After reading this short story I came across one of Jesus' beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount - "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." This teaching of Jesus underscored for me in a powerful way the tragic tale of the Old Man.
Mercy as it's used in the teaching is not about feeling sorry for someone, but having empathy for another person's misfortunes. It's an understanding that we are all in life together and that life is a hard struggle. But mercy requires more than empathy, it requires us to move outside of ourselves and act in a manner that relieves the suffering and hardship of those we are being merciful to.
The Old Man in the story clearly understands mercy. The insight into human (not just Chinese) nature, that the author exposes, is that we, as a society, don't act in a merciful way. More disturbing, it shows us that not only is it easier, and safer, to do nothing, but we take a perverse joy in being able to abandon all thoughts of mercy.
The tragedy for the Old Man is that for all the mercy he'd shown in his life, none was returned to him. The Old Man is gone, but perhaps we can remember him the next time we come across a person in need of support.
Thank you Xiao Qing, I look forward to reading more of your stories.