If I can use a trick to win, why not? If I can use a shortcut to outrun, why not? If I can use guangxi or bribes to get through, why not? The ultimate goal is to win, and win for now. On an individual level, such mindset leads to tragedies like Huang’s. On a national level, we see Made in China being seen as equals of poor quality products.
Yes, this is but an extreme case. But the problems lead to it are a China commonplace that needs resolution.