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Sorting priorities

This story ought to begin with: Believe it or not. It involves three babies, two living Chinese babies and a third mythical baby -- the one who is thrown out with the bath water. I always felt this was an impossible metaphor, but I supposed it was meant to teach us to get our priorities right.Now I'm not so sure it's impossible.

One summer evening, coming home on the bus, I gave my seat to a young mother carrying a baby and a bag of apples. I had been sitting at the back of the bus behind a brass bar, below which three steps went steeply down to the door, which folded back suddenly at every stop. The girl sat down there, without thanks, pushed the thinly clad baby behind her in the corner of the bus, and started collecting the apples that were falling out of her nylon net. To the round- eyed horror of all of us straphangers, the baby suddently slid silent as a fish from behind its mother, down under the brass bar, down, down into the deep hollow of the lowest step.

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Try bending in a packed moving bus to reach down three steep steps below foot level to pick up a slippery baby! Finally a heroic man managed to edge down sideways and reach the little one. He handed it back to its mother and received no thanks. She continued packing apples into the nylon net, quite impervious to the critical looks directed at her. Chinese people are so indescribably tolerant that no criticism was voiced. For my part, I was thankful my limited command of the girl's dialect prevented me from telling her what I thought of her priorities.

As for the second baby in my story, it was born recently in a famous hospital here. Somebody passing an empty room heard a baby crying. A nurse went in. She couldn't see any baby, but at last she moved a pile of dirty dressings in a sanibin and discovered a perfect little baby. It hadn't been thrown out with the bath water, but with the dressings.

It is enough to say that the second baby's story and many like it are printed openly in the newspapers these days. Trying to uncover the evils in society in order to remedy them is now predominant. People are becoming less afraid to speak out and reveal things that need putting right, particularly the inefficiency of officials at all levels and the bureaucracy hamstringing nearly every line of work.

We've a long row to hoe, but China is beginning to get her priorities straight

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