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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: November 12, 2007 NO.46 NOV.15, 2007
Should Heroic Deeds Be Suitably Rewarded?
The debate rages -- do rewards encourage heroism, or do they demean what are essentially unquantifiable acts of courage?

Saving people in distress can now bring a good Samaritan big bucks. The government of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, announced in October that the maximum reward to people who risk their lives to save the lives and property of others, whether civilians or civil servants, would be raised from 50,000 yuan ($6,667) to 300,000 ($40,000) yuan. The highest sum given to locals who become disabled or diseased while performing heroic deeds also saw an increase to 150,000 yuan ($20,000).

The motive behind the move, according to the local government, is essentially to provide for the families of those heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice or who end up disabled or diseased as a result of their bravery. There is also a marketing angle to the bigger payout, and that is to encourage more people to help in times of distress when human life or public property is at risk.

This new decision comes at a time when the level of compensation nationwide remains low. Beijing's highest reward amounts to 200,000 yuan ($26,667), while in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, heroes receive 5,000 yuan ($667).

Guangzhou's announcement, therefore, has some people feeling it will encourage good virtues and improve the sense of responsibility in today's indifferent social environment. It is also seen as a way of supplementing the social security system. Families with diseased or disabled heroes will be able to live a normal life thanks to this hike in payout. Moreover, the sum of money also shows that the government and society will never forget those who stand up bravely in the face of danger.

There are of course opponents to this maximum reward decision. They believe that encouraging heroic deeds through high financial reward is degrading the "heroic spirit" and as this spirit is an instinctive behavior, this measure will only serve to instill more of a cold and indifferent attitude toward those in need of help. The "heroic spirit" is not something that can be measured with money, they say.

Some suggest that if we develop a better social security system, maybe disabled, diseased or otherwise impaired heroes will have less worries about their future.

Let's recognize their deeds

Cao Lin (Oriental Morning Post): Real heroes will not consider the cost of doing a heroic deed but rather how to save people or property from danger and this is why they are so respected and admired. While heroes care little about what they can gain, those who benefit from their deeds are supposed to show their gratitude. In order that the heroic spirit can survive and flourish, reward as an encouragement is absolutely necessary. The reward is not intended to devalue heroic deeds.

Heroes are rare. Their heroic deeds provide others with a sense of safety and raise the falling level of morality. In order for heroes to continue to do what they do, we need to show our recognition. To reward heroes is not to measure their deeds with money.

Heroes will not ask for pay for their heroic behaviors, but society should not turn a blind eye to the often neglected situation most heroes are faced with after their brave actions.

Chen Yizhou (www.people.com.cn): People will naturally praise heroes and criticize the indifferent onlookers. But one important thing is neglected: The maintenance of public security is a responsibility of the police. Citizens' heroic deeds at moments of danger are only a supplement to public management. Therefore, the big amount of money awarded to heroes can be seen as government departments' extended role in shouldering social responsibility. This is actually a reminder of the importance and value of social morality.

Why are so many people indifferent to the plight of others. It's improper to say that indifference is equal to demoralization or hard heartedness. It is the lack of an effective incentive mechanism capable of awakening people's consciousness that leads to indifference. To award money to heroes is thus a reasonable and practical way of encouraging high morality.

Since heroes have made contributions to society, it's natural for them to receive something in return. The move from purely spiritual encouragement to material reward for heroism is great progress, in line with the diversified social values facing society today.

Lou Guobiao (www.jcrb.com): To stand up to danger in times of emergency is a traditional virtue of the Chinese nation. However, in real life, many heroes or heroines get diseased or even disabled after having committed heroic deeds and the small amount of money they are awarded often proves to be inadequate to pay for their lifelong medical bills. In some cases the hero's family will slip into poverty, particularly when the hero, the major bread winner of the family, passes away.

The relatively small sums of compensation paid in the past has proved to be inadequate to aid the families of the diseased or disabled.

From the perspective of sociology, people are realistic about life. To encourage more people to conduct heroic deeds while sacrificing their own interests, apart from honor, which is spiritual encouragement, there must be economic compensation and complete social security protection. Otherwise, the state of suffering of heroes' families will discourage others from conducting heroic deeds. In this sense, to reward heroes huge amounts of money is a crucial step toward institutional protection and economic compensation.

Society needs heroes, so they must be well treated and rewarded. Applauding heroes promotes a positive social environment and that is something we all want to see.

Heroes need ongoing security

Li Huafang (www.bolaa.com): Is it necessary to encourage heroic deeds in a harmonious and peaceful society? Of course not. In a peaceful social environment, heroes would have nothing to do.

The government's announcement of increasing the maximum amount of financial reward in the hope of encouraging heroic deeds shows that crime is on the increase.

Generally speaking, ensuring public security is the state's obligation and heroic deeds can only be a supplement to the government's fight against crime. Taxpayers pay the police to protect them. If the state can't ensure public safety but have to depend on "heroes," then it might be better for people to pay bodyguards for security.

Studies find that the number of volunteer blood donors will fall and they will come for blood donation less frequently after financial compensation is offered. According to some extreme behavioral economists, big rewards may encourage some desperate people to create a dangerous environment and they may set up scam "heroic deeds." If this really happens, then the consequence is really going against the government's original intention.

Deng Haijian (gb.cri.cn): Nowadays, many local governments are increasing the amount of financial reward to heroes, but it's a pity that we see less and less heroic deeds. When righteousness begins to be encouraged with money and when good virtues in human nature is expected to be aroused by some special system, it reflects the fact that social justice and human virtues, like heroic spirit, are shrinking.

Financial reward is of course a way to encourage the emergence of heroes, but money will not necessarily ensure this. To conduct heroic deeds in times of danger is instinctual. When they bravely face danger, how many of the heroes are considering how much they can gain from these deeds? Throughout history, there is no proof that the amount of reward is in direct proportion to the heroic deed. Integrity is the driving force for heroism. Actually, the higher the reward is, the less confidence we have in social morality.

When heroes are risking life and limb, any financial measurement of their deeds is humiliation of their noble behavior.

Xian Zi (Information Times): Life is invaluable and to reward heroes reflects social progress and the government's willingness to shoulder responsibility. Despite the sharp increase in the amount of financial reward, this is a one-off reward. Actually, it often happens that heroes are likely to incur disabilities or serious diseases after performing heroic deeds, which severely affects their lives. If this is the case, the compensation or reward always proves inadequate. Even if it is a big sum of money, it is given once only.

Given all these problems, it is hoped that a long-term social security system is put in place to keep heroes and their families from hardships that may follow.

The government's efforts to help heroes in tough times on an ongoing basis will be more effective than a once-off cash handout.

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