Over the weekend, a woman who fell off an escalator at the Cloud Nine shopping mall in Changning District lost consciousness, but was left unattended for 20 minutes until police officers came. While this hardly seems like news for the more jaded of us, it’s interesting that this lady’s tumble is suddenly garnering so much attention. Is Shanghai heading for its Kitty Genovese moment?
Kitty Genovese was a woman in Queens, New York, who became famous in the 1960s when she was stabbed, murdered and raped near her home over the span of half an hour, allegedly in plain view of 38 witnesses. Later reports seems to have proved that there were only 12 or so witnesses, that many of them had called the police for help but – thanks to it being 3am and a cold, dark night – had misread the murder attempt as a lover’s tiff or a drunken brawl. Nonetheless, the story became seen by an example of extreme apathy and sparked decades of research into things like “diffusion of responsibility” and “the bystander effect.”
The woman, aged in her 30s, suffered a “serious tumble” when she missed a step on the escalator. While many people gathered around the unconcious woman, no one came forward to render assistance. Xinmin, which first reported the story, later conducted a poll on the matter, asking netizens whether they would have helped this woman.
Of the 788 respondents, 56.7% chose “With this kind of thing, it’s better not to get involved. The previous story of Peng Yu (a good samaritan in Nanjing who was forced to pay 45,000RMB to an old lady he had taken to the hospital after she’d been hit by a bus). About 284 of the respondents said they’d call the police, but wouldn’t touch the person who’d fallen. 44 people agreed to help as long as there were witnesses that would vouch for their innocence in the matter.
One netizen said, “This type of thing is better left alone, last time I was at Hongkou Stadium, I saw an old man fall down. The people around him’s first reaction was to yell ‘Everybody look, Allah didn’t touch Iraq (阿拉没有碰到伊).’ There was also no one who would help him.
Granted, this type of apathy is rooted in something a little more insidious than bystander effects. Shanghai Daily called “a sad reflection of today’s society when anxiety over possible legal action overshadows simple human kindness.” But with stories like Peng An’s and Li Kaiqiang – a student in Henan who was ordered to pay 78,000RMB to a woman he’d assisted up after she hit the rear end of his moped sued him for damaging her back; not to mention the recent entrapment cases enacted by the police, who charged ordinary citizens giving a lift with “operating illegal cabs,” can you blame anyone for not wanting to play Good Samaritan?
Then again, fear of being the victimized Good Samaritan doesn’t quite explain this lady’s behavior. She was caught nudging the fallen woman with her toe before bystanders asked her what the hell she thought she was doing.