‘Fan Run Run’: teacher in China who left students behind during 2008 Sichuan earthquake in new controversy

A Chinese teacher who gained notoriety for leaving his students behind during the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake is in the news again for controversial comments about the incident.

Fan Meizhong, referred to online as Fan Run Run after his escape, was teaching Chinese at Guangya School in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, when the quake hit May 12, 2008.

Within minutes of his escape, his students joined him unharmed. The students later complained that he had left them behind in the classroom. The magnitude 8 earthquake left 69,000 people dead and 18,222 missing.

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During the public backlash, Fan was fired from his job and denounced online and in the media. He repeatedly stated in interviews that it was not a teacher’s obligation to save students at the cost of his own life.

“I am a person pursuing freedom and justice, instead of a person to sacrifice one’s own interests for the sake of others,” Fan wrote in an article published soon after the incident. “At this moment of choosing between death and life, I will sacrifice myself only for my daughter. For other people, even including my mother, I won’t care about them in this circumstance.”

Chinese military soldiers remove corpses as they aid in the rescue effort after the 2008 quake. Photo: Getty

Yesterday on the 13th anniversary of the earthquake a video of Fan being interviewed on a talk show in 2012 where he repeated his earlier comments went viral on Weibo.

“What I said these years is a significant enlightenment of thought for China. My views have been a big positive influence for students,” he said in the programme. “I help them realise their own rights and come to know that we should build the right systems, rather than rely on people’s morals, to make this world become better.”

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“I am perhaps the one in China who spent the most effort in sticking to being oneself,” he said.

Internet users were divided on Fan’s comments.

“I say that his choice of running first is human nature. But he always boasts about his escape and I look down upon him,” wrote one person on Weibo.

Fan remains adamant he did nothing wrong in saving himself. Photo: Handout

But another user commented, “I think he did nothing wrong. It’s not necessary to criticise him from a moral aspect.” It received nearly 400 likes.

A third person said on Weibo, “It’s meaningless to use as propaganda his escape. We should remember the heroes who saved others in the earthquake and spread their spirit.”

One of those cited as a hero was Tan Qianqiu, another teacher at Dongqi Middle School in Deyang, who used his body and a desk to form a shelter for four students in the earthquake. The students were all rescued, but Tan died in the disaster.

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