The Flipper-Man of Xian and the True Face of Socialist ‘Compassion’
“Governments that endeavor to kill God and enforce worship of state ever and always do all of that only as prelude and permission to killing God’s most sacred creation for the convenience of political pacification and the spared embarrassment of self-inflicted human tragedy.”
Idling curbside in our student bus in the ancient Chinese city of Xian, we saw him. A pitiable urchin of a man, crouched and rocking on a roller-dolly and swaddled in filthy strips of shredded towel or blanket with a gritty tin alms cup on the pavement in front of him sprouting with a few small bills and coins.
With his back to the wall of the restaurant that was to be our reserved lunch destination for dim-sum and crispy duck, the vision of the man drew gasps and pressed faces as every person in our group shuttled to windows to view the spectacle. And what a sight he was. His shriveled lower limbs were those of a child of two or three years old, wasted and thin and bent beneath him as if they no longer belonged on a human body at all. His torso was equally small, a toddler’s ribcage and rounded shoulders somehow perched on stunted pelvis with every angle a vision of parchment skin stretched over rack of fragile bone and sparse sinew. Emaciated and drawn.
But indeed, all of those things were no comparison to the audible inhalations and tears elicited nearly instantly by the man’s arms and head and face, which left little doubt that Thalidomide or some similarly ruthless substance had invaded his mother’s womb and caused irrevocable mutational harm. His upper appendages suggested those of a dolphin or harbor seal, with no discernible hands nor fingers and flapping, seemingly without bone or elbow, useless and scarred. His head was in normal adult proportion, but either by surgery or by natural birth was missing a full hemisphere of the brain, with an angled L-shaped indentation that began just above his right eyebrow front to back, covered with a full shock of thick black hair, but shaped as though a cinder block had caved in the right side of his skull. A horrendous sight that left one to wonder what if any brain function remained for someone so tragically affected and what a struggle his improbable survival must have been. And then we heard it.
Struck instantly as we were with the dawning realization of the man’s plight that takes far longer to describe and read in detail than it did to survey and comprehend, it took only a few seconds more to realize that another tragedy was about to ensue. With a series of barked orders into a two-way radio, our Chinese State Department escort (spy) reacted swiftly and decisively to the man’s presence, securing the side doors and announcing in almost cheery sing-song pidgin that lunch would be delayed and that we were all welcome to sit and relax for a few moments in air conditioned comfort. From the back of the bus, I made out only a few words of the hurried radio transmission undertaken in a decidedly different tone of Mandarin.
“Get here, now–beggar—problem—shame—come quickly.”
And get there they did.
Four men in green PLA fatigues with red epaulettes and shiny black shoes, emerging from a small powder blue sedan topped with a blue light. Carrying clubs. What happened next brought me and others to our feet, pushing and swearing and shoving in sweaty melee against the restraints of our professor-tour guides as they blocked the bus aisle and tried futilely to calm and contain the outrage and testosterone of younger men observing an unspeakable injustice. The men in fatigues were shouting and swearing too, audibly through bus windows, approaching the beggar and giving clipped orders and gestured commands before words and profanity were replaced with kicks and punches and swinging clubs as they drove the hapless rocking man, scuttling and screaming along the steaming August pavement, dragging himself in pitiful lurching slowness with flipper-arms and barely human shrieks, down the block and into an alleyway and out of our line of sight.
Inside the bus, indignant pandemonium gave way only partially to apologies and explanation as both the People’s representative and our professors prevailed upon us with the wisdom of not punching Chinese military police officers and landing in the interminable bowels of some God-forsaken prison in a communist country. “I share your desire to intervene, son, believe me, but if you get arrested here, there won’t be a damn thing I can do to get you out. It’ll be an international incident,” my student liaison said.
“By all rights, it should be,” I replied, still primed with the adrenaline of a spoiled fight.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry for what you have seen,” the Chi-Com tour guide intoned, pleading with us to forget quickly and go about our day, in ludicrous appeal against a memory that even an idiot would know would be remembered by all of us until our dying day.
“You must understand, that man is an embarrassment to our country and we cannot allow such things to be the focus of your visit here.” The last straw. Again I stood, addressing the young man, only a few years older than me who wore Levi’s 501’s and a white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled into the arm and called himself Winston, because as he had explained upon introductions to our group weeks earlier, “Winston taste good, like cigarette should.”
I spoke for the group, barely containing the full fury that still boiled in my veins and throbbed in my temples. “No, Winston,” I said. “That man is as God made him and the only embarrassment to your country today is you, your reaction and those pint-sized thugs with the clubs. You have shamed yourselves and your country in the way a disabled man begging for food never could or would.” Applause and shouts of agreement from the rest of the bus were zero consolation.
Beset as we now are by a generation of Americans infatuated with the textbook theories of compassionate socialism and the girl-crush Che Guevara t-shirt craze, there isn’t a Bernie Sanders or Venezuela discussion that transpires that I don’t instantly recall that humid Chinese afternoon when the reality of utopian disaster showed its true face and saved full treatment of a most vulnerable and helpless citizen for the cloistered alleyway away from foreign eyes. Only God truly knows what fate awaited there.
While no certainty exists for the ultimate plight of that isolated man pitifully caught in the grinding wheels of a tyranny that has killed or aborted 500-million Chinese citizens, his memory and that of his imprisoned nation burn in me still with the same brightness of compassion and furious motivation of a certain 22-year old student from Nebraska forced to watch helplessly as the brutality and inhumane treatment of the ages proved once again that governments that endeavor to kill God and enforce worship of state ever and always do all of that only as prelude to killing God’s most sacred creation for the convenience of political pacification and the spared embarrassment of self-inflicted human tragedy.
To suffer similar fate, it’s not even required that we forget history in order to repeat it. Ignorance of the present will more than suffice.