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.
This Tuesday, the Ministry of Health issued a document entitled “Technical Guidelines on Intervention When An Old Person Has Fallen Down”. The set of guidelines carries no legal weight, but as its name suggests, is a list of pointers that the general public should be aware of when they encounter an elderly stranger on the ground who appears to be in need of help. The guidelines, while ostensibly meant to be an encouragement to please help people in need, was seen to have the opposite effect because of the following tip: “Do not rush to help, but manage according to the situation1.” This guideline elicited gasps of disbelief around China, because while people may hate to admit it out loud, there is the unspoken agreement that over-eagerness to assist has never really been a Chinese trait.
There are innumerable cases one can cite to illustrate this. Last Friday, for instance, an 88-year-old man had to lie helpless on a crowded avenue in Wuhan for about 90 minutes before someone actually took him to the hospital. By the time he got there, all that the doctors could do was to pronounced him dead. The cause of his death? A nosebleed that blocked his airway eventually suffocated him. This could have been easily prevented if someone had just bothered to turn his body around.
Earlier this year, in Shanghai, a woman was stabbed at the Pudong Airport. No one stepped forward to help her, except a foreigner. He attended to her wounds and waited by her side until an ambulance arrived.
Responding to the brouhaha that erupted around the aforementioned guidelines, a health ministry spokeswoman clarified that the guidelines were two years in the making and had absolutely nothing to do with recent events. She also said that the guidelines are “technical” in nature and “should not be turned into a moral problem”. “Everyone who has fallen down should receive assistance,” she added. “Helping others in need is a virtue of the Chinese people”.
The response to her remarks has come fast and furious. Liu Peng of the People’s Daily says that there’s nothing technical about helping old people who have fallen down while a commentary that appeared on the Southern Metropolis Daily says the guidelines have had the effect of “pouring cold water” on people’s desire to help.
One case highlighted in the article is the infamous “Nanjing Peng Yu” incident which has remained high on the consciousness of the Chinese public in the last five years. Back in 2006, in Nanjing, a young man named Peng Yu who had just got off a bus went to the assistance of a 65-year-old woman who was knocked down by a fellow passenger. The woman eventually sued him for 136,419.3 yuan, saying he was the one who knocked her down. In a judgement that infuriated the public, the court ruled that Peng Yu was liable to pay for 40% of the total costs. Yet even after an extended period of legal wrangling that culminated in an out-of-court agreement, Peng Yu was still made to pay 10% of the costs.
The story finds an eery echo in a more recent event that took place in Rugao, Jiangsu province on Aug 26: A bus driver went to the help of an 81-year-old woman he saw lying on the ground by the side of her overturned tricycle. She eventually told the police that he was the one that hit her. Fortunately the bus was equipped with a video camera that showed that the woman was lying. Sales of video cameras for cars have reportedly shot up in the days since.
The Southern Metropolis Daily editorial argues that to encourage more people to help the old people who have fallen down, relying on a set of technical guidelines alone is insufficient. It suggests that the government can set aside a special fund that can come to the aid of such elderly folk in the event that nobody can be found responsible for the predicament. This will help mitigate the worries that people may have about coming to the assistance of others in need, it says. Now that the health ministry has laid down a set of “very practical” guidelines, other relevant authorities need to step forward to do their part. Civic groups also need to be encouraged to organise training sessions to raise the public’s general awareness of what can be done in similar instances, the paper argues.
1. The rest of the guidelines, nevertheless, are pretty non-controversial. If the old person is unconscious, first call for an ambulance before giving first aid measures by stopping any serious bleeding, ensuring the airways are clear, and applying cardiopulmonary respiration if breeding has stopped, etc. If the old person is conscious, then ask how s/he has fallen down. If s/he is unable to remember, call for an ambulance while checking to see if there are any injuries on the head or anywhere else on the body. In any event, care should be taken not to move the body of the victim around, and even if necessary, movement should be minimal.
Holding a piece of paper that states “I fell on the floor by myself. Nobody pushed me,” a man says to an old person who has fallen on the ground, “Please sign this agreement before I help you.”
The woman on the right exclaims, “Let’s go help her!” while the man says, “Who would dare to? There are no surveillance cameras around here!”
An old man who has fallen down to the ground appeals for help. Meanwhile, a man who comes to his rescue holds up a huge sign that says “Passersby please take note: I’m a good man.”
“Don’t worry, old man. Let me first” learn how to help you!”
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.”