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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Volunteering benefits society and volunteers

December 16, 2007

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

The number of registered volunteers has reached more than 25 million
nationwide, according to the latest figures from the China Youth
Volunteers' Association. Compared with our population of 1.3 billion,
this number is not very impressive and neither is the voluntary service
of accumulated 6.1 billion hours these volunteers have provided to society.

Yet, what is noteworthy is the psychological satisfaction these people
get from doing anything that either makes other people happy or is
supposed to be beneficial to the well being of society. This is pretty
important when many are obsessed with making their fortune as the
country shifts from a planned economy to a market one.

To be honest, our traditional culture does encourage people to act as
good Samaritans whenever necessary. The Chinese character shan, which
has been used quite often by ancient sages in their essays, not only
persuades people never to do anything detrimental to the interests of
others but also encourages them to help others whenever possible without
expecting anything in return.

Ancient Chinese sage Lao Zi compared this utmost benevolence to water,
which brings benefits to people but never contends for any share of
economic gains or vanity. In his understanding, acting as a good
Samaritan is for psychological satisfaction, which is the highest
attainment in terms of Taoism and good for both physical and mental health.

In the 1950s, our government did encourage people to help others without
any selfish motivation. Lei Feng was a typical figure, which was a
national example for people to follow in providing aid to those in need.

Late Chairman Mao Zedong's quote: "It is easy to be a good Samaritan
once in a while, but it is not always to be helpful to other people in
need without doing anything detrimental to the interests of others all
one's lifetime", became a maxim that many Chinese could recite on many
occasions to explain why they chose to help others even without
attending to their own needs.

I still remember how we were organized by our teachers to do such things
as helping the elderly with their household chores or cleaning up public
venues such as bus or railway stations.

Frankly speaking, it was good for students to do such things. And they
could possibly develop the good habit of doing work in a clean and tidy
manner. But what was annoying were the empty labels that were stuck to
such activities when the overemphasis on ideology in the 1970s required
students to connect what they did with some concepts too abstract for
them to understand.

When it has become a sort of task to do such things, the behavior of
shan has deviated in motivation from the shan that Lao Zi described as

The mushrooming of voluntary organizations and activities organized by
both governments and non-governmental organizations in the past couple
of decades is a good sign that growing numbers of people are choosing to
act as good Samaritans simply because they cherish what they can gain
psychologically from helping others.

As a matter of fact, the extent of activities that volunteers are
participating is far beyond the narrow scope of helping the needy. They
take part in such activities as sports games, environmental protection
publicity campaigns, helplines and natural disaster relief work.

I met some of these volunteers on a train ride to Lhasa, the capital
city of the Tibet Autonomous Region. They were from many parts of the
country. Some of them were students from universities and some teachers
or researchers, and they worked as volunteers on their summer vacations
to promote awareness of environmental protection on trains and at major
stations. They delivered speeches or gave pamphlets to passengers on the
train to Tibet, telling people how important it is to properly dispose
of trash and never litter in order to protect the local environment.

I talked with some of them. They told me that they were concerned about
the environment of Tibet when they heard about the opening of the
railway to Lhasa and they joined the activity that was organized by a
non-governmental organization. A young teacher told me that she had left
her three-year old daughter at home because she and her husband had been
to Tibet once before and had been so fascinated by its natural beauty.
She wanted to do something to ensure its protection.

I read about a teenage volunteer who tried her best to persuade drug
addicts to kick the habit. She was so affected by the harm drug abuse
had done to those drug users when she went to a rehabilitation center
along with her mother, who was a volunteer. She then made up her mind to
do her bit to help the addicts to quit the addition. She has
successfully helped 30 addicts kick the habit.

The contributions these volunteers have made to the building of a
harmonious society are definitely shan as placid as peaceful water as
they seek no economic gains or reputation from acting as good Samaritans.

What is noteworthy about the role of acting as volunteers is the
opportunity for students to learn how to show concern or love for other
people. Among other things, this is of particular importance to the
healthy growth of the majority of young people, who are mostly only
children and doted on by their families.

Acting as volunteers, these young people will learn that showing concern
for others is as important as receiving it only.

 From this perspective, the rapid development of voluntary organizations
in the country will positively contribute to the building of a
harmonious society.

The recruiting of volunteers by the organizing committee of the 2008
Beijing Olympic Games is a good practice that further promotes the
awareness of voluntary work among Chinese youth.
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