A five-year-old boy, Yan Zhe, has been run over and killed by a bus in Jiaxiang, Zhejiang Province. While this is tragic enough in itself, video of the incident shows the boy’s frantic mother begging passersby for help, only to have her pleas ignored.
The death of a young child and the seeming indifference of passersby has naturally led to comparisons with the Yue Yue incident, in which a toddler in Guangdong was run over by two vehicles and ignored by multiple pedestrians before finally being rescued by a trash collector. Yue Yue‘s death gripped the nation and seemed to be a harbinger of change as regards Chinese attitudes towards helping others. Guangdong Party Boss Wang Yang said at the time that the girl’s death should be a “wake up call for everyone”.
In the above report, the news anchor also makes the connection (translation by Beijing Cream):
“Now, can we still see those inner scars? Can we remember the pain and anguish from that time? Granted, it was an unavoidable accident, but that doesn’t make it an acceptable excuse for those who backed away. Child’s parents are responsible, driver is responsible, everyone who witnessed it is responsible.”
After Yue Yue’s death, a number of commentators in China decried the apparent apathy of the Chinese people that they could ignore such suffering and not do anything to help. This appalled tone was repeated in foreign media, often with a nasty, racist tinge to it, as some commentators suggested that the Chinese were lacking in basic morality.
However, as Mark MacKinnon pointed out at the time, the depiction of callous passersby ignoring a dying toddler didn’t tell the whole story:
Several of the 18 passersby have since been tracked down by Chinese media and questioned about their behaviour. While a few have claimed – improbably – that they didn’t notice the little girl bleeding at their feet, others are clearly wracked with guilt.
Why didn’t they intervene? The word “fear” keeps coming up.
“I was scared,” a woman named Lin – infamous for walking by Yueyue with her own 5-year-old daughter – told Chinese media. “If someone (else) was helping at that time, I would have done the same.”
If one were to ask the pedestrians in Jiaxiang why they didn’t help, it is likely that they would cite similar concerns. The spectre of Peng Yu hangs heavy over Chinese society. In this notorious case, Peng, a a Nanjing man helped a woman who had fallen and broken her hip.
Faced with sky-high medical costs, the 65-year-old lady turned on the Good Samaritan and alleged that he had caused her to fall. In a ruling that cites no evidence whatsoever, the Nanjing court accepted the woman’s claims, finding it “at odds with reason” that Mr. Peng would have helped her merely out of the goodness of his heart. He was ordered to pay $6,000 towards the woman’s medical bill.
The ruling against Peng is indicative of the dire state of the Chinese legal system, which is too often arbitrary and inconsistent. Chinese leaders’ promotion of the ‘rule of law’ are empty words when the Party is above the law, and the interference of a Party official can turn a case far more than evidence.
Unfortunately, what is needed is more than a just a ‘Good Samaritan’ law, as many suggested after Yue Yue’s death. Peng’s case was decided despite a complete lack of evidence against him, based on the judge’s own prejudices. The fear of the public to help those in need is a symptom of the disease at the heart of the Chinese justice system, and the patient may very well be terminal.