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Why does unscientific rumor still emerge?


14:01, June 07, 2012

BEIJING, June 7 (Xinhua) -- A rumor spread in recent days saying that people need to set off firecrackers and eat canned peaches to save their children. Although it sounds like absurd superstition, it was believed by some people and disseminated around Beijing's neighboring areas.

But why did such rumor emerge in a modern era in which highly advanced science and technology are changing people's lives everyday, and more importantly, the scientific spirit has prevailed over Middle Ages-style ignorance?

The rumor originated in Cangzhou city, Hebei province, at the end of May and spread across the region, even to the suburbs of Beijing. It came after a 4.8-magnitude earthquake on May 28 jolted north China's Tangshan, the city 200 km northeast of Beijing in which 240,000 people were killed in a 7.8-magnitude quake in 1976.

Locals heard that some of their renowned temples had been damaged or destroyed during the small quake. Some were urged to believe that Heaven will take away their children in compensation for the loss of the sacred buildings. The belief came about that only fireworks and packaged fruit could save their youngsters from this vengeance.

Soon, many rural and urban families in Hebei and the southern outskirts of Beijing were filling the air with the distinctive sound of firecrackers, and canned yellow peaches were snapped up at markets.

The press office of Hebei provincial government responded several days later on its microblog account that there was no damage to any temples or pagodas, urging the public not to believe or disseminate the rumor.

Accordingly, The tittle-tattle has gradually died away. Yet the issue has exposed a laggard face of China -- despite the economic boom and the spread of education, some Chinese people still sorely lack common sense, not to mention the spirit of science.

According to the latest national census, from 2010, 4.08 percent of Chinese people are still illiterate. Only 8,930 persons in 100,000 have college degrees. Just 3.27 percent of the population have scientific literacy, equivalent to late 1980s, early 1990s levels in major developed countries.

Some have attributed the easy spread of this latest unscientific rumor to the popularity in China of folklore formed in the long history of tradition. However, experts disagree.

Zhao Shu, a member of the Beijing Research Institute of Culture and History, said all religions pray for blessings and avoiding evils and disasters.

"It is against religious tenets if children are needed due to the collapse of temples," according to Zhao. "There will be no misfortunes even if temples are really damaged."

The researcher added that such rumor is not folklore but superstition, and aimed at making money, it will harm the people's life and spirit.

To address the problem, both the authorities and society should make further efforts to provide better education, to build not only knowledge, but also the spirit of science and common sense, among students, especially those in the grassroots and less-developed rural areas.

Although the rumor died away after public relations dispelled it with true information, there is still room for the government to improve its system for issuing information. Its faster, wider issuance can kill rumors at the root.


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