Those of us who grew up in Christian homes are all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Sadly we learned this week that the tale has a very different ending in China:
A toddler was going down to the street to play, she was run over by an inattentive driver, who paused a moment to consider what to do and then departed, leaving her half dead. By chance, a certain merchant was going down that way. When he saw her, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a mother also, when she came to the place with her own child, and saw the injured toddler, passed by on the other side. Sixteen others did the same, but a certain scrap collector, as she traveled, came where the girl was. When she saw her, she was moved with compassion, came to her, moved her from the road, and hurried to find her mother. The girl was taken to the hospital, but the doctors have little hope of recovery. Update: The girl has passed away after several days of treatment.
This story has dominated headlines internationally this week, and has resulted in a kind of crisis in the hearts of many Chinese. The question that myself and millions of others have been pondering for days is what kind of system creates a society where 18 people can walk past a dying child?
Every news report from the state presses (and most of the foreign ones), have included the story of a man named Peng Yu in Nanjing who was sued by a woman after helping her. The old woman was successful in seeking damages from the man because the judge claimed that the man wouldn’t have helped her unless he was guilty of injuring her in the first place. This case is repeated ad nauseam each time a person is left suffering by callous spectators. Like the man in Wuhan who collapsed in a market and was left where he lay for 90 minutes before someone called for help (he died of a nose bleed that blocked his airway).
While this is a legal defense of people’s actions, I am not satisfied by it. After all it has been 5 years since Peng Yu was sued, isn’t that enough time for China’s famously swift-acting government to have passed a law protecting good Samaritans?
Between similarities with the parable itself and the lack of a “Good Samaritan” law in China, people quickly connected the lack of religion with the lack of concern for human life. While I am a Christian, and I would like to think things would have been different if one of those people believed in heaven or hell, there is no evidence that one of the people who passed the girl by didn’t hold those beliefs. By conservative estimates about 5% of China is religious, and Guangdong (where this happened) was one of the first places opened to missionaries.
It is also important to note that the woman who did act, was not necessarily religious (some quotes imply that she has ideas about divine judgement, but nothing concrete). In the story of the parable told by Jesus, the Samaritan himself wasn’t moved by religion, but was “moved by compassion.” So perhaps something was interfering with these people’s basic sense of humanity. I think though that it was not simply coincidental that it was a person who had been marginalized by society, an illiterate scrap collecting woman, that stopped to help the child when no one else would.
The final trend was pointing the finger at the communist party, who had killed morality. A good Chinese friend’s first reaction to the story was that in the past there was Confucianism, then Maoism replaced that, then when Maoism was wiped away with opening up, China was left with a moral vacuum. The Party then proceeded to fill this void with materialism in the name of GDP. He argued that something like this would never happen in Taiwan where traditional Chinese values still exist. When he said this, the office fell silent, and a few nodded, including the one who had been to Taiwan (silence might also have meant some were uncomfortable with the open discussion of politics).
While I can’t speak to the voracity of the claims about people in Taiwan, I don’t know how the Party could have so completely deadened the hearts of those who passed the toddler by. Many of them were young, and some had their own children, how could Mao and the Party be entirely to blame? If Mao didn’t manage to break down ideas about family, how could he have destroyed ideas even more central to our humanity?
We will never fully know why those 18 people walked by. Perhaps they actually thought the girl had simply fallen, maybe they were late to a meeting. They might have been worried about legal consequences, or indifferent to heavenly retribution. They could have been concerned about her blood ruining their new clothes, or were worried that the blood on their clothes would be seen as evidence of their guilt. But perhaps the reason we’re so concerned about their motivation or lack of empathy is that we worry that it might be us one day who walk past the person in need because it would have been inconvenient in some way to help. We hope there is something we could point to about what those 18 did so we can say “See, I’m different, I would have helped.”
Update: In the comments many people are pointing to the “Bystander effect” while this in someway explains the people’s inaction, it also applies largely to group situations, which this was not. According to research done on the topic, those who witness an accident while alone helped them 70% of the time, while in a group it was only 40% of the time. It seems that this too fails to sufficiently explain why 18 people walked past a dying toddler.
When you think about it, none of those excuses would warrant any credibility whatsoever. Worried about staining your clothes over a dying child? Like that holds any light. On every level this makes no sense and the behavior is absurd. It’s human nature to save a child that is dying. It’s really one of the most fundamental moral obligations we have as human beings. In philosophy class, I remember talking about the difference between rescuing a drowning child that you see in a pool as your walking by, and sending money to a charity overseas. Despite the two being morally comparable, people always act on the first, but so much the ladder. Here, no one acted– and it is truly a shame.
With respect, if it were human nature to save a child that is dying, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
It is human nature to save a dying child. History is full of examples where people didn’t need to risk themselves for a stranger’s child. Whether it be in the middle of a war or just a routine firefighter rescue, people do it and have done it as far back as we can remember.
At least in America it would have been a crowd running to help ANY child, even if we don’t speak the same language.
With respect, we don’t need a discussion at all. It’s a no brainer.
And, I’ll say this… Some people think China is the next military superpower we should fear. Think of the ramifications of a military operations where they can’t pull together and save their fallen. I mean, if you don’t want to save a civilian child just laying there, who is going to risk their neck when the bullets are flying. What a mess it would be.
Thank you, Anonymous. Would you repeat these statements under you own name? You’ve just implied 1) that Chinese people aren’t human, 2) given a fine example orientalist thinking, 3) asserted that Chinese are incapable of collective action. So now I’m going to take this a step beyond the accusation of orientalism: you understanding of China is racist.
Feel free to post anonymous and incoherent screed below.
My real name? Who care who I am. Who cares about my race? Racist? I live in NYC and I see all races and peoples of the world!!!
It wouldn’t matter what race they were or what part of the world they are from or what language they spoke. We would be rushing to scoop up ANY 2 year old boy or girl… Period. If you tried to stop us we would ignore you and take the baby to a hospital. I also love comparing it to stopping a person attacking someone else with a knife. It was a little 2 year old girl laying there. Since 911 every American man with a decent build is ready to destroy a terrorist, stop mad gunmen, whatever. Our society is f-ed up, I know, say what you want, but their are virtues there. I wouldn’t mind going out that way. In comparison saving a 2 year old’s life at the risk of being sued is so worth it. Oh yeah I was a life guard and have seen some action. If you let someone die without trying everything (bloody barf in mouth, anyone?) you WILL regret it forever! I sucks to be haunted…
If that’s racist, I’m confused. My neighbor hood is heavily Middle Eastern (Yemen) and Puerto Rican and old school Italian and African American and… Asian!
And to fill you in… In america, Asian peoples are very welcome, seem to be very successful and cause no racial issues I’ve ever heard of.
So maybe it’s not racism you’re pointing out. I’m not sure. I know I would help a injured Chinese 2 year old. No doubt at all in my mind. I don’t care if you try to say I killed her. I mean what I say friend.
Really? It’s not human nature to save a dying child.
Think about what you just said.
Is it in your nature to save a dying child Lorin Yochim. Do Canadians not save dying children? You’re so smart up there in Alberta there Professor.
What is standard Human Nature when it comes to injured 2 year olds? What, unless you’re a mother you let everyone else’s children die? From the internet, you look like quite an educated guy, but what are you saying about human nature? That we are programmed not to help a dying 2 year old?
Listen, anonymous. Presented with many examples of people not helping an injured person, in this case an injured 2 year old, you made the claim that it is human nature to save an injured child. Despite the many examples of similar events in the US, you claim that people in the US would never do such a thing. My simple claim is that if it were human nature to save a 2 year old, a natural response that all humans have, then we wouldn’t be sitting at our keyboards wondering why, in this case, many people didn’t. Lets just say that everyone involved in this event in China, those who walked past, those who didn’t see, the one person that did help, those who have defended Chinese people, those who have criticized them, is as human as you.
I don’t want to quibble with you about the meaning and effects of racism, because I think it would be a waste of time. I do understand that your comment is intended to portray what “human nature” ought to be, but the facts here seem to suggest other conclusions. If you want to put forward the proposition that people in the United States are somehow superior with respect to the rescue of 2 year olds by virtue of the citizenship they hold, then you’ve introduced a wholly new and strange argument. Expect to be called on it.
As to anonymous commenting, you’re right. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m sure your opinions don’t change depending what name you are using. I, on the other hand, do not believe in commenting anonymously because I believe in what I say and that I should have to take responsibility for the stupid things I say. If I’ve said something stupid on line and that is available by google search, then so be it. As to commenting anonymously, precisely what is it that I would be trying to hide?
There’s just no simple answer, as much as people would like to point to one. There were probably 18 different reasons, or rather, 18 different combinations of reasons for this. Some to do with Chinese societal factors, some to do with human psychology people from any country are vulnerable to. This has been studied for decades with psychologists themselves finding many causes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect#Explanations
I put forward the hell suggestion as one piece of the puzzle that undoubtedly influences some people, as studies have shown. But I obviously don’t feel my own atheism has made me less moral. People are raised a million different ways and can have all kinds of different reactions (or non-reactions) to the factors being cited. All you can do is use data to recognize trends, but of course, nothing is all-encompassing.
Just wanted to be clear that I was in no way criticizing your post, I thought it was a very thought provoking argument. In my anthropology of religion classes we frequently discussed the social benefits of belief, even if there was no higher being.
Yeah, never thought you were. Thanks for the link. (:
Tom, I was sure you couldn’t avoid commenting on this story, and I’m so glad you did. I have been thinking about this issue deeply (again) as I do every time an incident like this occurs, and they occur all too frequently here. This week, a toddler, last month an elderly man, before that a dying injured woman.
This is not an issue of religion, although religious beliefs encourage a certain ‘right action’ whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist beliefs. This is an issue of humanism, and simple compassion and empathy for one’s fellow man. I don’t have religious beliefs but I have deeply held humanist beliefs, and a strong Good Samaritan ethic. I would like to believe Chinese people also hold similar beliefs, but that barriers I’m not beholden to somehow get in their way. I would like to believe this, but so often practical actions speak louder.
Today, for the third time in three years, I was knocked off my bicycle by a car in the middle of a busy crowded intersection. I was shaken but unhurt, yet it surprised me, for the third time, that not a single bystander stopped to help me pick up my things and get back on the bike. Fear of litigation? Perhaps. Fear of involvement? For sure. Lack of simple himan kindness? Definitely.
I find myself wondering how I can live in a society that is so fearful of helping its most vulnerable that it would walk past a critically injured child and allow a truck to run over its tiny head a second time, and still do nothing.
It is a challenge. I don’t often respond to single incidents, but this is sadly starting to be a trend.
Also thank you for sharing your experiences in Shanghai, that is scary stuff. I had long assumed that if a foreigner had been involved, someone would help…eek. Glad to hear you were ok.
I think that apathy is a problem in all societies, but the difference is in how much the person is willing to ignore, and how broad a circle they draw around themselves in considering who to care for.
I think instead of vilifying contemporary Chinese society, we should analyze their current stage in the industrial, economic and political paradigm developed nations have already experienced and so earnestly solicit. I often enjoy making parallels between today’s China and 1920’s New York when it was going through its tumultous industrial adolescence phase. Smoke was billowing; street markets were rife. This case of ostensibly 18 apathetic onlookers, which has been splattered across int’l news this week, is not unfamiliar to Americans who remember March, 1964.
Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered on a street in NY while 37 witnesses stood idly by — most being part of the “Good Samaritan,” god-fearing, democracy-coddling sect. The then failure of the “Good Samaritans” who ignored Kitty’s yelps has been blamed on a phenomenon behavorial economists and psychoanalysts call the “bystander effect.” In essence, empirical research has posited that in heavily urbanized areas, people are less likely to step in to assist an apparent call for help because they assume someone else will take care of it.
Still other examples from the US, this time as recent as last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGaJrgi_SpE
I’m not sure which part of my post “vilified” contemporary China. Given the circumstances, I think this may be the most charitable interpretation of the event possible.
Your chosen lede makes a clear point in claiming that China is devoid of any altruism. The Party is then accused of sapping out morality — an easy scapegoat. We know what the CCP has done (current situation in the DPRK reflects that) and is doing (*insert rant about human rights*).
Your conclusion does finish with an bit of open-minded interpretation, but that is only because of lack of background knowledge.
I just hope that headline-grabbing stories like these can start to routinely supply readers with relevant background (in this case, with parallels to the West) which are often conveniently omitted (in mainstream media).
There is a problem with your comparison and, by extension, the “stages of development” argument, Jason. First of all, it is empirically inaccurate, I would say, to compare present-day China to 1920s New York. Second, accepting for the moment that there is a predetermined developmental path for all societies/countries, there is no reason to think that economic development and moral behaviour/empathy/etc. move together in lockstep.
My name is Justin. Please kindly read who you are addressing. The reference is merely anecdotal; the point is that both have experienced a similar flux in urbanization, which draws us back to the “bystander effect.”
My eternal apologies, Justin. I understood your point completely. Hence my critique.
Kitty Genovese is the Godwin’s Law of this particular news event. And being a Godwin’s law-type of argument it’s not particularly effective.
The degree of certainty that something has gone wrong, the possibility that somebody else is already taking care of the problem, the physical proximity to the victim, the clarity of her state of need and the degree of risk in helping her…all the elements that make withdrawing help more or less inexcusable are perfectly lined up against the Foshan case. The Kitty Genovese story (as much as I’ve gathered so far from what’s available online) is a significantly more nuanced event. Not to mention the sociopathic statements of the driver of the van who declared “If it was you who hit someone, you’d run too. You can see the little girl, looking around when she walked. If she walked properly, how could I hit her?”
This is not to say that China’s particular stage of development does not have on effect on the psychology of masses in rapidly growing cities – as well as the blind hand of fate which left that girl in the hands of certainly worse-than-average citizens – but this story does very much carry the signature of the typical Chinese indifference to strangers that we all experience in some mild form in our daily life in China.
It’s possible that by even bringing up Godwin’s law you could be further digressing into the abyssal pit at the heart of all that is Godwin. However, I do find the humor in some of the disconnection that can bounce about — though merely analyzing Genovese is but reading a single chapter in what we have come to observe in this phenomenon that surrounds the Foshan case.
The above is a perfectly reasonable analogical parallel, albeit one with its own idiosyncratic niceties.
There are recent cases (linked above) in the US (perhaps more elsewhere, but not all countries have a sound system of law — India comes to mind) that highlight this quite succinctly. Whether that is because Hartford, Connecticut lacks as much morality as Foshan, China is highly debatable.
I find the thought of that quite amazing and amusing. 🙂 Thanks for the insight everyone.
But later analyses of Kitty Genovese showed that the incident wasn’t as clear to the bystanders, and that the “they saw and knew but didn’t help” narrative wasn’t 100% true
I just read a detailed break-down analysis of the Kitty Genovese case. It bears very little similarity to the Chinese toddler case.
This is a pretty good piece, Tom, particularly your last paragraph where you display a high degree of uncertainty, surely the most appropriate reaction to this incident. I do want to point a peculiar and disturbing aspect to your post and the reactions to it. Making sense of these reactions is, in some ways, as tough as understanding the incident itself.
Your post quite appropriately introduces the good samaritan trope, before confusingly ending with the statement “sadly we learned this week that the tale has a very different ending in China.” Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I think you mean that the injured girl might not live. I don’t think that this is a particularly relevant to the deeper meaning of the good samaritan tale, which is about moral critique rather than rescue. The bulk of your reaction, it seems, focuses on explaining the non-action of those who didn’t stop, as do those who comment afterwards. Indeed, Thomas3812 has failed altogether to notice that someone did help and has been praised to the heavens for doing so. I read a news piece on cbc.ca about the incident and noticed a similar theme in the comments there.
A brief anecdote. Several years ago I went to a public security bureau in a Chinese city to get a re-entry stamp in my passport. At about two in the afternoon, I stepped out of the building into the lane onto which it backed. I noticed a man some distance down the street being propped up by his male companion. The man was obviously in distress, staggering and barely able to stand. It wasn’t until he drew closer that I noticed blood streaming from a massive wound on his head. He was literally covered in blood. Hailed by the friend, taxis refused to stop. The men made their way past the PS bureau and the community police station across the street. None of the numerous police officers made a move to intervene. Indeed, a police car actually honked his horn at the men so it could get through the lane. The men eventually disappeared from site. What am I trying to say? There are many things to be said here, but what I really want to draw attention to is the fact that I did nothing. Why? Because, despite the obvious, I absolutely did not know what was happening and did not know what to do. The police were not doing anything. Why? There was someone helping the man. Could I force a taxi driver to stop? If I did do something, what would that something be? On another occasion in another city, I stopped to check on the well-being of a man who was lying semi-conscious in a puddle of water on the sidewalk. Was he drunk? Having a seizure. Many passed him by, but once I stopped, many people came to his aid. Would someone have eventually stopped had I not? It seems likely.
The notion that these situations, including the incident with the toddler and Nanchang Fiona on the bicycle, offer clearcut opportunities for action is simply a fantasy created by one’s distance from the situation. The limited view of life provided by CC cameras and news reports offer a birds eye, decontextualized view of the situation. None of the people passing by a seeing what we see. They see the child, yes, but unless we know precisely who these passers by are and the circumstances under which they act (or fail to act), we have little to go on in terms of understanding. This is the gist, I think, of Tom’s final paragraph. Unfortunately, most commenters don’t see things this way. In the absence of more and better contextual information, many resort to what Edward Said described as orientalism. The strategy is basically to ascribe to a group of people a set of characteristics, a mindset, or particular weaknesses by way of defining oneself or one’s own equally essentialized group as good. I wouldn’t exclude myself from those who reflexively resort to this strategy. I still do it, often without realizing, these days when I get frustrated with my very Beijing in-laws. There I go again! See how easy it is to slip into the orientalist mode of thinking?
Apologies for the typing errors!
However complex the reasons might be that 18 people failed to help a dying child, I will still, with conviction, point to the biggest reason: The Party. The Party. The Party. Decades of education has centered on obeying the Party and making sure that people kill their natural instincts for love and compassion (“Your love for Party is the highest, higher than your love for your parents”), for right and wrong (“The only right and wrong is political right and wrong”, that is, the party’s right and wrong), for common sense and the sense of justice (“the Party is forever great, glorious and correct”), because these instincts directly threatens the Party.
I will give you an example: In August 1975, Henan province suffered what the Discovery Channel described, in a recent shown, as the biggest man-made disaster in the world when two reservoirs bursted. More than 100,000 bodies were found, and another 140,000 died later of hunger and diseases. My hometown was near borderline with Henan province on the Taihang Mountains. I remember that summer, refugees from the low land in Henan swarmed our town, and we heard about the flood in Henan but there was no detailed reports in the papers. They roamed the town with their belongings in sacks, begging for food. But nobody paid any attention to them; nobody tried to help them; boys spat on them, threw rocks at them, laughing at them. Even though we were only a couple hundred miles from the flood, we knew very little about it. The local government did nothing at all to help them, nor ask the public to help. My dad hired three refugees from the street to make some furniture for us. I remember the next day, three more came to beg my father for work, my father said I just need to make one table, but you can help the other three. So we had six men working in front of our door to make this table.
Looking back, I am shocked to think what a society the Chinese communist party had created in which 10,000 and 100,000 people regularly gathered to sing praises of the Party but not a single soul in this government cared about, or did anything for, the refugees. What monsters were we?
How can you grow up and live in a society like this without becoming deeply cynical and callous and ignorant? It’s a struggle to be just retain some good, I am telling you!
Someone argued earlier in another post here that it is okay for China to develop first and consider human rights second. I didn’t counter it when I replied to that comment. But the question is: How can you truly develop without a more or less healthy and just society? How can you have a more or less healthy and just society without first straightening up the basic human values?! Among these values, the first one–I should say–is the right to obey one’s natural sense of right and wrong without a political party tells you otherwise.
Apologies for the numberous grammatical errors.
I don’t quite understand your first paragraph, Yaxue. How does encouraging love of the Party kill ones instincts for right and wrong? Also, are you painting a narrow view of your childhood educational experience to make a point about the vacuousness of the Party’s moral leadership and your hatred of it? I won’t defend the Party, because I would agree that it is indefensible. But contemporary Chinese education is absolutely thick with encouraging the kind or moral behaviour that ought to prevent callous inaction of the kind we’re discussing. In the face of this, we ought to not demonize the lack of moral in education, but rather try to understand why callousness exists despite such teaching.
Also, I’m curious about the 1975 flood/non-response incident you described. Do you think that inaction was related to something about late GPCR? How do you understand the response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in light of your memory of the response to the flood?
Finally, my first thought upon reading the story of the flood was “Hurricane Katrina.” What made people describe trapped Black residents of New Orleans as looters rather than victims? The Party wasn’t there.
Lorin, I know it is hard for you to imagine and understand what that education was like. If you tell me how, I can send you a copy of my childhood stories and hope it will give you some clues why I said what I said above. You can purchase it on amazon.com, but I would rather send it to you because the point is not selling a book.
For obvious reasons, 2008 was a very different time than 1975 in terms of the people. A lot of citizens acted to raise fund, food and clothes for the victims. However, when the actions fo the citizen organizations caused wide discussions about the role of NGO and civil actions in Chinese society, you know what? The Party came out and quickly set up obstacles to stop such actions. Perhaps this can serve as a distant side note for my incomprehensible first paragraph.
It is very common among the Party defenders to use the formula “such and such also exist in America.” A Chinese commentator had the following to say about this line of argument: If a bowl of rice has a piece of rat shit in it, you can still call it a bowl of rice; but if a bowl of rice is all rat shit but only one grain of rice, you can’t call it a bowl of rice anymore.”
Sure, you can send them to me, but you’ll have to tell me what form the stories take. You can contact me off site if you wish, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, your response about 2008 being a different time than 1975 is sort of what I was getting at. I can accept the argument that by 1975 there was, to say the least, a condition of moral confusion. But I also wonder about the material conditions in the ungenerous receiving locales. This would not excuse the lack of generosity you saw, but other factors were surely at play other than the Party’s lack of moral leadership.
On the other hand, you do raise an interesting dilemma for educators which I hinted at toward the end of my previous reply, i.e., the relationship between moral education (which tends to exist by other names in Western countries) and broader social conditions. In China, if we accept a lack of empathy or, better yet, if we accept that there is a hierarchy or economy of empathy (i.e., unequally distribution of empathetic action), we might ask, why are some more or less likely to display empathy than others and toward whom are they more or less likely to display? With respect to Chinese education, we might ask, why are some people more likely than others to be Lei Fengs?
P.S. I like the rice/rat shit bit. Still, I would argue that “Party defenders” (I would say “nationalists”) make on other societies is both a defensive reflex and true!
I believe you may have misread my comment in between your vitriolic spewings about “The Party.”
The key issue is that this post has bloated a phenomenon that has already reared its head in America and backed it up with glib remarks about religion and politics meant to explain it as some isolated incident.
In all honesty Justin, did you read the post before you decided it was attacking the party? I know Yaxue wrote a pretty passionate comment, but I don’t think you can say that her experience is in anyway invalid, you weren’t in China at that time.
Justin, my comment is not “vitriolic” and my words are not “spewings”. Everything there is concrete and fact based. If your mind can’t start from facts and weigh them and make sense of them, then that’s a problem. “Passionate” and “critical” are not the same as “vitriolic”.
Read above to see who mentioned The Party first.
If there were an “agree with Tom” button, I would click it.
Hmmm…I think Yaxue was attacking the Party. On the other hand, I’m not sure what this has to do with North Korea.
The horror stories (famine, collective experiments, gulags) of the CCP’s past are reality in today’s N. Korea.
Guilty as charged, if any of you like to see it in these terms. No apologies from me.
Some of you might be interested to know that I am 100% a “daughter of theParty” : Both my parents were party members. Also, 4 out of my 6 siblings are or were party members. I don’t have an iota of the party-hating genes, so to speak, but thank goodness, I learned how to think and how to feel for myself.
Yaxue, do you think that being a Party member implies not thinking for oneself? To be honest, the thinking of most (thought not all) of my friends who are Party members is highly instrumental and not blindly ideological. Which raises an altogether new question: is it better to be an idealist or pragmatist? Interestingly, this may bring us back in a round about way to the good samaritan problem.
Lorin, I didn’t imply at all being a party member automatically means one can’t think for oneself. Most my comments about the party point to the party end, what it tries to do, not the receivers’ end. While decades of indoctrination have produced a vast number of people who are not equipped to think for themselves, it is never possible for the Party to shape everyone the way they want them to be. Thank goodness, no.
In fact, among the most vocal and most thorough “attackers” (Thanks to you, I am liking this word now 🙂 of the Party are some of the Party’s elderlies: Li Rui being one (李锐, he is once Mao’s secretary), Xin Ziling another (辛子陵，a senior military official), and many more. Oh, also Li Shen Zhi (李慎之, he died a few years ago）who was with Mao since Yan’an era. If you can read Chinese, I suggest you to read his essay “Fifties Years of Storms” (《风雨苍黄五十年》), in which he reviewed the 50 years of communist new China (the essay is written in 1999) and pleaded why China must seek democracy.
These people are not your typical “dissidents”. These are lifelong members and Party seniors.
Anyway, sorry for not answering all of the questions you proposed: You are being very contextual, intertextual, round-about-textual, superinductive-textual, and I will become very dizzy if I try to do that 🙂
The old lady also rejected an award of 10,000 RMB:
She also told the gov’t officials who offered her the award that she’s not “greedy for money” (贪钱 can also be used to mean “get money through corruption”) and that she “saved the girl out of regard/kind intentions for her” (approximate translation).
10,000 RMB is a lot, especially for someone who picks up trash for a living. Also, I find it interesting that she used a word that has a alternate meaning of “get money through corruption” when denying the money from gov’t officials. We all know how most Chinese people view gov’t officials and corruption…
Can you provide a link to the piece you’re quoting from?
Also interesting to note that the woman has left Foshan due to the slander she has suffered from the media and online commenters http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90882/7621458.html
I don’t have time to read all the posts above so apologies if this is a repeat…. but honestly comparing China to the 1920’s United States has one obvious problem, mainly being: you are comparing the 1920’s to 2011!
Lets just revert back to lead based paint and asbestos.
That is the oldest argument in the book, often used by China and foreigners trying to rationalize China, and one of the ones I find most irritating to listen to.
Obviously not all parts of the different time periods are readily comparably. That illusion was manufactured by you for the sake of argument. The point is the parallels in urbanization. No where is asbestos mentioned.
This happened in Hartford, CT, USA a couple of years ago:
Lack of compassion is not limited by ideology or culture.
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[…] 中国见红博客：中国的好心人——在关于佛山幼童事件的中文报道中，都提到了南京彭宇案。然而那是五年前的案子。一向雷厉风行的政府为何一直未能修改法律鼓励见义勇为？ […]
A similar thing also happed in the train station in Kalamazoo Michigan about 10 years ago. A metally disturbed man went off his meds and was acting crazy in the mens bathroom, a young psychology student tried to engage him and was beaten unconscious. Afterward seven or eight people went in the bathroom, saw the student lying unconscious on the floor, and left without saying a word. Eventually a young boy came in screamed at the adults for not doing anything, and informed the police at the police station in the train station maybe ten or twenty steps away.
This is not a situation unique to China, or to Kalamazoo, nor is it unique to any one period in history, as the name implies it was not unheard of in Jesus’ time. Perhaps the law might discourage some who might otherwise help, but I’m sure that is not the primary factor.
My own sense, is that people are afraid to do something that might change their lives, or maybe a better way to say it is that people want things to go according to plan and in accordance with habbit. I imagine that a scrap collector, a child, or a student, might have less inclination to avoid this kind of situation because they are in a position where a change in their lives does not seem so much like a bad thing, and perhaps their plans are not so well defined, or perhaps they have less to fear from change.
Tom, I think one more reason why most people wont help someone in distress in china is because they are simply unaware of their moral duty to do so. Chinese parents care a lot about the academic well being of their children and so they will hammer in the kid the habit of doing homework and studying well. Somehow in carrying out their duties as parents ,morality seems to take a back seat. How many times have you seen a Chinese mother screaming profanities at their children on the street? i have seen it countless times. How many times has a small child called you lao wai and their parents just laugh about it and do nothing.? how many times has a child in your class said some unbelievably nasty words and their parents sitting at the back of the classroom remain passive.? A father who lights up a cigarette in front of their child? a parent who cuts in line or spits while dragging along a toddler? A father who runs a red light while their child is on board the vehicle? how about the woman in the video who walks by with her daughter ?the list is endless. From my experience with Chinese teenagers and kids,i can say that they find it hard to form an independent opinion or habit. Most of the things that Chinese kids know ,they learn from school or from their parents.As an example ,ask any kid why he or she hates the Japanese so much and he really does not know why. He has just heard his parents say it a million times and so he learns by example.Tom said that the government does not encourage people to think outside of what the party dictates and i believe him. But how does that stop you,in the comfort of your living room from educating your child on the morality of helping someone in need? I believe the government isn’t to blame here.(wow i never thought i would ever say that about the Chinese government)
Most westerners know what to do when faced with such a situation because our parents and society place a great importance on the moral upbringing of children.Every kid knows the story of the good Samaritan, and the lesson it teaches. However in a china where everything revolves around money parents have sadly neglected their duty to provide good examples .I mean you would think that in a country of 1.3 billion people ,where you can’t take a single step without seeing or rubbing shoulders with another human being that people would have a stronger sense of community .
PS. I am not trying to tell Chinese parents how to raise their kids, just making an observation
There is no question that general psychology is at work here like everywhere else: the diffusion of responsibility, Lucifer Effect, Lord of Flies effect, urban effect, anonymity effect, etc., but “Chinese characteristics” definitely play a major role here.
In fact, I very much appreciate the caution some of you take to judge, or not to judge, a society you feel you don’t know that much. But for someone like me who grew up in China, the extent–that extra extent–of the egregiousness (like the driver, the man in sneakers who literally stepped over the blooding child) brings up a whole different set of thoughts which I tried to convey earlier.
Psychologists all agree that an individual does not exist in a vacuum, and the situation/system we are in has the most impact on how we behave. It seems to me that, when we struggle to make sense of a tragic incident like this, it is indispensable that we take a longer and deeper look at the society in which people live.
Please see my comment on orientalism earlier. To reiterate, despite the truth you see in your observations, sha yi si?, the thrust of your comments, the examples you choose, the tone they are presented in, all of these serve to vilify the strange foreigner by way of elevating yourself and that place you see as your cultural home. If you’re still in China, you need to recognize this or go home. I’m guessing that you also need to learn more Chinese. Having been in your shoes, I know the effect that functional linguistic and cultural illiteracy has. To underline the point: if you do not understand the language, you have no hope of any degree of understanding of what is happening around you.
Yaxue, I think you’re mistaken about the caution being exercised here. The caution I approach the topic with has more to do with refusing to align myself with the kind of vitriol on display in sha yi si?’s comments. We are all disturbed by what we saw on that video. But some seek explanation in every single disturbing episode they have ever experienced in China evidence of the utter corruption of an entire highly differentiated and complex people. In every episode of rude or inconsiderate behaviour they see only selfishness, ruling out all other possible explanations. Take for example the claim above that Chinese parents care only for the academic performance of their children. The evidence? A child behaving poorly. A mother screaming at her child in the street. Somebody called a foreigner laowai. I, too, experienced all of sha yi si?’s emotions and responses at one point in my life in China. I too saw in China only evidence of my own cultural superiority. As I mentioned in a post above, I still have these feelings. The difference is that now I have returned home only to realize that my Canadian home did not live up to the utopian standard I used to judge China, that my moral condemnation of Chinese people and society was as much due to my own cultural dislocation and misreading of my own society than anything I was seeing in front of me.
Is there avarice and ignorance in today’s China? Yes, but its presence does not represent the absence of a moral compass in discrete individuals, an argument I present more in response to Yaxue’s proposition of “Chinese characteristics.” I agree with the proposition if by it Yaxue is suggesting the social problems in China take on a particular, unique form. I disagree to the extent that the problems are either a) unique to China or b) the result of the moral failings of individuals.
God, get off your high horse already. Do you have any idea how smug you sound with your crap about “cultural illiteracy?” If your Chinese is so good, why are you apparently unaware that it is the Chinese who are crying loudest about “moral decline” in China? Yes, all of us who are not crazy racists agree that there are sociological explanations for what’s going on, but can you honestly say you’d have just as good of a chance of being helped if you were hurt in China as if you were hurt in Canada? Well, okay, maybe the “foreigners can’t/won’t sue/ can’t let us embarrass ourselves in front of foreigners” effects would offset the Nanjing Judge/bystander effects in your case, so let’s say, do you honestly think that a Chinese person has just as good of a chance of receiving help in China as in Canada? Chinese people are just as capable of turning out “good” as Canadians, but modern Chinese society does not exactly improve their odds. Blame the communists, blame industrialization/urbanization, or something further back, but to ignore whatever blend of apathy, fear of consequences, and “mind your own business” mentality that leads to bystander inaction being more the norm than the exception in China is to be willfully blinded by your desire to think of yourself as “tolerant” and “open-minded.”
I don’t know how many people are arguing for the “absence of a moral compass in discrete individuals,” but really, your moral compass doesn’t do much good if your socialization prevents you from doing anything beyond standing there fretting.
From one high-horse rider to another, MAC, I’m sorry if descriptive language offends you, but would you have felt more comfortable if I had said, “Shut the fuck up you ignorant git!”? I know that to say so would be more attuned to the ethics of on line commenting, but you might have noticed that I’m using my real name here (my horse just got higher still).
Answers to your questions: Yes, I’m aware of the Chinese outcry on this issue. Do you have a point to make about this? If I were hurt in Canada, I would likely be helped and given care for free under our universal healthcare system. In China, yes, people have just as good a chance at getting help, as did this little girl, though perhaps more people would pass by in the meantime. On second thought, if I got hurt in many places in Canada, the odds of anyone at all passing by is a question I don’t want to think about. Finally, while you weren’t asking a question in your last few sentences, you seem to agree with my argument to a point.
On religion in China, folks in on this discussion might find useful (if not enjoy) this piece: http://ips.cap.anu.edu.au/psc/ccc/publications/papers/AK_flourishing_religion.pdf
If the conceptual parts are tiresome, skip ahead to the bits on China specifically. On second thought, tough it out through the conceptual framework.
According to my browsing this morning, two passersby so far have apologized to the father of the toddler:
One called and asked sheepishly whether this was the father of the toddler. His voice, according to the father, was guilt-stricken. He said he knew the plate number of the first vehicle and wanted to tell him.
Another man, who happened to be an acquaintance of the father, found the father on the 4th day of the incident and apologized, “I didn’t know it was your daughter; I would definitely have helped if I knew.”
Oh, yeah, then he would’ve been within the person’s circle of people deemed worthy of decency. That’s the shittiest apology I’ve ever heard.
I know, MAC, I am very troubled by the second person’s “apology.” That’s why I put it here for everyone to consider.
In lesser extreme circumstances, you hear similar “apologies” a lot in China.
Well said Mac, on your longer reply above. You put it so much better than I could. As an “old lady” myself, I will observe that the “old lady rescuer” was reacting instinctively to the injured child and not hiding her feelings behind “intellectual arguments” This was a baby! Today the BBC Radio announced the death of the child. Relatives who visited me were talking about this. It has gone global. I hope it shakes Chinese society into making changes but when I followed Tom’s link above, I saw a Chinese reply blaming the Vietnamese! There’s “orientalism” for you!
By the way, upper-case MAC is not Mac. Maybe I should’ve changed my usual handle.
A few more thoughts:
1. Overwhelmingly on Weibo, the Chinese decried the “moral bankrupcy” in China. More than a few are trying to answer that complex question;
2. Most Chinese would be flabbergasted to hear so many Americans or Canadians (I don’t mean anyone here in specific) to say, “This is nothing uniquely China; we have the same thing here too,” because they don’t think the chances to receive help in America or Canada or similar countries are the same as in China. I lived in China for more than 20 years and in the US for 20 years this year, and I honestly don’t think the chances are anywhere close;
3. Shortly after the incident, the vice-president of Peking University posted the following message on Weibo, and since then, it has been reposted countless times and triggered many different versions. It is very telling, Tom’s post talked about this aspect. Here is a translation:
“You are a person from Peking University. When you see an old folk fall, you must help him/her. If he or she blackmails you, our Law Department will provide you legal assistance; and if you lose the lawsuit, Peking University will pay [for the ‘damage’].”
Yaxue, as someone who grew up in China , do you think that if the situation actually arises when this vice president of Peking University is called upon to translate his words into actions,that he would honor the promise that he has made to the whole nation? is it a personal statement? is he speaking on behalf of the law department? or on behalf of the government /party( seeing as someone in his position obviously has to have party affiliations)Seriously,what can we expect from such statements? Thanks
SHA YI SI?, I didn’t think down this direction at all. For me, and, I am sure, for just about everyone in China who read this message, he is the vice president of a top university in China, weighed by what happened and the moral implication of it, acting on his urge as an educator and perhaps as a parent too. He appeals to the honor and the decency of his students (the first sentence). He tells them you have a moral responsibility to help even if doing so can cause you trouble (one can be blackmailed by the very person you try to help, as the case Tom quoted shows). He tells them not to be afraid of the latter; and should it occur, the school is behind you.
I can tell you he is not speaking in his official capacity, meaning he is not speaking on behalf of the Law Department and the University, nor is there any telling whether he could actually honor his promise should a student one day finds himself/herself in a situation like that. If he is, the tone and the venue where it is spoken would be very different.
The very fact that people felt inspired by these simple words of his is precisely because a Chinese official doesn’t normally say anything like that that emits humanity and moral clarity.
Technically speaking, “What can we expect from such statements?” I don’t know, and netizens who reposted his message thousands of times didn’t seem to be concerned about the technicalities involved.
Thanks for the clarification Yaxue , I guess I was also moved by his words but not in the same light as thousands of other people who re posted it. I took them literally and for a second there actually thought that those who are persecuted may have a chance of being represented by such a prestigious University.
Humanity and moral clarity aside ,it reminds me of how whenever I meet some official in China ,he tells me to contact him if i ever have any problems but i don’t really see him going out on a limb to do a favor for a lowly lao wai ,especially if he knows that such a favor can’t be reciprocated in any way.
I admire his courage in coming out and speaking so openly and passionately but to me his post is tantamount to making promises he can’t keep. And i don’t really see how it pushes the lao bai xing to help someone in distress ,because instead of clearing out their fear of persecution, it somehow re-enforces it .
SHA YI SI? (Is it 啥意思？), it’s very interesting to compare your response with the Weibo response to the vice-president’s message. Because for you, it is no big deal for a university president to call for moral clarity–he or she should; but for a Chinese audience, any time an official says “人话” (human words), people are moved.
In other words, when you see a message like this, you moved right past the “moving” part to the substance; while the Chinese audience relished his appeal to honor, decency, and moral clarity because it is rarity.
This explains why the new American ambassdor Gary Locke was such a hit among Chinese public. A picture of him buying a cup of coffee in airport is enough to endear him to millions of Chinese, because the Chinese never see their own officials like him.
Wow! and Wow again! Thanks for that post translation Yaxue! And apologies MAC – I blame it on living in the land of Macs (Scotland).
Yes, thanks, Yaxue. These various responses do demonstrate the breadth and depth of responses in China.
The Bystander Effect doesn’t explain nobody calling an ambulance. You can call an ambulance and then leave, so you don’t get blamed. But even that was too much for the 16 people.
Only 5% of Chinese are religious???????? What survey is this from? I think you’re equating religion with Christianity.
This is the most conservative estimate. Using people who are unofficially religious (unregistered churches, holding traditional beliefs but checking the atheist box on a survey), I think it would easily be closer to 10-15%. My point by using 5% was that it is completely reasonable to assume that one of the people who walked past without helping was religious.
Sorry, but even as a conservative estimate, it would not be anywhere close to 5%. Is there a survey you can point to that has such a statistic? Also, I don’t think most people (myself included) would agree with the idea that “traditional beliefs” are not religion. Overall, while some may mark “atheist” or “non-religious” on a survey, it would not be 95% (or even 80%).
I never said that I didn’t count traditional beliefs as religion, but simply that they don’t always show up in survey data. You can see the most conservative estimate here (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html). I believe this relies on information from the Chinese gov’t. and doesn’t provide figures for Buddhism or Daoism. This is why I added the qualifier in the post “most conservative” which indicates that I believe the real figure to be much higher, but that it would not be lower than 5%, meaning when nearly 20 people walk by, one of them probably held some religious belief.
According to the website’s statistics you provided, a conservative extimate of 5% of the population are Christian or Muslim. This would discount Buddhists and Daoists, probably the two largest religions by any way of calculating. This kind of gets back to my original point that it seems like you equated “religion” with Christian. If we don’t go by survey data, then most would agree that probably over half of the peopple who passed by were “religious.”
I don’t know how I equated that term any more with Christian than Muslim, if that was the case, I would have said 1-2%. Perhaps you’re still missing my original point. The claim that religion would have changed the outcome of the situation is problematic because in all likelihood, some of these people were religious. Which is why I used 5%, so that it would be hard to claim that none of them were religious.
[…] http://www.chinasmack.com/2011/videos/2-year-old-chinese-girl-ran-over-by-van-ignored-by-18-bystanders.html http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chinese-toddler-left-bloody-hit-run-dies-14784046 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/19/foshan-incident-unspoken-illness-china http://seeingredinchina.com/2011/10/20/the-good-samaritan-in-china […]
I’m glad to say it’s not a view displayed in these comments so far, but elsewhere I’ve seen China’s official atheism squarely blamed for this behaviour – a very seriously misjudged argument indeed. If the only reason you behave in a moral way is that you’re petrified of being burned for eternity then are you any more moral, or just more scared? If faced with convincing evidence of the non-existence of god, would the religious run riot, raping and looting? If not, then their morality probably doesn’t come from their religion, just something like simple and boring like human kindness and empathy.
Everyone says a civilized society should foster kindness through education, but I’d prefer if teachers separated moral guidance from invocations to ask the forgiveness of some mystical space laotou.
“1. Overwhelmingly on Weibo, the Chinese decried the “moral bankrupcy” in China. More than a few are trying to answer that complex question;
2. Most Chinese would be flabbergasted to hear so many Americans or Canadians (I don’t mean anyone here in specific) to say, “This is nothing uniquely China; we have the same thing here too,” because they don’t think the chances to receive help in America or Canada or similar countries are the same as in China. I lived in China for more than 20 years and in the US for 20 years this year, and I honestly don’t think the chances are anywhere close;”
Moral relativism and cultural relativism are not helpful here. Thank you Yaxue for these two points, this IS a very specific problem to China, and we’re kidding ourselves if we try to play down western society as being somewhat equal or comparable on this. If you ask my coworkers about this incident, they’ll probably give you the same answer they gave me: 这就是中国的问题，没办法。
I’d like to think we are living on a planet where we are comparable to other societies. After all, we are all human and history shows we are inclined to make similar human choices. To conclude with a 没办法 “atomizes” China. But I suppose many would like to continue thinking China is unique.
I’ll mention this link again because it is instructive (with a relevant example starting at 0:56): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGaJrgi_SpE
Evan Osnos got to the story before this post was made. Also instructive, but he doesn’t go beyond Genovese: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/evanosnos/2011/10/chinas-bystander-effect.html
Chip: What did your coworkers say to you? Thank you.
I happend to be here answering Sha Yi Si?, and I will translate this for you:
这就是中国的问题，没办法。This is a problem unique to China, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Depending on the speaker, the last part of the sentence may not carry as much as its literal meaning does–It can be merely an expression similar to shaking your head.
If there were such a thing as a collective moral bankruptcy, it could not be said to be unique to China. You cite your Chinese colleagues as saying that this is a problem peculiar to China and that there is no apparent solution. So now, amongst all of these posts, we have claims that Chinese both do and don’t care, and that Chinese people see China as both different and the same as other places. The suggestion that people engage in “relativism and cultural relativism” when they dispute the accuracy of the moral absolutism displayed in some posts is highly suspect. As others have very clearly shown in posting other examples, the lack of empathy displayed by passers by (and I still say that moral condemnation is based on a highly limited knowledge of what happened) IS NOT (is my statement stronger because I capitalized those words?) specific to China. The most we can say is that the particular way in which this event played out, both as an event in itself and as a public/popular event, has a character that is peculiar to China. We could discuss what these peculiarities are, but these certainly do not make China especially worthy of contempt. In this sense, I’m in agreement with Justin. But I’d argue that we ought to look at this event as a local phenomena that needs to be understood on its own terms, then contextualize it by looking at the larger society, and then, perhaps, we can say engage in discussions of the global scene and China’s place within it. If we skip the first couple of steps, all we have is a bunch of gape-mouthed laowai pining for the green fields of home.
This is a huge tragedy, and I am not the least bit surprised, having heard and seen similar things in my three years in China. I personally think it is an aspect of human psychology that dictates that at a given high density of population humans stop feeling compassion for strangers. Sort of like how rats at a high population density will start to eat each other. I know it’s crackpot psychology, just IMHO.
Now, as an atheist and a white man, I’m rather offended in you implication that someone needs your god in order to be moral and check on a hurt little girl.
20+ Migrant workers lifted a Buick that ran over a girl:
“As others have very clearly shown in posting other examples, the lack of empathy displayed by passers by (and I still say that moral condemnation is based on a highly limited knowledge of what happened) IS NOT (is my statement stronger because I capitalized those words?) specific to China”
It’s not specific to China, but is a much larger problem in China, is a far more universal occurance in China, and is something that is greatly, if not entirely, created by something in Chinese culture. Trying to deny this is stupid, wrong, and somewhat patronizing. Try talking to people who live here, have grown up here, such as Yaxue, THEY are saying it’s not comparable to Canada and the US. Luxun himself, a person with a far keener understanding of the underpinnings of Chinese society, almost prophetically talked about this very thing in 1933:
“In China, especially in the cities, if someone fainted on the streets, or if someone was knocked over by a car, you’ll find lots of gawkers and gloaters, but rarely will you find someone willing to extend a helping hand.”
Chip: I agree with your statement above. At my age, (66 years), I know that I am no better than anyone else in this world and I am an atheist. So I think we have one shot at living and must be kind to others whilst also being self aware. I don’t need others with clever intellectual discourse to point out my faults. My life partner of 47 years does that very nicely, thank you. I used to be a child protection officer, here in Scotland. I could offer anecdotes about child abuse. The bottom line is that what happened in Foshan is child abuse and yes, maybe it could happen anywhere but let’s not hide behind fancy words here. It has disgusted everbody. Please Chip. Write in English. It would take me forever to translate your words and Google Translate is rubbish.
Meryl. I’m not sure how the incident in Foshan amounts to child abuse. Do you mean that if people passed by like this in Scotland they would be literally charged with child abuse? Or are you pointing to the inattentive mother of the child?
I will be the in-house translator here, if you don’t mind, Chip :). Below is the translation, 美丽：
“In China, especially in large cities, if someone falls on the ground due to sudden illness or being thrown out of an overturned vehicle, there will be no lack of people looking on or even finding it amusing, but very few people would want to lend a helping hand.” ——-Lun Xun, “Learned from Experience”, 1933.
Alas, it is not me who denies, nor me who does not live in China. Perhaps a more careful reading of all of the posts would help. As to the problem of lack of empathy in China, please read my previous post again. I really don’t have time to explain again the distinction I’m trying to make, but I’ll try. To reduce the problem to a matter of volume and to suggest that lack of empathy is a uniquely Chinese problem is, by definition, to present a stupid and patronizing view. Doing so offers no insight at all.
By the way, Chip, you’re aware that you’ve invoked the dreaded outsiders can’t understand China argument, right?
Lorin: It is possible that the person caring for the child could be charged with child abuse. Also the people who ran over her. I have never heard of such a case of passer -by neglect of a child here in Scotland. Nowadays, if a parent smacks a young child in public, they run the risk of being reported to the local Social Work Dept. for “child abuse” by concerned passers by. I myself have followed up such phone referrals. I am not a lawyer. I am a retired social worker and studied Scottish Law, specifically The Social Work Scotland Act, 1968. Child Protection Laws are regularly amended and updated here in Scotland. Our Law differs from English Law. We do not have Juvenile Courts to deal with issues relating to “Minors”. We have a system called “Children’s Panels” which deals with all issues relating to Children under 16 years of age. Of course, adults charged with serious issues relating to the care of children, are dealt with by the adult Judicial System. The errant drivers would serve prison sentences here in Scotland, where they would be villified by the other prisoners. The person in charge of the child would probably be assigned Social Work support, where their child care skills would be assessed and hopefully improved. Depending on the circumstances, their name could be placed on the Child Protection Register for a specific period of time and not removed until they demonstrated improvement. Tom has Blogged already that Child Protection law does not exist in China.
Just to clarify, there are very weakly worded child protections laws in China that are rarely enforced. This is something I discussed with a Chinese friend who studied law, and after reviewing the relevant section of the Chinese constitution concluded that there was essentially no protection.
Also there have been at least 2 more children struck by cars in the last week in China. One died, the other suffered broken bones, which does raise the issue of neglect.
Thanks, Tom. It would interesting to know more about why those minimal laws tend not to be enforced. My speculation is that there might be some similarity with spousal abuse provisions. Some of these things are left as “family matters,” a response that is familiar “west” and “east” and one that might help us better understand specificity of the bystander effect in China.
So to be clear, Meryl, the driver of the vehicle in a case like that could, in addition to charges of manslaughter or murder (whatever the appropriate Scotish legal terms are), might also face a charge of child abuse? Would that be an additional charge or would that be aggravated manslaughter or similar?
I’m not saying lack of empathy is uniquely Chinese. I’m saying that the degree of the lacking of empathy IS essentially Chinese, and I’m backing it up with the views of Chinese people. I’m not saying outsiders can’t understand China, I’m saying outsiders are too politically correct to admit that it is a particularly Chinese problem that can’t really be compared to the bystander effect that can sometimes be found in other societies.
It’s difficult to put in into words, but I think MAC put it pretty clear in a comment above. If you fall down in China , you’re less likely to be helped that if you were to fall down in Canada. It’s that simple.
I also felt that was pretty clear too, but apparently I left him too much room to dodge the question… I had a pretty scathing follow-up post that addressed that by equalizing all the other possible variables (cell phones on hand, people present, status of victim and so on) but decided he is so invested in defending the indefensible even over the voices of people who indisputably know more about realities in China than he ever will (those being Chinese people) that I decided to throw in the towel.
Sorry, MAC. Of course this has necessarily come down to an ad hominem attack because you are unwilling to consider the details of the argument I”m putting forward. In fact, if you go back through the posts, you and I agree on many points. The exception is the issue of the volume of such incidents and, more to the point, that they indicate some fundamental flaw in Chinese culture that has necessitated this. I’ve also pointed out that some of the arguments posted here have been orientalist and racist, and have explained why they are so. Where Chinese commenters have made good points, I’ve agreed. Where I feel these arguments are weak, I’ve disagreed or asked for clarification. Nowhere have I attempted to absolve those who didn’t stop to help this little girl, but I suppose that fact is an inconvenient when one is determined to attack.
Finally, I think that my extended Chinese family would be surprised to hear than I am totally unqualified and completely lacking in the knowledge and experience to comment in this forum. This knowledge is, of course, as flawed with respect to social realities as anyone else’s, but this family, in particular my father in law, would have been terribly disappointed had I not defended their honour against some of the more egregious, sanctimonious, and bigoted comments that have been made. Had you read more carefully early on, these facts about my identity would not have escaped you as you were reaching for your towel.
You know, you might want to look back at who started the ad hominems. You’re the one who started writing off the opinions of others as being “culturally illiterate” and suggesting that they needed to improve their Chinese. And in your first post, you start accusing people of racism on what looks like pretty thin evidence to me. Do you really think that marrying into a Chinese family is a particularly unique circumstance on these kinds of blogs that puts you in a position to talk down to everybody else?
This will be my last response to you unless you are interested in addressing some aspect of the arguments in the forum. No, forwarding a fundamentally racist argument does not make one racist. Please go back and read the language carefully. As to being culturally illiterate, I was referring to the position that all foreigners, including myself, tend to find themselves in in China at one point or another. Indeed, the starting point of this discussion is one blogger trying to get beyond that condition and doing a pretty admirable job of it.
Lorin: What is your father in law’s view of the Foshan tragedy? Are you able to discuss it with him? I am just off now to my weekly Chinese lesson with Jia Ling but I will not mention it unless she does.
I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to him about this, Meryl, but I expect that he would have a similar view to those of many Chinese (see those Yaxue and others have mentioned). As to my wife, she thinks she would not have tried to aid the child as she has no knowledge of what to do, but certainly would have called for help. For my father in law, I suspect he would have seen moral decline as the problem precisely, but he would not have traced the problem to the ordinary western conception of responsibility for strangers or child protection per se, i.e., a universalist moral understanding of responsibility for others. I’m pretty sure that he would connect it to a failure of “family education,” failures of families to govern their own (or some variation of this argument) and install in them proper traditional values such that they would act properly in this situation. Also, he would likely try to blame much of this decline on the invasion of foreign values (western individualism, to be precise). I wouldn’t agree completely with the specifics of his argument, but I think there is much food for thought in this perspective. None of it ought to be tossed out without consideration.
Whether or not one agrees with him, the first take away for me is that Chinese culture (to be clear, this is a much more contested entity than this term suggests) contains the resources to critique and improve itself. It doesn’t really need to the so called foreign concepts that we’ve all introduced to help bring meaning to this event. To be sure, I think that the lines drawn between foreign and Chinese at these point are too sharply drawn. His second basic point turns on the idea that families have been decimated in the past few decades. Actually, he would extend this to include the undermining of the family in the Cultural Revolution, which I suppose would underscore Yaxue’s point. As the foundation of Chinese morality (this is indirectly referred to above in posts that mention Fei Xiaotong and others), this is causing problems. His understanding is that people are not caring for each other in the traditional way within the family and that this fundamental lack of morality emanates outward to the broader society. Our family is a case in point. For economic, quality of life, and family reasons (i.e., I too have a family in Canada) we split our time being Canada and China. My wife is an only child, so us being away from China means both physical absence and, to my father in law, a lack of filial piety. It’s the cause of some tension and we are sometimes accused of providing no basic foundation of morality for our reason. Needless to say, I disagree.
I hope you find this useful. I was hoping much earlier on that the discussion might get to issues like this, but it seems to have become sidetracked.
Sorry, Meryl, for the language errors in this post. The new mac os is extremely efficient at wrongly correcting errors and not letting the user know about it.
“we split our time between Canada and China.”
“no basic foundation of morality for our son”
Lorin, to simplify this prolonged argument, to get out of all these -isms, ask your father-in-law, mother-in-law, your wife, your in-laws, every adult in your extended Chinese family the following question: “If someone is hit by a vehicle on street or fall suddenly on the ground due to illness (or in any number of comparable scenarios), where do they think this person is likely to get help, or quicker help? In China, or in Canada?
(Not when this person falls on the ground in the North Pole territory of Canada where it is likely that he or she won’t even encounter a soul in days.)
If their answer is Canada, and they are statistically right, does their perception make them racists?
When some of us say this is somewhat uniquely China, you must distinguish two things: the people and the society they live in, or, to use psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s terms, the apples and the barrel. I can’t speak for others, but for me, the focus is always on the barrel. If the barrel is filled with bad agents, it’s hard for the apples to stay good. (There was a similarly heated argument among the commenters in my post “Dumb Americans” two months ago here on this blog. Perhaps you would be interested to take a look when you have time.)
In any case, try to fit things forcefully into a “conceptual framework” doesn’t help our understanding.
If I may address this symposium one last time, I’d like to serve up a personal, and I’m hoping not-so inflammatory, anecdote:
I currently live in KL. Last month, I was out in Little India to get some lunch when me and my girlfriend walked past what appeared to be a ragged hobo supinely splayed across the sidewalk. Many onlookers (mostly Indian) stared slack-jawed, or just passed him by. “Is he dead?” my girlfriend asked. “Maybe just drunk,” I said. That was it. In retrospect, I should have at least tapped him, though he was so disheveled and dirty I thought he could have been simply a homeless guy out on his luck. I feel bad about that, especially after being bombarded by this recent news. One can only hope that he wasn’t dead — though at the state he was in, he might as well have been.
But why didn’t anyone react? KL isn’t so overly urbanized to have normalized such a scene — but extreme poverty does exist in this sprawl. Then I began to recall all the other times I have walked past beggars in South and Southeast Asia; the comatose ones you slink by in the dead of night appear most vibrantly in my mind. Does extreme poverty normalize these grotesque scenes? Why don’t more people stop and offer help to inanimate, legless victims on the streets of Bangkok and homeless mothers in Jakarta? And, most relevantly, can China’s famine which is so fresh in the mind of the older generation normalize a dire situation, many poverty seem the norm?
It’s all inhumane and mostly hard to ponder too long. But for many people across the planet, poverty does add the to urban mix at the heart of the bystander effect. Hartford, London, New York — even these places aren’t spared. A notable example also exists in Kerala, India (a part of the country that still flies the sickle and hammer, oddly enough).
These places, as they tend to be, are inherently nuanced. Lu Xun and the wealth of Chinese observers have made their characteristics clear, as anyone from a place can claim. But not all countries have such sound systems of law or journalistic ability to cover every story. How much can we observe of Africa (Lagos comes to mind)? Not much as of now.
The Foshan case is unique however. Partly because it involved a child and partly because it is in China — a place that is being very widely covered now. Jakarta and to a decree much of India don’t have anywhere near that amount of coverage. When you think of it, Yueyue has been gather so much outpour of sympathy in China. None of that would have happened without this coverage. And if you were one of the previous cases in the US, chances are you’d just be the 11 o’clock news.
Is there a void of feeling growing in commercializing, urbanizing China? Most probably. Are we more likely to be assisted in Canada? Definitely. (Canadians kinda are the chipper, amiable ones of the world, aren’t they?) Would you be passed by in N Korea (if you were N Korea)? Well, thats at the other end of the spectrum.
Just an observation.
A well-placed and considered anecdote, Justin. I think it clarifies your earlier posts. My only objection to those was the “stage of development” aspect which usually implies inevitable progress to an end defined a standard set by supposedly kind and caring western countries.
You’ve raised again my earlier question around what could be called “economies of worth.” What is it about the not-quite alive beggar that makes him worthy of not only being ignored, but vilified? My gut reaction is probably the same as others with respect to Yueyue. Quite simply that she ought to be helped! But what about child beggars in China? Why are they viewed as annoying scoundrels rather than as someone to be rescued? I’m sure a begging child run down by a car would be helped. Why doesn’t the impoverished condition she was in just a few minutes earlier offend in the same way? As your anecdote points out, we don’t respond to everyone in need in the same way.
I also like that you’ve raised the dual nature of this event in China. There are the facts of what happened to Yueyue, which are truly awful. Then there is Yueyue’s death as a media event, which also has a duel character, one Chinese and one foreign. The first is a national soul searching; the second I can’t quite understand.
Please see my comment to Meryl above. I still don’t agree with you entirely. The issue of likelihood of help is a non-starter to me. None of us has proper statistics on this, and the opinions of my Chinese family on whether or not they would get better help in Canada doesn’t provide proof either. Also, I think we both recognize that most of the disagreements in the forum turn on the particular focus of the commenter. I’m concerned with the barrel. Those who disagree with me tend to be focussed on the fish. As to the conditions represented by the barrel, I do wish that we could take up the call to really deeply talk about the relevant material conditions here, and that is my main beef. There’s been far too much time spent trying to figure out why Chinese people and their culture is so flawed.
Lorin, listen to yourself: You haven’t even talked about this with your father-in-law, but you have made a ton of assumptions about what he thinks. Talk to him, and then, only then, try to sort them through.
My education has never gone as far as yours, but what do they teach in Methodology class?
Yaxue, he and I have had many discussions on these kinds of issues in the past. As I pointed out, I’m speculating on how he would respond in this particular case. As to what they teach us in methodology class, #1 would have to be don’t quote statistical evidence if you haven’t actually compiled any.
Fresh off Weibo:
Zhang Ming/张鸣/(the same professor I translated in the latest Heard on Weibo)/：Just a while ago, a journalist with China Youth Daily (《中国青年报》) asked me whether is possible to have a national discussion about the Little Yueyue (the toddler’s name) incident. I said, no way, the government will definitely not allow it, because, with the discussion, we will dig to the root of it, and they can’t bear it.
今天 07:35 来自新浪微博转发(383) | 收藏 | 评论(261)
Correction：I accidentally deleted the first few words of the Chinese original and when I added them back, I missed “刚才”. It is very important to make this correction, because as a translator, your trust in me requires me to render the original as faithfully as I can.
今天 07:35 来自新浪微博转发(383) | 收藏 | 评论(261)
Thanks for this, Yaxue. I noticed that you translated as “大讨论” as “national discussion.” It seems that there is something like a popular national discussion going on as we speak through weibo and other venues. Can you expand on your understanding of what would constitute a “大讨论” or “national discussion,” either according to the Chinese leadership or this professor? Who would have to take part? Where would the discussion take place? etc.
Thank you, Lorin, for pointing that out. That’s very perceptive of you.
Indeed, there has been a popular discussion/debate going on on Weibo and other online venues. But noting that the asker is a journalist with a state-owned newspaper and that he and the professor, both extremely informed people no doubt, must have known very well about the heated debate raging on Weibo and elsewhere, my understanding is that, the journalist is asking, “Is there a possibility that the government and the media it controls will lead a national discussion about the event?”
I don’t read People’s Daily and the like, nor do I watch CCTV. I don’t know if there has been something that can be called a “大讨论” (literally, “big discussion”) on state media about the event; but from the conversation of these two, I gather that there hasn’t been one.
Another question might be the effect of the popular discussion on the possibility of a high level, gov’t/Party led discussion. Actually, it would be interesting to be in on the grass roots Party discussions of this issue as opposed to the one (or lack of one) at the more administrative/bureaucratic level.
It does seem that the gov’t is moving to end the discussion in someways. There have been a string of stories on people’s daily about selfless good deeds, but also tributes to the toddler.
The gov’t though also launched a campaign to spark some kind of cultural promotion, I think in that quote the professor may be saying that there will never be a discussion allowed at that level, we’ll never here politburo members discussing the morality of this incident. So in someways it looks as if the party is saying, this is a moment of cultural crisis, but don’t worry, the Party is the answer.
This is based on reading pretty much every people’s daily article that has come out in the last few weeks.
You are right, Lorin. The point this Weibo item is trying to make is: The government (which is the Party in China) would not want, or dare, to lead such a wide-spread soul-searching, because when people ask more and more questions and probe the issue further and wider, the party will be put in an very awaward position, to say the least.
Not to put too fine a point on things, the Party is absolutely interested in leading this discussion…to nowhere? 😉
Lorin, again, I don’t know exactly how the Party is steering this particular conversation, but my 40+-year experience tells me that the Party has always been, without exception so far, interested, devoted, and will do no matter what, to lead whatever discussion to one end: the Party is great, and everything is just fine under the leadership of the Party.
” I do wish that we could take up the call to really deeply talk about the relevant material conditions here, and that is my main beef. There’s been far too much time spent trying to figure out why Chinese people and their culture is so flawed.”
The relevant material conditions in China have changed significantly over the past few hundred years, but the same situation remains. I specifically quoted Luxun because he had the exact same view of this CULTURAL phenomenon far before any GLP, any cultural revolution, before the political and economic changes of the 80’s and 90’s, and the growth in the past 10 years. Chinese society is analyzing this event in the context of culture, and individuals like myself, MAC, and Yaxue have been addressing this, to then be accused of “Orientalism”. There are voices in China that are screaming that their culture is flawed, are they racist? And am I racist for pointing these voices out?
We can discuss if its the culture dictated by the Party, as Yaxue pointed out. We can discuss if its the lack of a belief system after communism was dropped in the 80’s. We can discuss if it’s due to Confucian emphasis on family while ignoring everyone else (I personally feel this is a large factor). But if this situation is to change, we have to be ready to admit that there are cultural factors at work here. And that’s just what the Chinese voices themselves are saying. I challenge anyone that doubts this to go ahead and talk to their Chinese friends, family, and coworkers. You’ll be surprised (or not) how often you’ll hear this: 中国人就这样
Perhaps the fact that so many are “screaming that their culture if flawed” shows an outpouring of compassion (check out the amount of online memes) for this case that many similar cases in the West haven’t yet enjoyed. Chinese people are shocked and feel sympathy for this. Something to think about when comparing the cultural qualities of this humanistic phenomenon.
Personally, I always found it amusing that the Chinese government feels so parentally inclined to change society that they plaster signs like “文明先行” ubiquitously. “Ya, ya. I’m civilizing here. Just give me some time to adjust already” Hehe.
I’m also reminded of an excellent scholarly text called “Worrying about China” that discusses the high moral tone of Chinese intellectuals when they talk about the problems of the nation. If you have access, limited pages are available on google.
All of which I’ve already said. As to calling you, MAC or Yaxue racist, this really is the last time I’ll address this issue. I said several times that people were putting forward either racist or orientalist arguments. I also explained why these arguments were either racist or orientalist. I tried to indicate that there is nothing particularly shameful or out of the ordinary in this. Looking back, I don’t think that I addressed any of these comments specifically to you. If I did, my apologies if you feel unjustly accused. Alternatively, if you feel that orientalism or racism are flawed concepts, please do dispute them or my application of them.
Back to the discussion, could you state more clearly what you mean when you say that “the relevant material conditions in China have changed significantly over the past few hundred years, but the same situation remains”? The sentence is somewhat contradictory, but I think that you mean that, no matter the economic well-being or style of governance, certain cultural phenomena have remained the same. So, in order to better discuss them, what would you say these phenomena are? As to Lu Xun’s comments, in what context was he making the comment you posted? Was he writing a longer or essay? If so, was it on the issue of lack of empathy, or do his words just happen to make his point for you? Read in isolation, these words merely beg the question that we are interested in, i.e., why? At any rate, are all Chinese people correct in their evaluation of the social problems that afflict their society by virtue of the fact that they are Chinese? Is culture dictated to people by the Party?
So many questions are raised by your comments, but to pose all of them would take to long. Frankly, you and I won’t easily agree on a starting point because of the concerns I raise in the previous paragraph. To suggest that the last few hundred years of Chinese history is an unbroken chain of…what…cultural failure(?) seems to me a radical statement that no historian would put forward. But maybe we could begin with your comment about “emphasis on family,” which I would also agree is part of the puzzle. It does not follow from this observation that it is the source of the problem, whatever that problem is taken to be (lack of public empathy?). If you read my post about my father in law’s perspective on “moral decline,” you’ll see that (according to my understanding…he rarely lets me speak to get clarification) he believes that it is a decline in adherence to traditional Chinese values that is the problem, along with the invasion of foreign values. His is not a knee-jerk reaction. He is a well-read university professor who, in his retirement, has taken up the study of traditional culture. I have many beefs with his understanding, but what I’m trying to point out here is that there is no unified “Chinese view” on what the problem is, never mind the cause. His is a distinctly different viewpoint from any presented in the posts here, and one that has as much to recommend it as has the “Chinese culture as fundamentally flawed” thesis. In ten years of working in a Chinese company and conducting research with Chinese teachers and parents, I have seen and heard far too much from Chinese friends and coworkers to accept the notion that Chinese voices are as unified as you suggest. They do indeed, like to say, this or that 就这样, but the meaning of this kind of statement is hardly unambiguous.
[…] Several weeks ago, a two year-old Chinese girl was the victim of not one, but two hit and runs in Guangdong province. Security cameras caught the incident on tape, as well as the eighteen individuals who passed by the little girl, before an elderly trash collector finally came to her aid, and went door-to-door in search of her parents. Little Yueyue, as she is being called by the Chinese media, eventually passed away, but her tragedy prompted national and international soul searching regarding the roots of such negligence. […]
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[…] The good Samaritan in China […]
It was definitely sad how people didn’t help. There are numerous cases of people walking away instead of helping in different societies all over the world. However, its alarming is that the cases of lawsuits filed on good samaritans are predominantly existent in more modern societies. Does this lawsuits and laws have a significant effect on people’s behavior to help? I dunno but it seems like it. Does our values and our responsibility to others diminished in the growth of individualism in our modern world? When affected victims prey on the good people doing good deed for whatever reason they could get from it like money or just simply have something to blame for is something that we call “just”? I don’t know still. But this is a social issue nonetheless, because of how society behaves and how their values and cultural framework has been shaped by current society laws and norms.
Really sad indeed.
I can’t help but compare it to a much more simplier forms of societies where helping is just helping, simple as that, when a human being simply help without any thoughts of consequences of lawsuits or blame. They help because they care and its simple as that.
And because they felt responsible to the person that needed help.
If ever a person that has been mugged and bleeding in the street with a knife on his chest. Would you help too?
The answer would probably depend on how my choices are shaped by my society and the consequences I could have thinked of at the moment of the incident or the event where it happened (bystander effect). Nonetheless, there will be someone who would help despite of it all or I can help without thinking.
Because aside from society’s powerful effect on the individual behavior and choices.
There is what we call…values.
And my values being passed on to me by my parents and my family, will also have shaped my choices to help.
When was the last time we were good parents, good citizen, good brother or sister. When was the last time we valued other people.
Or maybe we just value ourselves too much.
[…] http://www.chinasmack.com/2011/videos/2-year-old-chinese-girl-ran-over-by-van-ignored-by-18-bystanders.html http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chinese-toddler-left-bloody-hit-run-dies-14784046 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/19/foshan-incident-unspoken-illness-china http://seeingredinchina.com/2011/10/20/the-good-samaritan-in-china […]