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It was a year to make us reflect on great achievements and ask the cost

IT was a year to make us think and reflect upon China's achievements and headlong economic development as well as their cost. It was an eventful year filled with terrible, happy, ridiculous, tragic and inspiring news.

The economy grew at a slower rate and the stock market greatly disappointed investors, but real estate prices finally started falling, giving some hope to those who haven't been able to afford a home.

China's first space lab module Tiangong-1 blasted off while its first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, completed a successful sea trial - both triumphs for indigenous technology and Chinese ingenuity.

Meanwhile the heavily invested and promoted high-speed train crashed into another train, taking 40 lives, shocking the nation and prompting rethinking of what many call too-rapid development of the rail system - and growth in general. Many people asked whether growth at any price is worth the price.

A toddler was run over by two vans and left mortally wounded by 18 passersby who didn't stop to help in Guangdong Province, while another toddler was saved from certain death by an ordinary, 31-year-old woman who broke the child's fall from a building in Hangzhou.

These and other cases promoted soul-searching about ethics, morality and lack of good Samaritans who fear they will be sued by greedy people for causing harm.

At the end of the year, Shanghai Daily picks a few of the most thought-provoking news events of the year.

Sky-high hopes

There was inspirational news as well and reason to reach for the stars.

In September, China's first space lab module Tiangong-1 blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest desert in Gansu Province.

In November, the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 took off to dock with Tiangong-1 in an orbit 343 kilometers above the earth, marking China's first space docking.

Followup & comment: China is expected to become the third country to operate a permanent space station around the year 2020. A space lab is expected around 2016.

Also, China plans two more docking missions next year and is training its first female astronauts, both former air cargo pilots.

'Most beautiful mother'

In July, Wu Juping, an ordinary 31-year-old worker in Hangzhou, became famous as "the most beautiful mother." When toddler Zhang Fangyu, better known as Niu Niu, fell from her 10th-floor apartment, Wu rushed to catch her, though she seriously fractured her left arm.

Her heroism made headlines at a time when self-sacrifice seems a rare commodity. Netizens called her "the most beautiful mother" because of her beauty of spirit.

A sculpture of two hands holding a baby was installed.

Followup & comment: Wu's selfless act promoted people to look for more good deeds done by ordinary people. The term "most beautiful" also became popular on the Internet as Netizens began to post photos or ordinary heroes all over China.

A 58-year-old garbage recycler who rescued a two-year-old toddler in Guangdong Province was called "the most beautiful grandma."

A young woman who shared her umbrella with a handicapped beggar in Suzhou was "the most beautiful goddess."

Charity endangered

In June, 20-year-old Guo Meimei stirred widespread outrage among microbloggers over her flaunting of wealth, posting photos of her Maserati and a dozen Hermes bags - apparently from a rich boyfriend working for a charity.

She claimed to work for Red Cross Commerce (no relation to the Red Cross charity), which caused a crisis of confidence in the China Red Cross Society (not affiliated with the Red Cross in Switzerland). Charitable donations fell as people doubted the legitimacy of many charities.

Followup & comment: The uproar raised issues about charitable organizations and the value of donating - a relatively new concept in China.

It also raised questions about personal morality, vanity and consumerism in a society that appears to be driven by the desire to get rich quick.

What kind of values did Guo Meimei's parents teach their daughter?

What's happening to traditional values, including humility?

Maritime dream comes true

In August, China's first aircraft embarked on its maiden voyage after more than a decade of preparation. The Varyag has completed two successful sea trials and a third is underway - it set off on December 21.

Followup & comment: The trials have fulfilled a dream of carrier-capability that dates back 40years and opens a new chapter in maritime history. The Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag was purchased unfinished from Ukraine and then refitted.

Bleeding child ignored

In October, two-year-old Wang Yue was run over by two vans, and then passed by 18 people who did not help. The case in fast-growing Guangdong Province prompted fierce discussion about China's moral compass. CCTV captured the horror. Finally, the 19th passerby, 58-year-old garbage collector Chen Xianmei, called for help.

The girl later died in hospital as the nation prayed. It was reported that she might have been saved had she been treated earlier. Two drivers were arrested.

Followup & comment: But who was really guilty? People asked what happened to make people so cold-blooded that they would ignore an injured, bloodied girl. Some called it a stain on the Chinese people.

Some said people don't want to step forward and help for fear of being sued for damages by greedy victims. A number of good Samaritans have been sued in highly publicized cases and in the most famous case in 2006 passerby Peng Yu was found culpable and ordered to pay 10,000 yuan (US$1,584).

Peng said a 65-year-old woman fell at a bus stop and injured herself; he sent her to the hospital. She said he was the one who injured him.

Too good to be true

A push for patriotism and singing "red" revolutionary songs is in vogue and a 13-year-old boy in Wuhan, Hubei Province, is redder than red.

Pictures of and stories about Huang Yibo, a young pioneer, have gone viral and he has made the term "five-bar" a buzzword. Red bars on white armbands are signs of position and leadership in the young pioneers of the Communist Party of China. Three bars is typical of a primary school grade leader.

Huang says he has read the People's Daily since he was seven and published more than 100 articles in newspapers and journals.

Followup & comment: This sparked a discussion of whether he was genuine, generated a fair amount of scorn and discussion of China's education system and child rearing.

Doesn't little "Five Bar" (Wu Tiao Gang) have anything better to do?

Tragic train wreck

In July, a bullet train rear-ended another during a thunderstorm in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. The horrific accident killed 40 people, injured 172 passengers and caused nationwide distress over the safety of China's railway system.

There was dissatisfaction with the investigation, questions of corruption in the awarding of contracts and soul-searching over whether the country has been developing too rapidly at the cost of human lives. The quality of China's high-speed railway technology was called into question at a time when the country hopes to export rail technology.

Followup & comment: A widely circulated netizen's poem called on the Chinese government "to slow down your economic development and look at your people."

The official report, promised in September, was delayed until this week. It blamed equipment design flaws, lax management and poor emergency procedures, and held 54 officials responsible for the collision. The officials will receive administrative punishments and criminal charges are being considered.

China ordered a slow-down in running speed, but a new train in trials in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is said to travel at nearly 500 kilometers per hour.

Economic challenge

The Chinese mainland's stock market was among the worst-performing in the world. The Shanghai Composite Index slid nearly 23 percent, and the Shenzhen Composite Index tumbled around 30 percent. China led the world in the number of initial public offerings for the second year running, with 277 companies making their debuts on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges. But many performed poorly. The IPOs raised around 280 billion yuan (US$44 billion).

Followup & comment: China's money-tightening policies and sluggish economic outlook depressed market sentiment. Investors also blamed the China Securities Regulatory Commission's lax regulation for excessive numbers of IPOs and inadequate checks on insider trading. Guo Shuqing, the new head of the commission, promises better regulation. He faces major challenges.

Tall tales

In July, basketball legend Yao Ming announced his retirement from basketball in his hometown Shanghai, citing injuries.

Followup & comment: The 2.26-meter former Houston Rockets center stepped up his charity works, joined the city's top political advisory body and launched Yao Family Wines, a Napa Valley winery. Cashing in on the taste for wine among China's new rich, the first offering is a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon retailing for 1,775 (US$281) a bottle.

The Yao Foundation, launched three years ago, has built 16 basketball courts and donated millions of dollars to build schools around China.

Love and marriage

In response to the increasing number of joint property disputes in divorces, China has clarified its Marriage Law so that wives (or husbands) cannot automatically claim half the real estate in case of divorce.

In August, The state said that the property owned outright or mortgaged by one spouse prior to marriage remains the property of that spouse in case of divorce. Only if the other spouse's name is registered on a deed can that spouse claim half the property, or a share, in case of divorce.

Followup & comment: This caused an uproar, especially among women who said they were at a disadvantage since men usually purchase a house. Many pressured husbands to add their names to the deed, some said they wouldn't marry unless their fiance put their names on the deed.

This spurred a debate about love and marriage and whether Chinese women were becoming too greedy, especially at a time when property prices were rocketing and professional men were likely to be earning a lot more over time.

School bus shocker

China is famous for loving children but the sincerity of its commitment has been tested by a series of accidents involving overloaded school buses, vans and other vehicles carrying children.

In November, a nine-seater minivan crammed with 64 passengers collided with at truck in Gansu Province. Twenty-one people - 19 preschoolers and two adults - were killed and 43 students injured in the crash in Zhengning County.

Ten days later, 35 primary school students were injured in another collision in Dandong in the northern Liaoning Province.

In September, seven junior high school students were killed in a similar minivan crash in Lingshi in Shanxi Province.

Followup & comment: The list goes on. In many cases, children are not transported by proper school buses but are crammed into other conveyances, even tricyle carts, because schools don't have enough money.

According to the Ministry of Education, currently the number of vehicles conveying kindergarten, primary and middle school students totals 285,000, but only 29,000 meet safety standards. Standards are in place, but often not enforced. Some schools cut costs and outsource transport to private companies that also cut costs.

As early as 1993, the state set the target of increasing its educational spending to 4 percent of national GDP. But in 2008, the spending still fell short of the global average of 3.5 percent. The latest target date is next year.

Li Na does it

In January, tennis player Li Na became the first Asian to make it to the grand slam singles finals at the Australian Open. In June, she made history by winning the first-ever slam singles title for China and Asia.


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