One country has been ethically named and shamed in the past couple of weeks. Introduced by CNN as the “toddler dying a week after being hit by cars [and] ignored by passers-by”, this headline has shocked not only China, but people all over the world. Combined with the fact that this girl was only two years old and left to bleed to death on the street after being hit, this is no ordinary story. Wang Yue, victim of a double hit and run, was walked past by 12 passers-by in the busy market area of the Guangdong province last Friday as she lay motionless near the road.
She died only seven days later.
Yue’s death has brought China’s culture into question and the CNN explains that is has “sparked a global outcry about the[ir] state of morality”. A spokesperson for the hospital which treated her admitted that “we feel deep pain and shame as everybody does”. And there is unquestionably no doubt that everyone, surely, should. The majority of Chinese citizens certainly do. Online social networking sites across China have collectively put forward messages of sympathy, horror and regret. Around 4.5 million posts have been left on the Chinese Twitter equivalent, Weibo, and a subsequent Stop Apathy movement has taken off in the wake of this case. This Stop Apathy movement highlights the shocking reality of this story and asks the obvious question we all want answers to.
Why was an innocent toddler left to die after a brutal accident on the roadside?
Well, it seems increasingly clear that one response, in particular, has surfaced in the aftermath of Yue’s death. This response considers a court case in 2006, in which a man rescued a woman in the street but was later accused of running her over, which resulted in a 45,000 yuan pay out. It argued that this court ruling and subsequent damages fee have dissuaded members of the public from helping those in vulnerable situations in the street. And yes, admittedly, this does go some way to explain the kind of collective fear amongst the Chinese when facing a dilemma of whether to rescue someone in need or not. Indeed, one even went so far as to comment on Weibo that “the judge in Peng Yu’s case in Nanjing has destroyed the kindness of a whole nation and it is difficult to recover from this”.
But this uncomfortably hypothesis goes a very small way to legitimise the negligence of Yue at the roadside. Because although this legal battle might substantiate the view that helping someone in need carries potential financial risks, can it and would it really be asked in the face of a dying toddler? Add to this the fact that the rubbish collector, the only one to help, was awarded a financial award for his efforts, and it does little to calm the political and ethical storm surrounding Yue’s death. It seems that the government is all too ready to reward those “who help”, as the Global Times reports, but not bothered enough to punish those who don’t. Instead of encouraging common decency, this financial incentive paints a darker picture. Aside from the questionable reality that citizens really need pay-offs for rescuing helpless victims in the first place, it simultaneously gives mandate to those who do not help. Therefore, the lack of punishment for ignoring such an abhorrent situation like Yue’s is an extremely worrying state of affairs. On top of the only-too-evidently shared and bizarrely dehumanised ethical attitude towards casualties in the street, it is with great regret and little wonder that Yue was left to die.
So, yes, in light of the turbulent court cases in the past in China, many citizens are living in fear of helping those in need. But this is simply not acceptable. It needs to be scrutinised and acted upon, before it takes another life to illustrate. Let’s hope China doesn’t want to be brought into such disrepute again.