Monday, 28 March 2011

The Morality of Publicity Stunts

A few days ago there was a story on the newspaper I saw that looked odd. A Chinese woman was shuffling on her knees carrying her sick baby daughter down a busy road in Guangzhou because a man who claimed to be rich said she'd giver her 20,000RMB ($3,047) if she would walk one kilometre on her knees.

She did it but then the man with the online name "Son of the Guangzhou rich" didn't pay up, and the media coverage over this development led to the woman getting more than 280,000RMB ($42,647) in donations. She seemed foolish to think someone on the internet would give her the money.

But now it has been revealed it was all a stunt to tap into people's sympathy and anger.

The mother, Xie Sanxiu has now offered to return all the money and apologized for "hurting the media and society", but insisted she only agreed to do the stunt for her seven-month-old daughter who has eye cancer.

The man who helped plan Xie to do this was Shi Jinquan, a website content manager who also apologized but said this was the only way to raise money and thought it was worth it because a baby would be saved.

"You can say the means were not noble and people were angry, but I'm only trying to help," he said. "Society is so cold and cruel. If she could have got help immediately when she asked for it, I would not have helped her in this way.

"In my personal research of internet communications, anger can easily attract attention, and opinions spread on a very large scale. This was a last resort."

Xie is a garment factory worker with her husband and they already have a 12-year-old son. She gave birth to her daughter Shanshan in August, but two months later found out the little girl has retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer.

The family asked for help from the Civil Affairs Department in their home province of Hubei, but only received a paper that acknowledged they were below the poverty line. Xie tried begging in front of hospitals got nothing, while asking for donations online only got her 400RMB.

Desperate, Xie posted a plea on Tianya.cn, asking for donations and that's when "Son of the Guangzhou Rich" replied back with his demand that she walk on her knees.

So she did, specifically on the road where an influential Guangzhou newspaper group is located which got her media attention, especially when the man didn't show up to give her the money he had promised her.

As a result the story was quickly picked up, and anger and sympathy over Xie's humiliation led to a flood of donations.

But it turned out the IP address of "Son of the Guangzhou Rich" was the same as the content manager responsible for where Xie posted her plea. He had also coached her on how to answer media questions. As a result Shi was fired from his job and he was bombarded with calls from people angry that they had been deceived.

While he did suggest she do a physically demanding stunt, one has to admit it drew lots of attention and donations for Xie. She had tried to get help from the government, but it ignored her -- so Shi only tried to help her.

It's a sad commentary on the government for not trying to help its own people -- something Premier Wen Jiabao hopes to reverse in the recent National People's Congress meetings. When the government doesn't listen to them, the people have to resort to other means to get what they need.

Shi himself didn't have the money to give Xie so was he really wrong in helping her with this publicity stunt? It was morally wrong, but was there another way? Apparently there are many sad cases like these posted on the internet everyday. Perhaps Wen should read these pleas online and help at least one a day. Perhaps then the people would really feel like the government is serving the people.

1 comment:

  1. what a lame stunt , but it does show the dark side of the chinese nouveau rich and the post-80 generation.

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