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Nation
Can Giving People the Choice to Take Money Test Morality?
Coins are used to test a city's moral standard
 NO. 35 AUGUST 31, 2017

LI SHIGONG

Since mid-July, cartons filled with 1-yuan coins began to appear in some of the busiest parts of cities across China. Containing 500 coins, these cartons bore a sign that read, "If you are in urgent need of small change, please feel free to take some, but no more than five pieces at a time." As a result, there was little or no loss of coins—and in some cases, the number of coins even increased.

It's said that it was a test created to measure the moral standard of those cities' residents. However, some argue that a single test can't reflect the whole picture and others think the results are meaningless because it's actually a publicity stunt.

Not the whole picture

Zhu Changjun (Huashang Daily): No one has suffered any loss from the test. However, if you use this test to judge whether a city's residents have high moral standards, you might be assuming things.

This test has been carried out in a number of Chinese cities, with good results in all of them. Therefore, the conclusion is that residents in these cities have all passed this moral test. Meanwhile, social media has churned out articles praising the action. However, in my opinion, it has little actual significance.

Recent years have witnessed a rise in such moral tests. Some mean to find out whether the public is willing to help people who have fallen down; some want to see whether the public will help others in trouble; and some are designed to see how people will behave in unmanned stores. The results are different in various scenarios. In some places, unmanned vegetable booths operate well for years, with few people refusing to pay. In some places, people can pay restaurants as much they want, but such eateries do not last long.

Is this because residents' morals differ so much from city to city? Of course not. An important point is that all these tests ignored the fact that morality is expressed in different forms depending on the conditions. These sorts of practices may lead to false conclusions and also reflect a shallow understanding of morality.

The moral benchmark here is that taking less than five coins or none is positive—taking more than that is not. However, if someone really in need takes six coins, does that make that person immoral?

Blind faith in these kinds of tests is actually a reflection of the public's anxiety on the whole. People are pleased to have an easy way to measure social morality. They rush to reach a black-or-white judgment based on such tests, but they rarely go deep into the phenomenon and reach an objective judgment based on analysis. It's improper to measure people's moral standard in this way, as it is unable to reflect the overall picture. It's okay to see it as a game, but you may get tricked if you treat it as a real measure of moral standard.

Mao Jianguo (Yanzhao Evening News): There has been a growing outcry over the alleged decay of social ethics over the years. It seems that everything is going wrong. The result of the coin test, somehow, has filled some with new hope for a better life and the goodness in human nature.

Nonetheless, there are still some doubts over the way the experiment was conducted. What might have happened if the test was not carried out in busy parts of the cities, and if it was not 1-yuan coins but 100-yuan notes? There are many such tests taking place every day in real life, but many fail either way.

Society is complex, and so is human nature. No moral experiment is capable of accurately portraying the whole of society. This time, the coin test has shown us the positive side of human nature, and that's something to celebrate. However, if the results were negative, it still would not be a reason for us to feel disappointed. We are not supposed to cry or laugh at the results of such tests. What we need is to develop the ability to make objective judgments on every moral affair in life.

Wang Junrong (comment.scol.com.cn): It's weird to see a carton filled with coins bearing a sign that invites you to take some if you need them. In normal conditions, no matter how many coins there are, the carton would become empty sooner or later. However, many people suspect that they are being watched as a result of the large number of such social experiments these days.

This test is meaningless. Not only does it fail to reflect the public's real moral standards, but the company behind the test was in it for publicity. After all, it offered coins only this one time, not always. If it provided coins in many spots around the city and continued to do so every day, then it might be praised as doing a good deed. But obviously, the company does not dare to do so. It is not doing a good deed, but only wants to make itself known through marketing.

The company has provided only a little money, and has lost nothing while simultaneously gaining a reputation. By any measurement, it has succeeded. Then who has lost out? Those who have paid attention to this commercial stunt. More importantly, social morality and credibility has been misunderstood. It seems that this test reveals every city has a high moral standard, but actually, this is a fictitious moral standard. It's not a result the public should believe.

When there are so many people around, no one will take away all the coins unless they are really in urgent need. Also, there is a possibility that the whole carton may be taken when beggars see it. What do these results prove? Do you really believe that a city has high moral standards just because the coins increased in the carton? Will you shun a city where the amount of coins decreased? We all know that this test can prove nothing. The designers of this test also know this clearly, but they don't care, as they only want to attract more publicity.

More worrisome is the fact that a lot of media outlets, rather than making independent and objective judgments on the act, are unanimously praising it.

Not without merit

Qu Jin (Chutian Metropolis Daily): When people found out that these cartons were nothing but part of a publicity stunt, their disappointment was understandable. Some even say that if there was no camera, maybe the whole carton would have been stolen. Such comments reflect the public's deep mistrust of others' morals. Some hope to see an unsupervised scenario where everyone behaves.

However, is it true that nothing positive can come from such publicity stunts? No one stole coins from the boxes, but no one was forced to throw coins into the boxes either, yet many people chose to do the latter. You may argue that they did so out of ego. Even if it is to gratify their ego, or to teach their children to do so, does it matter? At least they know it is the right thing to do.

Voluntary kindness and willingness to help others is virtuous, but those who do good deeds because there is a camera recording what they are doing should also be praised. If this was just a ploy to gain recognition and not for direct commercial profit, the company should not come under fire. We can regard it as a game that reminds us to help each other. Of course, this company must make sure that what it does will not breach relevant laws and regulations.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

Comments to yushujun@bjreview.com

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