The Nixon effect

Why firemen are China’s most trusted folk

The Nixon effect

"Go and ask a fireman, if you don't believe me"

Public trust, once lost, is difficult to regain again (as Richard Nixon discovered).

In China, public trust may be sinking to a new low, thanks to a slew of food safety scandals, ongoing frustration about corruption, and continuing controversy over shoddy construction practices in Sichuan.

In light of the International Consumer Rights’ Day on March 15, MSN, an internet portal, carried out a poll to find out whom the Chinese most trust today, in which 20,600 participated.

The results? 29% of the respondents voted firefighters as the most trustworthy, followed by soldiers (14%) and farmers (10%).

But the more eyecatching result was that the police came in tenth in the poll, garnering only 2.2% of the vote.

A further erosion of public trust in the government may result from recent news about illegal trading of sensitive personal information.

According to Henan Daily, many companies have been selling personal information that has been retrieved from government registries.

One mainland website is selling access to a database containing the personal information of more than 90 million individuals such as mobile phone numbers, or home and office addreses.

For as little as 15 American cents, you can access more detailed personal information from the same provider, like QQ contact details (China’s most popular instant messaging service), marital status, medical files and even property records.

A man called Xu, who believes himself to be a victim of the data sellers, told the People’s Daily that he has had enough. “I have just bought a new apartment and haven’t even got the key, yet many building material dealers and household-moving companies are phoning me to ask whether I would like to buy furniture or any building materials. Last year when my wife gave birth I received a lot of advertisements about baby items.”

In the US, such unwanted attention would have sparked a wave of lawsuits, but not yet in China, where legal protection of personal information is still lagging behind international standards.

The American philosopher Francis Fukuyama ranks China as a ‘low trust society’, and on this showing it is not hard to see why.

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