In recent years, a series of highly publicized cases have arisen across China in which people trying to help those in need following an accident have been wrongly accused of causing the accident. Some elderly people even tried to sue those who rushed to their aid.
In one widely reported case, on Nov 20, 2006, an old woman fell to the ground and broke her leg at a bus stop in Nanjing,city in eastern China. A young man, Peng Yu, helped her up and escorted her to hospital. Later the woman and her family dragged the man to court, which ruled that the young man should pay 40 percent of the medical costs. The court said the decision was reached through reasoning. The verdict said that “according to common sense”, it was highly possible that the defendant had bumped into the old woman, given that he was the first person to get off the bus when the old woman was pushed down in front of the bus door and, “according to what one would normally do in this case”, Peng should have left soon after sending the woman to the hospital instead of staying there for the surgical check. “His behaviour obviously went against common sense.”
This “reasoning” horrified, and angered, the whole nation. From then on, the number of pedestrians helping old people in need has dramatically decreased. Using search engines online, one can find dozens of stories of old people left lying on the ground without any passers-by giving a helping hand. Netizens have even coined a new phrase for it – “sequel to the Peng Yu case”.
In Wuhan, Hubei province, an elderly woman from the city who had fallen accused a good-hearted citizen who had stopped to help her of knocking her over and demanded money. Thanks to many witnesses volunteer to give testimony, with policeman’s carful investigation, the citizen finally got free from the false accusation.
On July 11 at noon, an old man felt on the ground while riding a tricycle on the Xinghua Yangshan Bridge. He lay on the ground and could not get up. For as long as 15 minutes, many people passed through there, some even stopped by and watched, but not one person gave the old man a hand to help him up.
In Shenzhen, Guangdong province, a 78-year-old man was found on the rain-soaked ground, face down in a residential compound, none of the onlookers took any action except to call the police. Despite the efforts of first-aid personnel to save his life, the man died. Had anybody turned him over and lifted his head up, the old man wouldn’t have died.
On August 28，2011， an 88-year-old man, Mr. Li in Hubei died of suffocation due to a nose bleed after passers-by ignored his collapse. Only when relatives arrived, 90 minutes later, was he taken to hospital.
“Gradually, helping a stranger is coming to be regarded as a mindless and silly act, instead of compassionate or heroic,” noted Yan, of the University of California, Los Angeles.
He speculated that increasing social inequality might make the poor feel they needed the money more than their wealthier helpers. But he added that younger or middle-aged people were also more likely to help, because they tended to hold more universalistic moral values, while older people were more hostile to strangers and felt their duties were towards people within their social network.
Fewer than 7% of 20,000 respondents in an online survey by Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television said they would stop while driving to offer help. More than 45% said they would turn a blind eye and 43% said they would help only if there was a camera.
Hordes of passersby stand around and gawk while a man comes to the assistance of an old man who has fallen to the ground, but before he does so, he takes a few pictures. “I can’t help it,” he says. “I’m just protecting myself.”
After this series of fallen elderly events emerged, it raised a heated discussion among netizens. Under this circumstance, on September 6, the Chinese Health Ministry issued a 41-page set of guidelines that was two years in the making, which called “Technical Guidelines on Intervention When an Old Person Has Fallen Down”. In this guideline, it is recommended not hurry to help the fallen elderly immediately, but to offer different aids based on differing situations.
According to Chinese state media reports, the document had been in the works for a few爕ears; it was also released with guides detailing technical protocols for helping drowning victims and燾hildren involved爄n automobile crashes.
But the timing of the document’s release, just days after Mr. Li suffocated in the street, was terrible. The vast majority of Chinese netizens and editorialists interpreted it as a tone-deaf, technocratic response to what many perceive as three decades of decay in traditional Chinese values that began when the county爀mbraced capitalism.
In an editorial on Caixun.com, China’s leading financial news portal, Chi Jingrui wrote:
It is generally believed by the public that if we go back thirty years, it was no more difficult to help a senior citizen when he falls down than to offer a seat on the bus. But then what has made us lose our “loving heart” and social morality over the last thirty years?
Usually the answer is money. “In China, helping a fallen senior is a risky investment and its overall rate of return is usually negative,” tweeted Time in Words, a user of the Sina Weibo microblog.
By early afternoon on September 7, “Ministry of Health” had become the second-most popular trending topic among the 200 million users of Sina. The online discussion often was燾ontemptuous, especially about爐he length of the state guidelines for helping the elderly and their inapplicability爐o real-life燾ircumstances.
Shui Yinhe, a freelance journalist, tweeted on Sina Weibo:
What a guideline. If the senior citizen falls, he should be accompanied by their family members to the hospital. But if we can’t get in touch with them, what can we do? Let them wait to die?
Where others saw the Ministry of Health’s incompetence, some saw humor. The topic of the guidelines became a platform for the spontaneous gallows humor that is燾haracteristic of燙hina’s microblogging masses.
A Sina Weibo user who goes by “Textbook” took the popular approach of offering some of his own guidelines:
1. Call 120 [the Chinese emergency number]. 2. Look around to see if there’s a watchdog or wait for more people to come, and then help the elderly person. 3. Take photos using your cell phone in case tragedy happens … 4. If you are in areas outside the mainland, you don’t have to do any of this and you can act normally.
But the award for the most cutting set of additional guidelines for helping the elderly goes to the editorial writers for the Qiangjiang Evening News, a Hangzhou-based newspaper. Their proposal includes:
3. Equipment such as still cameras and video cameras are all indispensable to saving people … 4. Call 110 or 120. Remember not to leave your name and use a phone booth … After finishing the call, return to the site (Note: Just watch, never make any conspicuous speech or action).
Despite all the humor, the unsettling — even tragic — subtext to the discussion is this: There’s been such deterioration in the Chinese social contract that the elderly can no longer count on their fellow citizens for help.
Jiang Changjian, an associate professor in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai’s Fudan University, bluntly summarized the depth of the problem on Sina Weibo: “…if there’s no willingness to offer help to a fallen senior citizen, whatever technical awareness and ability we have is rendered useless.”
A lot has been written about why helping hands can be uncommon in China. Some people blame the corrosive effects of a flawed communist ideology. But there also may be a legal impediment to Good Samaritan instincts, according to local media. “The government should focus on re-establishing social trust as the top priority after a series of cases across the country where people trying to help were instead wrongly accused of causing the accident,” wrote the Shanghai Daily.
In this cartoon that first appeared on the Southern Metropolis Daily, a heart-shaped character named “Morals” is left on the ground asking, “Who will help me up?” while the book named “Technical Guidelines” assists the old man.
China‘s Good Samaritans are weighing the cost of helping others after high-profile extortion attempts from people they have aided.
Commentators have blamed declining morals, high healthcare costs and inadequate laws for the scandals, warning that many people are now too scared to aid strangers for fear they will end up paying compensation or hospital fees.
In fact, most people feel compassion for the weak. But the frequent occurrence of extortion and blackmail after a passer-by has offered help has deterred people from acting as a Good Samaritan. Something has to be done to change the situation.
We may learn from the US experience.
In a 2004 traffic crash, a woman pulled a coworker from a car fearing a possible explosion. The injured person later filed a lawsuit against the rescuer, claiming that the improper way she was pulled from the car caused her paralysis. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The ruling got “condemned from coast to coast” for its obvious unfairness. In June 2009, the California legislature passed the Good Samaritan Protection Act, which immunizes Good Samaritans from liability when they assist others at the scene of an emergency. The plaintiff withdrew the suit.
We Chinese also need such a law so that “Good Samaritans should never again have to second-guess the consequences of helping”, as was said by one California senator after the 2009 law was passed.
By Chang Yu
Chang Yu is an intern with the China Program at The Carter Center. She is a recent graduate of Emory Law School. She did her undergraduate in Beijing, China at the China University of Political Science and Law.
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