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Coward or credible?

So I read something last night about a teacher in China who was fired from his job and virtually ex-communicated in his town because of his actions during the devastating earthquake that killed 70,000 people in May.

But I believe in giving credit where it's due, so I might not have remembered to write something about this if Footy, a chat show host, hadn't brought it up on the radio this morning as I drove to work.

Here's the deal: Fan Meizhong taught at a private high school in Dujiangyan. When the earthquake hit, Fan hit the fan bricks, bolted from the classroom like O.J. in a Hertz commercial and left the kids behind. He didn't even call out over his shoulder "follow me, boys!"

Surprisingly, Fan acknowledged later in an interview that he was indeed the first person out of the school building and onto the nearby soccer field.

Nothing about earthquakes is funny, but I have to admit that when I heard this story I immediately thought of George "the hero" Costanza. If you don't remember "The Fire" episode of Seinfeld, you'll get the point in the first 60 seconds of this video.

While George got a second chance with his girlfriend, Fan has since been fired, and parents and other residents of Sichuan have verbally thrashed him for cowardice. Some have pointed to other teachers at other schools who reportedly died trying to protect the kids in their classrooms during the earthquake.

They've even nicknamed him "Running Fan."

So my snap judgment is that Fan's critics are correct. He took the punk's way out, scramming like Road Runner and not even taking the kids with him.

Something fascinating about Fan though is his attitude. He has zero shame about what he did. In fact, he's basically said "damn right I ran! I'd do it again, too!" Reuters reports that Fan wrote on a Web chat portal "At such a life-or-death moment, I would only consider sacrificing my life for my daughter. I would not do it for anyone else, even my mother."

"...even my mother."

So here's the question: is Fan a terrible person, hands down, or does he deserve something, anything, for his brutal honesty?

I know, for example, that if you ask me during a peaceful moment how I'd react if a disaster struck my room full of people, I'd tell you that I'd try to help the weakest and I'd take a lesson from the Marine Corps and leave no one behind. And I'd mean it. Why? 'Cause that response is the right thing to say...and do.

Not excusing Fan, but faced with a real disaster and not just conversation about one, can any of us say for certain that we wouldn't go into automatic self preservation mode? I can't. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pull a Fan or a Costanza. I'm pretty sure my feet would remember my words. I hope they would.

Yeah, Fan's a punk, a buster, any name you wanna call him for leaving the kids behind. But he made his case: I'd trade my life for my daughter's 'cause she's important to me, and none of the rest of you are. So one more time, does Fan regain a half a point for at least being bluntly honest and not even pretending to be a hero, or should he just pack it in and go live in isolation in a cave somewhere?


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In all honesty I think I'd have acted differently, but not much differently.

I would have been making a running assessment of the condition of the building, whether I thought I could get out and still help others. I've worked in security and trained for emergency situations and the first thing they teach you is you can't help anyone when you are dead.

If I saw beams falling down and thought that the building was going to collapse if I didn't get out right that second, see ya kids.

If I thought I could use a kid to prop up the building so I would live, hey Johnny, hold on to this beam will ya?

I think self preservation comes first and I would not look down on this man at all.

James B.

Ha ha ha! WavemanCali, I applaud your blunt honesty. As I was writing this post I was thinking about that self-preservation instinct. It can't be easy to turn that thing off. I don't know if I'd think to prop up a falling beam with a flat-headed child, but I do think I agree that we can't look completely down on Fan. It would have been nice if he'd stayed to help. But I can't be 100% mad at him for preserving his own life.


I agree with wavemancali. I can't look down on Fan's actions because mine would have been the same. Call me a coward all you want, I'm alive.

These are high school students and barring any type of physical/mental disabilities...they should know to run for cover when the teacher is running. I was always taught when you see people running out of a building, you run too, ask questions later.

James B.

AJ, you get the logic award for the day. Seriously, that makes absolute sense: If you see someone running out of building, you run too, and ask questions later. And you're right. These were high school kids. They should've been able to outrun the teacher. I guess if I saw my teacher freak out, turn and run for the hills without looking back, I'd probably just follow him.

The Sarcasticynic

Sounds like Fan chose the wrong profession.


I believe that teachers should be held to a higher calling, but I don't think that laying down their lives is part of that higher calling. If Fan had saved my kid, I would be grateful to him for the rest of my life. If my kid died and he lived, I would have felt bitter and angry that he didn't do something, if only it was to shout "Follow me!". But, if I had to choose between dying for someone else's kid or living for mine, I have to pick living. I think, though, that I would probably feel survivor's guilt.


I would panic. I'm sure of it.
I've got to give him a little bit of grace ... for his actions. Not necessarily for trying to get his 14 minutes of fame in by getting it into a camera.


I don't know if Fan's actions were well-thought out enough to yell "Follow me" in a crumbling building. I suspect that he made a quick (and, in hindsight, accurate) judgement that he had to get the heck out of Dodge and did just that, maybe not realizing that the soccer field was the place to be until he was actually there. Or maybe he did. Either way, he should not be villified. He should be considered one of the lucky ones.

Stewart Stermberg

I am a teacher. If someone came in with a gun, I would grab the nearest kid and hold him in front of me as a human shield. I say, good for Fan.


When was the last time that the Herald had a drill for you all to escape an earthquake, or some other disaster? If the building was shaking, what would you do on the 5th floor? Who knows enough to save who in that situation, and please remember, there's no time to find out what is going on, or to do research.


What's really surprising about this is that Fan would sacrifice his life for his DAUGHTER in a country where girl babies are still put to death because only sons are desired.


At work, I was made a safety marshal for this year. It wasn't something I volunteered for, it's just something that everyone has to take a turn doing and my number on the wheel came up. We had to sit through safety classes, learn our posts, what to do in-case-of, etc. We had a few drills, etc. No biggie.

Then we had a tornado warning and the sirens came on and everyone headed to the basement in a hurry, including me. When push came to shove, that I had a post and was supposed to shepherd others to safety never even crossed my mind. Siren = tornado = get my ass to the basement. End of story.

I probably would have reacted differently if there were children involved - at least I *hope* I would have reacted differently. But if the kids weren't mine, who knows?


He had kids in his charge, so beating feet without any attempt to help them was wrong.

I can't say he should have died for them, though, if he has a dependent child. She owns his life until she's independent. After that, I'd say his wife owns him. If he's single, it's his call.

This is a really tough question.

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