MIDDLE school student Xu Lihan never imagined that a note of apology left on a car he accidentally damaged would ignite an online discussion regarding social morals.
The 17-year-old thought it was just bad luck when his bike bumped into a BMW parked on the side of the road in the east China city of Yangzhou, breaking a rearview mirror and leaving a scratch on the vehicle.
Though knowing he would have to pay a hefty amount to compensate for the damage, Xu decided to wait for the vehicle's owner to return. When he didn't, Xu left a note accepting responsibility for the damage.
"I'm sorry that I can't give you compensation right now," read the note, which ended with his phone number.
"There was nothing extraordinary. I caused trouble, so I should shoulder my obligations," Xu said.
But his act amazed the owner of the car, a man surnamed Ling.
Ling said he found the boy as he was about to leave.
Ling's friend immediately grabbed the teenager, as they suspected he was fleeing the scene of the damage, and prepared themselves for a fierce argument.
"But the boy did not defend himself. Instead, he kept apologizing. Then we spotted the note and fell silent," Ling said.
Impressed by Xu's act of honesty, Ling told the student he did not need to pay for the damage.
The story, told by Ling on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, made an unexpected splash, with netizens forwarding and commenting on it tens of thousands of times within just a few days.
"Interesting comparison: Adults are 'amazed and moved' by an act of honesty, while teenagers like Xu just take it for granted," remarked one blogger with the screen name "Diguoliangming."
The perceived disintegration of China's moral fiber has been a hot topic both online and in regular conversations, as many Chinese have grown accustomed to immoral acts ranging from the counterfeiting of goods and the sale of false college degrees to government corruption.
The moral malaise has prompted calls for discovering "positive energy" derived from kind acts committed by ordinary people.
Chinese netizens have heartily hailed stories, such as that of a student who quit college to tend to his sick mother, for their role in restoring confidence in the power of kindness.
"If such virtues are common among the next generation, I believe that society still has hope," Ling said.
Immediately after the incident, Ling updated his online statement to express gratitude toward the teenager for encouraging self-reflection among adults.
"Thank you, child, for purifying the minds of adults who have been contaminated in this filthy world," it said.
People have fun at Angry Birds theme park
Sexy models and fancy cars rock Hangzhou auto show
Flash mobs dance 'Gangnam Style'
Panda travels home and away
Students receive cabin attendant training for A320
Exciting performance on motorcycle
China's new-type rescue ship to be put into service
Hospital with five-star facilities open
Austrian-born panda arrives a 'happy tiger'