It Snowed! Are You Having Fun?

The Hangzhou Pelting Zoo

The Hangzhou Pelting Zoo

It’s wet, it’s dirty, it smells like sulphur — but hey, it’s snow! And it’s here, along with all the joy and drama one might expect in these frantic weeks before the Spring Festival holidy. And perhaps nobody’s feeling that anxiety more than Owen’s beloved lions at the Hangzhou zoo. This was a top story on the Baidu (China’s equivalent of Google) news site today:

On January 5, 2013, at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum’s lion mountain pen—-A group of sightseers, upon seeing the African lions, immediately began packing snowballs. The lions, sensing danger, hurried behind the scant protection they could find. The female lion ran under a wooden board, while the male lion took cover behind a tree trunk, keeping both eyes firmly locked on the group of tourists. “嗖”,一位年轻人用力把雪球扔向非洲狮。狮子慌忙躲闪,没扔中,但游客还是笑得很大声。另外几位游客和孩子有样学样,向狮子扔雪球。其中一位拿一整块一整块的雪,使劲砸下去。
Sou! Yelled one of the young men, as he threw a snowball as hard as he could at the African lion. The lion lept away, unharmed, but the sightseer still let out a hearty laugh. Then a few more sightseers, like children imitating his example, began throwing snowballs at the lions, too. Among them, one hefted giant blocks of snow and smashed them down with all his might.

The female lion let out a cry of fright, and hurriedly skirted the sides of the large pen back to the male lion’s side, both of them sticking tightly to each other as they backed into a corner.  Amid the crashing snow chunks and snowball barrages, they had nowhere to run. Finally, at the moment the sightseers’ interest peaked and they began turning away, the male lion let out out a massive roar, his eyes firmly locked onto his tormenters’ backs.

On a stroll around the zoo — past the alpaca pen, the monkey mountain, the giraffe enclosure, the small animal petting zoo, and the tiger pen — everywhere one could witness people attacking the animals with snowballs. Later, I read an online post sent out by the Wenxin neighborhood police office early yesterday morning. It described an incident in which, during a snowball fight among the downstairs neighbors, some upstairs neighbors saw them and decided to join in. With any indication or warning, the upstairs neighbors hefted a giant chunk of snow down onto the neighbors below. The post quoted the upset downstairs neighbors: “We weren’t messing with them, but they stubbornly/childishly insisted on messing with us!”

Without even mentioning mutual respect among fellow people, or the basic principle of taking good care of animals –sure, it’s just a joke– we still ought to exercise some restraint. We should ask of the other side: Are you having fun?



Filed under Life in the Bike Lane

6 responses to “It Snowed! Are You Having Fun?

  1. Aunt Tina

    Umm….what? Nobody thought to step in and stop this?

    • I wasn’t there, but you know how that goes. It’s a common experience to see instances of deviant behavior in public that nobody steps up to correct, even when it’s very clear that none of the bystanders approve of it. The most appropriate course of action, it usually seems, is to wait for someone in a position of authority to do something about it. Or, in this case, to do nothing and then go home and write a news story / commentary about it. Of course, this kind of disapproving-but-passive group complicity seems strange to us in the US. The puzzle for me, though, is whether to understand it as a result of a collective-values culture, or as weird symptom of a society that went through totalitarianism and the Cultural Revolution—or neither.

  2. Kip Freeman

    I think many examples of nobody stopping a group that is engaged in bad behavior can be found here and everywhere in the world. Disregarding cultural experiences, There is a human trait to integrate and be accepted – which is good as it helps us accept and follow rules and social norms that are necessary for society to function – however, it also can lead to passive acceptance of bad behaviors by large groups or people of power. This happens everywhere.

    However to Nick’s point on social ways of dealing with it, I think the Chinese are embrassing social media as the way to stop bad behaviors. In the US people might run and find a security guard to stop a bad things. In China they are finding that social media can be effective in dealing with corrupt officials, bad employers, and other elements (even the Japanese),, that demonstrate behaviors that they feel is detrimental. It does not stop the immediate act, but can effect long term chnages and can be accomplished with both a degree of anonimity as well as soliciting a very large group to support ones position – thus maintaining the aforementioned human desire to have acceptance by peers.

  3. Jess

    Sigh… this is sad but univeral. I’ve visited zoos all over the world, and cruel harassment happens everywhere though less where the culture explicitly drums into peoples heads from a young age that harassing animals is wrong and is worth taking a stand to strangers to stop. Rebellious teens in the US do the same thing (SF zoo tiger harassed with thrown sticks till it escaped and killed its harassers in 2008 I think.) I think it’s natural to want to get a reaction from a zoo or aquarium animal (“I see you, now look over here at me! Cool, it it worked!”) Since a fear/anger reaction is all that is usually possible unless we can offer food, people go for whatever reaction is possible. Some people are showing off their power over the animals to impress the people they are with, but many just want some kind of action/reaction. (I bet the same people who threw snowballs would line up to to feed the lions.) I think zoo managers should make it impossible for visitors to throw anything into cages or reach over to the glass to bang on it, and have as much enforcement from guards as possible. But all that is expensive, and zoo managers often weren’t raised to care about animal suffering. I’m glad someone cared enough to write a derisive blog post– it’s a start towards a culture that won’t stand for it.

  4. mary freeman

    Before I read the post, I saw the pictures of the lions in the snow an thought “That is exactly how I feel when it snows. Cranky as hell”

  5. Ben

    Collective values indeed. I think we’ve sufficiently put the totalitarian fragments of China in the rear view mirror. To Kip’s argument though, I’m not sure social media really has the lasting effect you might give it credit. Time will tell, but after 1982 many of the values-based norms were pushed aside for the opportunity to make money. I tend to think Chinese generations of today are more isolated by social media because of the possible legal or political consequences. In the end though, It’s stories like this that put the “harmonious society” in perspective. Nice story! Can’t wait for you guys to get home! (great blog too…no that I can actually view it without a super secret digital tunnel)

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