Most of you will probably have heard about the horrible case of the two year old girl who was run over by a van in Foshan, Guangdong province, and was ignored by 18 passers-by until finally a 57 year old rag collector picked her up and tried to find her parents.
The story has received lots of attention within China as well as worlwide. The incident has produced much soul searching and revulsion. There is an assumption that some recent high-profile cases in which people who tried to help someone who had had an accident were later blamed and sued by the person they wanted to help have discouraged people from assisting strangers. There is now discussion of changing the law to protect and reward those who offer assistance to strangers. The government has also promised a big reward for the woman who finally tried to help the little girl.
And of course, just a few days after the event the Chinese press has conveniently come up with a different story about how in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, a 22 year old girl who was hit by a car was immediately helped by by passers-by and the workers from a nearby construction site, who came, lifted the car up from on top of her and called the emergency services.
Websites directed mainly at expats in China, for instance chinasmack, shanghaiist and echinacities, have all run articles about the incident. And of course, if you look at the comments under the articles, you will find the usual outpouring of expat prejudice and hostility towards China and the Chinese, mixed with some (rare) intelligent comments. For many of the commenters, this episode shows how the Chinese and their culture are indeed basically flawed, how they only care about money, how they have no morals or compassion, how this country is basically a hell-hole etc....
The fact that the incident has precipitated a lot of public disgust and condemnation within China would already seem to disprove this vision of things. Not to mention the fact that in the end it was a poor rag collector who did try to intervene.
Another important fact to remember is that this sort of thing can happen anywhere. For instance, in 2010 there was a case in New York in which a Guatemalan homeless man was stabbed while trying to save a woman from an attacker with a knife, and he then bled to death on the pavement as dozens of people walked by and did not help or call for an ambulance. One person even stopped to take a photo. Just as in the case of the girl in China, it was all captured by a surveillance camera. Clearly heartlessness towards strangers in big cities is not limited to China.
My assumption is that what stopped those passers-by from intervening was a mixture of fear of being blamed themselves and getting into trouble, and the idea that someone competent would surely deal with it anyway and that they might as well mind their own business. One of the passers-by who ignored the girl has spoken out, according to a report by China Daily. Here is the excerpt from the article:
Many of the 18 people who passed by the girl at the accident scene and did not help denied that they saw the girl or were aware of the situation.
One of them, a mother of a five-year-old girl, said she felt "regretful, compassionate, painful at heart and guilty," for seeing Yue Yue but not helping her.
"I thought she had fallen down from playing and didn't know she was run over by vehicles until her mother came in tears.
"She was bleeding from the mouth and nose and crying faintly. I was scared and my daughter was scared to cry. So we left in a hurry," said the woman surnamed Lin, cited by Guangzhou Daily.
"I wanted to lift her, but there was so much blood. I was scared. If someone was helping at that time, I would have done the same."