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A touching story's odyssey from print to blogs

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There's a story circulating online concerning a disabled migrant worker who gets into an argument over the price of his train ticket. It appears to have first surfaced sometime last fall, and probably has found renewed interest following the reports of the grandmother who was arrested for collecting used bottles on a train.

The story runs under various titles — "An Encounter Aboard a Train," "A Migrant Worker's Encounter Aboard a Train," "A Real Man," and "Human Certificate," among others. The story (translated at the end of this post) came to me via the Sohu blog of Wang Keqin, a journalist known for his attention to AIDS and other social issues related to disadvantaged populations. Wang ran the story under the title "Disability Certificate," and introduced it with the words, "A few days ago I heard a story that goes like this. It concerns what a migrant worker encounters, and it's a little bit funny, but after you laugh tears will run down your face..."

The story generally comes with no attribution - the source has been lost through countless reposts, apparently, and readers are left to wonder. Perhaps it was a forum post. Or, since the situation and dialogue is somewhat reminiscent of Jia Dashan's Flower Market, perhaps it was a story published in some literary digest in the early 1980s and then forgotten — do they still shovel coal on trains these days?

Another blogger didn't actually post the story, but instead summarized a "news report" from Life Daily that is basically the same thing. In his slightly embellished retelling, the episode ends with the man, tears in his eyes, saying "Thank you," over and over to the older comrade.

The original article actually ran in Life Daily, a commercial paper under the Heilongjiang Daily Press Group, in September of last year. Yu Qing is given as the author, and the piece is titled 'Human' Certificate. It doesn't appear to be a news report.

Such is the way of reposts. Information gets circulated, often imperfectly, and many times without any attribution whatsoever. In a separate post on the same day, Wang ran the text of "The Song of the News Reporters," an anthem written in 1934 by Yuan Shu. An inspiring post, but the lyrics are at odds with most other copies of the song available online. Which is the correct version?

See Sam Flemming / CIC's latest look at the reposting phenomenon for more detailed data.


Disabilty Certificate

by Yu Qing

On a train to Xi'an, a pretty attendant glared at middle-aged man who looked like a migrant worker and said loudly, "Ticket check."

The middle-aged man searched all over, and finally found it, but he held in his hand. The attendant looked at him queerly, and laughed. "This is a children's ticket."

The middle-aged man flushed, and stuttered out, "Isn't a children's ticket the same price as a disabled ticket?"

The attendant eyed the middle-aged man once over, and asked, "Are you a disabled person?"

"I am a disabled person!" "Then let me have a look at your disability certificate."

The middle-aged man tensed up. He said, "I don't have a disability certificate. When I bought the ticket, the ticket-seller asked me for my disability certificate, and I had no choice but to buy a children's ticket."

The attendant forced a smile: "Without a disability certificate, how can you prove that you are disabled?"

Without saying a word, the middle-aged man gently took off his shoe and pulled up his pants leg - he only had half a foot.

The attendant gave it a glance, and said, "I need to see documentation! The printed seal of the Disabled Person's Federation."

His face bitter, the middle-aged man explained, "I'm not a resident here, so they wouldn't give me a disability certificate. And I was working at a private construction site. When it happened, the boss disappeared, and I had no money to go to a hospital for an evaluation...."

The conductor, who had been notified, arrived to inquire about the situation.

The middle-aged man explained once more to the conductor that he was a disabled person, and he had bought a ticket whose price was the same as a disabled person's ticket....

The conductor asked, "Your disability certificate?"

The middle-aged man said that he had no disability certificate, and then showed the conductor his half-foot.

Without even looking it over, the conductor said impatiently, "We only acknowledge documentation, not people! People with disability certificates are disabled people, and only those with disability certificates can enjoy disabled persons' tickets. Hurry and buy a supplemental ticket!"

The middle-aged man was crushed.

He searched through all his pockets and luggage, but only came up with a few yuan, not enough to make up the ticket price. With a tearful face he said to the conductor, "After half my foot was crushed off in the machine, I couldn't work anymore. With no money, I couldn't even go home. This half-price ticket I bought with money collected by people from my hometown. I beg you to have compassion and spare me!"

The conductor said resolutely, "That's not possible."

The attendant took this opportunity to say to the conductor, "Let him shovel coal at the front of the train - let him do some volunteer work."

The conductor thought it over, and said, "Good!"

An older comrade sitting opposite the middle-aged man couldn't stand it, so he stood up, looked the conductor straight in the eyes, and said, "Are you or aren't you a man?"

The conductor didn't give an answer: "What does this have to do with whether I'm a man?"

"Just tell me, are you a man?"

"Of course I'm a man." "What proof do you have that you are a man? Give me a look at your Male Certificate!"

The people around them started laughing.

The conductor was taken aback. He said, "I'm a full-blooded male standing right here, you think this is a fake?"

The old comrade shook his head: "I'm like you. I acknowledge documentation, not people. People with Male Certificates are men. No Male Certificate, not a man."

The conductor was stuck. For a moment he didn't know how to respond.

The attendant stood up to help the conductor out of his predicament. She said to the old comrade, "I'm not a man. If you have anything to say, say it to me."

The old comrade pointed at her nose, and said, "You're not even a human!"

The attendant shook with fury, and screamed, "Wash your mouth out! Tell me, if I'm not human, then what am I?!"

The old comrade remained calm, but he smiled slyly as he said, "You're human? OK, then let me have a look at your Human Certificate....."

Once again, everyone around them burst into laughter.

Only one person didn't laugh - the middle-aged man with half a foot. He quietly watched all that went on, and at some point, his eyes started to well with tears, not knowing if this was shame, or appreciation, or hate.


Note: The above translation is taken from the version on Wang Keqin's blog, which differs slightly from the original version by Yu Qing.

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There are currently 2 Comments for A touching story's odyssey from print to blogs.

Comments on A touching story's odyssey from print to blogs

it's that ok for me.....for the story of odyssey.....thank u.....

not being hypocritical or anything.. but chinese people can be cruel. lol, i'm glad someone stuck up for that man.

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