Print Version    Email to Friend
Putting cultural values under undue duress

BEIJING (AsiaNews): On the morning of September 4 in the boomtown of Wuhan, China, an 88-year-old man fell in the street injuring his nose. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people passed him by, but no one raised a hand to help as he lay on the ground.

It was not until his relatives arrived an hour-and-a-half later that he was taken to hospital.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, ran an online poll asking people if they would help an elderly person in distress. More than 80 per cent of respondents said that they too would pass by, fearing extortion.

Another online poll done by Sina Weibo, showed a similar result, with 43 per cent saying they wouldn’t help, 38 per cent they were not sure and only 20 per cent they would definitely help.

Fewer than seven per cent of 20,000 respondents in an online poll done by the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television said they would stop to offer help. More than 45 per cent said they would turn a blind eye and 43 per cent said they would help only if there was a camera.

Many people in China still remember the case of Xu Shuolan, a 65-year-old woman. On 20 November 2006, she fell and broke her hip boarding a bus in Nanjing.

Peng Yu, a 26-year-old man, was the first to help her. He gave her 200 yuan ($213) and took her to the hospital, staying with her until her family arrived. The next thing that Peng heard was that he was being sued for 136,419 yuan ($139,950) by Xu, claiming that he had knocked her down.

Despite lack of evidence, a court ruled against Peng, ordering him to pay Xu 45,000 yuan ($47,872). The decision was based on what is referred to as the standard of “daily life experience to analyse things.” Since then, there have been other cases.

The problem is so widespread that China’s Health Ministry issued the 41-page document entitled, Technical Guidelines for Preventing and Treating Falls by the Elderly.

According to Chinese state media reports, the document had been in the works for a few years and includes detailed technical protocols for helping drowning victims and children involved in automobile crashes.

It sparked a heated debate on the Internet, becoming the second-most popular online discussion topic. The guide suggests calling an elderly person’s relatives to take him or her to hospital.

However, Shui Yinhe, a freelance journalist, tweeted on Sina Weibo, “What if we can’t get in touch with them, what can we do? Let them wait to die?”

For many, the guide is of little use, because it neither replaces simple human decency nor prevents cheats from filing fraudulent lawsuits.

Others turned to black humour, suggesting that would-be rescuers should wait for the arrival of witnesses before helping an elderly person in need. Alternatively, they could take pictures with a mobile phone before intervening, never give their name or avoid using their own telephone to make emergency calls.

This prompts a lot of questions about cultural views towards human life in modern China, which traditionally venerates parents and elderly people.

The Analects 1.2 says, “It is honouring parents and the elderly that makes people human.” Indeed, “Isn’t that the root of humanity?”

More from this section