In China, toddler left for dead sparks heated debate about society's moral health
The case of a toddler run over twice and left in the road to die has sparked a morality debate in China about the legal and ethical shortcomings in a China focused on economic progress.
The case of a toddler run over twice and left to die by passers-by in the southern Chinese city of Foshan has sparked an emotional debate online and in the press here about the legal and ethical shortcomings that constitute the dark side of China’s fast-paced economic progress.Skip to next paragraph
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A security camera filmed a hit-and-run driver who knocked 2-year-old Wang Yueyue over on Thursday evening. Over the next seven minutes, it captured another van driving over her and then 18 people walking or cycling by without helping her, before a ragpicker moved her to the curb and alerted Yueyue’s mother, who had lost her. As of Wednesday evening she was in intensive care, her survival in doubt.
The ruling Communist party’s mouthpiece, “The People’s Daily,” warned in an editorial Tuesday titled “We Could All Be Passers-By” that “stopping moral decline and strengthening the power of kindness is a problem we have to face in our society.”
“China has become a country without belief,” lamented “@qianbuyong” a user of the popular Sina Weibo microblog, one of over a million people to have commented on the security camera video since it was posted online over the weekend. “People only believe in money.”
Others blamed the well known way Chinese Good Samaritans have sometimes become extortion victims of the people they have assisted. “People dare not help any more,” suggested one blogger on the YY forum, for fear of being used as a scapegoat.
Good people not rewarded?
There have been many such cases of extortion in recent years; the best known occurred in 2007 when an old woman accused a young man named Peng Yu of knocking her over after he had found her injured on the ground, escorted her to hospital and paid her hospital admission charge.
The court ruled that Mr. Peng should pay the woman’s medical bills because if he had not been responsible for her injuries he would not have taken her to hospital.
“There is a general feeling in society that there are not many good people around and the judge in that case was influenced by this feeling,” says Tan Fang, who founded the “Good Chinese Man” website to promote Good Samaritans.
The way Chinese law is enforced, complains Professor Tan, means that “good people are not rewarded and evil people are not punished.” He points to the case of a bus driver in Nantong, in the coastal province of Jiangsu, who saw an old woman run over by a tricycle last August and stopped to help her.
The woman accused the bus driver, Yin Hongbing, of running her down and demanded damages. Video from a nearby traffic camera proved she was lying, but she got off with an apology.
Cameras are rarely on hand to provide evidence, though, and with courts putting the burden of proof on defendants to show they did not hurt their accusers, “a new consensus has emerged, that in today’s world it is both unwise and unsafe to help a stranger in a public place,” says Yan Yunxiang, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied Chinese Good Samaritans.
“Helping a stranger is coming to be regarded as a mindless and silly act, instead of compassionate or heroic,” he adds.
China has no law that protects Good Samaritans from being sued by the people they help, let alone the sort of law that in France, Italy, and some other European countries makes it a crime not to help someone in distress.