Everyday hero revives faith in humanity

By Cao Yin (China Daily) 11:14, July 05, 2024


There was nothing in Hu Youping's past to suggest she had the makings of a hero, but after the Chinese woman saved a Japanese mother and son, unfortunately losing her own life in the process, she was lauded by millions of people in both countries.

Hu, 54, was working for a Japanese school in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, when she stepped in to stop a knife attack at a school bus stop on June 24. She died two days later due to her severe injuries. The news of Hu's death dominated Chinese media headlines and triggered a wave of both grief and respect online.

As of Thursday, more than 100 topics on Sina Weibo involving Hu had received over 1 billion views, with some applauding her bravery and others saying her courage had boosted relations between the two countries.

On June 28, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed condolences for the "tragic passing" of Hu, saying that this Chinese woman embodied the "kindness and bravery" of the Chinese people.

The same day, the Japanese embassy in China flew its flag at half-mast to honor Hu and issued a statement saluting her "noble actions" and also saying her courage represents the wider Chinese population.

On Tuesday, Hu was awarded the title Model of Righteousness by the Suzhou government. People from different walks of life spontaneously attended a memorial service held in the city to pay tribute to her.

While Hu and her story have found sympathy and respect from both the public and authorities, she has also been subjected to some negative online comments, with extremists attempting to stir animosity between China and Japan.

However, Wang Sixin, a professor of internet law at the Communication University of China, said, "These extremist remarks won't dominate public opinion, let alone overshadow the mainstream voice."

As a result, major internet platforms have vowed to punish accounts that encourage group hatred against Japanese people or denigrate Hu.

"The punishment will help more people clearly see the true face of those using hot issues to attract online views or vent personal grievances, and urge us to surf the internet in a more sensible manner," said Zheng Ning, professor and head of the Law Department at the university's Cultural Industries Management School.


Gratitude, respect

According to an official police statement, two Japanese nationals were injured in the attack, but not fatally. A 52-year-old suspect surnamed Zhou and unemployed, was arrested at the scene and is under criminal detention.

The Japanese woman injured in the incident said Hu attempted to restrain the assailant who was targeting women and children, which allowed the Japanese woman's son to escape. The attacker then turned to Hu and stabbed her before being subdued by passersby and police patrol officers who rushed to the scene, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"If she hadn't tried to hold back the assailant, there could have been more victims," one eyewitness said, according to Xinhua.

The police statement said that when faced with a serious threat to others' lives, Hu selflessly stepped forward, and courageously confronted the attacker to prevent further harm. Her actions displayed the "noble qualities of bravery and justice" and effectively upheld "societal righteousness", it said.

On Tuesday, Suzhou city government said that it would establish a fund in Youping's name "to promote the spirit of righteousness".

News of Hu's death has received widespread attention from both Chinese and Japanese people, with many spontaneously mourning her both online and offline.

Over the past week, a steady stream of mourners from China and Japan went to pay their respects and lay flowers at the bus station where Hu was attacked.

Yu Shijun, a lawyer from Wuxi, Jiangsu, was one of them. He carried a bouquet of chrysanthemums last weekend and wrote on a card that "you were a light in the darkest moment."

Li Yanyan, a psychologist from Gansu province, expressed her gratitude and respect for Hu on WeChat, adding "I cried while reading the news of her death. She deserves to be remembered."

A Weibo user called Qiming Lieren posted a tribute to Hu, saying "She is a hero, as her actions showed the brilliance of humanity."

Ryo Takeuchi, a documentary filmmaker from Japan living in Nanjing, Jiangsu, also posted a statement on Weibo on June 28 to mourn Hu. "Hu is a great person because she saved the people, no matter what nationality they are. Many of my Japanese friends were worried about her (after the incident happened)," he wrote. "I adore her, and will remember her."

The post had received more than 5,300 thumbs-ups and had been forwarded over 250 times as of Thursday.

In another post on Tuesday, Takeuchi said that there had been many reports about Hu on Japanese news websites, where numerous netizens had expressed their gratitude and condolences to her family.

Daiki Takahashi, 42, a Japanese employee at an internet technology company, said that Hu's courageous act should be appreciated, regardless of nationality.

Hu's family expressed sincere gratitude to people from all walks of life who offered their condolences, saying that anyone with a sense of justice and a loving heart would have made a similar choice.

The family added that they would not accept any donation and just wanted Hu to rest in peace.


Kind, hardworking

While many people are paying tribute to Hu, they are also curious to learn more about her personal life.

To her friends, neighbors, and colleagues, she was an ordinary, typical Chinese woman who fulfilled her responsibilities as a daughter, wife, and mother, and always worked hard for her family, according to Chinese media reports.

The most common words used to describe Hu were "easygoing, kindhearted, and hardworking", said people who knew her.

A report posted by iFeng.com on Monday said in 2016 when Hu was 46, she went to a domestic services company in Suzhou to apply for childcare and hourly casual work. She registered information stating she was 158 centimeters tall, weighed 56 kilograms, and was good at cooking and housekeeping.

Before that, Hu, a native of Jiaoling village in Huaian, Jiangsu, worked at factories in Suzhou, the report said.

Wan Ting, a woman who worked with Hu at one of the factories, told the news outlet that they had remained friends.

"Last summer, we took a trip to Shanghai together," she recalled. "Hu wore a striped dress, and we took photos of each other on the Bund."

In 2020, Hu started her own business selling cosmetics, meal replacements, and other women's products online.

To promote her business, she even posed for a professional-looking photo, wearing makeup, earrings, and a blue suit, according to the report. Hu smiles confidently in the photo which is captioned with the words "Be yourself". The photo was her WeChat profile picture when she died, the report said.

But the COVID-19 epidemic had a major impact on her business venture. Within a few months, she switched to a part-time job as a school bus attendant at a Japanese school in Jiangsu, earning about 3,000 yuan ($412) a month, the report added.

Cleaner Lyu Qin, 57, who knew Hu, told the website of Southern Weekly news outlet, that women of their age work to reduce the financial burden of their children, and rarely earn money for themselves.

Hu often posted short videos and pictures on social media platforms of herself cooking, and she liked interacting with her family members and friends in this way, according to Chinese reports.

She had a son who married two years ago, and she was due to celebrate her 55th birthday next month, the report said.


Not beyond the law

While Hu has been lauded and mourned by the vast majority of people online, she has also been disparaged and attacked by a minority.

Several netizens spread rumors smearing Hu as a mole for Japan.

Others applauded the attacker for targeting Japanese nationals in the name of "patriotism" as a "delayed but righteous fight back" for the "historical debt" the Japanese owed to the Chinese people stemming from their aggression against China from the late 19th century to World War II.

The content, however, was promptly removed thanks to a crackdown initiated by major internet platforms, such as Tencent, Baidu, NetEase, and Douyin in line with the law.

In their statements on the issue, the internet operators all praised Hu's righteousness and courage and stated that users who took advantage of the criminal case to post and spread extremist opinions or incite confrontations between the two countries must be condemned.

As punishment, the platforms have also blocked or shut down accounts containing such harmful information as punishment, and channels have been opened for netizens to report information on extremist remarks.

"As China undergoes the robust growth in cyberspace, it has not been rare to see some people make use of hot issues or criminal cases to invent their own anger or dissatisfaction to aggravate social contradictions," said Wang, the professor.

"Extremist remarks can bring more online views, which means great profits in the internet era, so some netizens are keen to post such content again and again," he said.

However, Wang is confident such content will not weaken the mainstream support for Hu, "as more and more netizens have enough understanding of such online marketing, and are also able to distinguish the harmful information."

"Hu's bravery in the face of the attack deserves respect, and should be learned about by more people," he added. "The closure of accounts that slandered or denigrated the woman is to adhere to the bottom line of human morality."

Zheng, the other Communication University of China professor, also praised the internet platforms' quick response, saying "It can prevent the harmful content from being further expanded, and also lead more people to see the incident more rationally."

She said that cleaning up the online environment is a major responsibility of all internet operators.

"What they have done in Hu's incident was consistent with the cyberspace-related laws and regulations," the professor said.

China's punishment of accounts involving extremist opinions will also enhance mutual understanding between Chinese and Japanese citizens, and help deepen people-to-people exchanges, she added.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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