Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good Samaritans hard to find in China

Five people have appeared in a Chinese court charged in connection with the beating to death of a woman in a McDonald's restaurant earlier this year.

The woman, 37-year-old Wu Shuoyan, is alleged to have been killed last May simply for refusing to hand over her phone number to cult members [Sky News / BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Straits Times / Tomo News - YouTubeYouTube - viewer discretion advised]. But just as shocking as the woman's murder was that people in the restaurant stood watching rather than stepping in to help. In fact some even attempted to fim the incident on their mobile phones.


The murder, filmed on CCTV and on mobile phones, sparked outrage across China. The incident also triggered much soul searching as many Chinese netizens questioned why no-one stepped in to help the woman as she was repeatedly hit with a broom handle [Shanghaiist / D Mail]. 

The fact that nobody stepped in to help is not unusual. Indeed there are countless examples where people have ignored people in distress or need of help.

Child left for dead

In October 2011 Chinese media and internet users voiced shock at a hit-and-run incident involving a two-year-old child who was left injured in the road as passers-by ignored her [BBC ]/ D Mail / YoutTube - viewer discretion advised / Wikipedia].

The girl was hit by a van in the city of Foshan in central Guangdong province. But instead of stopping to help the child, the driver sped off. For minutes the girl laid on the road as several pedestrians and vehicles passed the girl without stopping. Then another vehicle drove over her before a rubbish collector finally helped came to her aid. Sadly the girl died a few days later [BBC].

Those that passed by were described as shameful by one local shop keeper [BBC].   

Ignoring sex assaults

The same month a man sexual assaulted a woman in full view of passers-by. But instead of helping the woman members of the public in Tianlin Road in the Xuhui District of Shanghai stood and watched with some filming the spectacle on their mobile phones [Ministry of Tofu].

As regards such incidents described above there is a fear by some people of getting involved. In seeing a violent incident many people perhaps understandably fear for their own safety. But when it comes to seeing injured toddlers on the street, the psychology is a little more difficult to explain. Some might fear litigation and culpability. Indeed in road accidents few people are willing to come forward as a witness. There are also cases where good Samaritans have found themselves in trouble. In fact China is notorious for its poor treatment of good Samaritans. There have been incidents in China, such as the Peng Yu incident in 2006, where those who helped people injured were accused of having injured the victim themselves [China Daily / Bloomberg / Alvinology].


The fear of becoming involved has grown to almost hysterical levels. In early August Shanghai commuters fled in panic after a foreigner feinted on a subway train. As they did so there was a near stampede and several people were knocked over in the rush [WSJ / YouTube].

There have been similar occurrences in other cities too. In June, six passengers were injured when a passenger who had fallen ill and fainted created a panicked rush to vacate Meihuayuan Station in Guangzhou [Xinhua].

The same month, a fight Guomao station in Beijing resulted in another mass stampede causing some people to fall to the ground in the commotion.

Such panic and hysteria has prompted the state news agency to call for an emergency response [Xinhua]. However, it needs more than "crisis management education" and an understanding of what to do in an emergency. Some of the scenes reported at subway stations and shopping malls are a direct result of the heightened concern over a spate of terror attacks across the country.

Indeed a rumour that someone was "slashing people with a knife" at a shopping mall in Shenzhen City in May caused a panic resulting in 12 injuries.

Possible causes

There is an inbuilt psychology amongst many Chinese not to get involved in another person's business, be it a road accident, fight or injury. Some Chinese say that it could partly be explained by years of communism where people were expected to be subservient to the state. In order to avoid trouble, especially during the Cultural Revolution, people would keep themselves to themselves and keep their noses clean.

The younger generation is less affected by the past, but the big focus on money and success has created a society where people avoid any interaction with others unless it is required of them. Even in work, few question what is asked of them even if they have grievances in order to avoid trouble.

It has to be said that there are cases in the West where similar incidents happen [China Daily / NBC / China Smack]. However, in China it is becoming more commonplace, and good Samaritans are harder to find.

Some countries legally oblige people to help others in need of help, though there are cases where such laws are ignored [Wikipedia - Good Samaritan Law]. China has discussed the possible introduction of such a law but legislation has yet to be passed [China Daily]. However in August last year Shenzhen became the first region to introduce such laws on a local level [SCMP]. It remains to be seen whether legislation can change the deeply ingrained mindset of many Chinese people.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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