By Ivan Shi and Kenneth Tan
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.”
Two recent incidents of seniors accused of pretending to fall, then extorting money from the Good Samaritans that come by to help them up, shine as prime examples of why many Chinese people shy away from lending a helping hand to people in need that they meet on the streets.
In one bizarre incident which happened in Weifang, some 533km to the south of Beijing, the sight of one elderly man lying on the street with a bicycle attracted a huge crowd of gawkers. He refused to get up when people around him offered to help him up, insisting that a woman (seen in the video below in a black top) had pushed him down.
“We just exchanged a few words. And then he lay himself on the street and began saying I pushed him over,” says the woman.
“He landed several kicks on me, leaving shoe prints over my pants. I have never seen any elderly person with no self-respect or personal dignity like him,” she later added before calling the police on her cell phone.
Fortunately for her, eye witnesses were present to validate her story, and one person even managed to capture the scene down on video:
Public opinion was squarely on the side of the woman’s. One bystander is heard telling the old man, “You say you’re seventy-over years old. Why do this?”
Another witness is quoted as saying that this was not the first time the old man did this, and a third person went up to the old man and said to him, “I don’t know you, and I don’t know her. I’m just a passerby. Now I just want to help you up.”
Faced with so many eye-witnesses, the elderly man eventually had no choice but to get up.
In a separate incident, two high school students, one male and one female, were accused of pushing over an 86-year-old woman they had just helped to get up on her feet in Taizhou, north of Suzhou.
When the elderly Ms Xu turned around and accused the students of knocking her over, the students were so scared they started to cry, said bystanders.
Fortunately again, there were enough eye-witnesses who had observed the proceedings and who stepped forward to help the students. People in the neighbourhood identified Ms Xu as a “碰瓷专业户”, the Chinese term for individuals specialised in framing and extorting.
One woman said, “Yesterday, at 1pm, she was here lying down by the street, and a young woman came to help her up, and she turned around to accuse her of pushing her over.”
Another man said, “There was another woman here just now who said this old woman did the same thing at the People’s Hospital the other day and successfully extorted 1000RMB from her.”
Ms Xu left shortly after journalists arrived at the scene and she found herself unable to explain what had happened.
Debate over a Chinese morality decline has been intense in the wake of the death of two-year-old girl Yueyue who passed away after she was ignored by 18 passersby following a high profile double hit-and-run in the city of Foshan.
In September, controversy erupted over a set of guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health on how to intervene when an old person has fallen down. The guidelines, while ostensibly meant to encourage people to help others in need, was seen to have the opposite effect because of the following tip: “Do not rush to help, but manage according to the situation”.
In the meanwhile, the infamous “Nanjing Peng Yu” incident 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.
Following legions of people calling for better legal protections for altruistic behaviour, Internet-based charitable organisation Hao Ren Wang (the “Good Samaritan Network“) has recently been put in the limelight.
In an interview with the national radio CNR, founder Tan Fang said he established the “Helping Elderly Risk Fund” to assist people who bravely lift up senior citizens but are wrongly blamed.
Initiated on the 2008 National Day of Mourning for the Wenchuan Earthquake victims, his cause had not been taken seriously until the tragedy of Yue Yue.