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China Scares Off Good Samaritans
Summary:Amid outrage at footage from Foshan, where 18 people walked past a crushed baby girl before she was rescued, we republish a Sept commentary.

By Sheng Chao (盛超)

Economic Observer Online

Sep 2, 2011

Translated by Adam Chiu

Original article:[Chinese]

A few days ago in Jiangsu Province, a bus driver was nearly charged with dangerous driving, when he stopped to help an old lady who had fallen down. Luckily the surveillance camera on the bus proved his innocence. Afterwards, the lady claimed that she had been confused and “misunderstood a Good Samaritan.” 

Xu Yunhe was not as lucky. Lacking witnesses and CCTV footage, the driver from Tianjin couldn’t prove that he had helped a woman called Wang to her feet rather than run her down. He was ordered to pay 108,606 yuan in compensation. “We cannot identify the exact point of impact between the vehicle and body,” the forensics team concluded.

In the five years since Nanjing’s “Peng Yu Case”, there have been frequent instances of extortion from Good Samaritans. When we discuss this type of case, people treat them as a question of ethics—should we help people at risk or avoid them?

In fact, it’s not about ethics; ethical people aren’t confused or hesitant when doing something good. When people walk away from injured pensioners, they do so out of fear at the inadequacy of the law and the uselessness of the social security system. 

Take Xu Yunhe’s example, in the absence of any evidence that he had hit Wang Laotai, the court unexpectedly ruled that, “Wang suddenly noticing [Xu Yunhe’s] approaching car would of course be panicked, provoking a fall as a direct result of the moving car.” Xu was therefore ordered to pay compensation of 100,000 yuan.

Such a large sum would transform the living conditions of most people in society today and is likely to draw some poorer to try and copy Wang. Since there’s no proof of the Good Samaritan’s innocence, the law encourages this type of extortion. This is the where it is inadequate - treating the good unfairly and leaving the true offenders unpunished.

If we analyze events carefully, the “victims” being helped are the elderly and infirm who cannot work or live in extremely difficult conditions. In other words, they are at the margins of society. These cases are all examples of exploiting the Good Samaritan.

From a personal perspective, taking advantage of another person’s compassion to steal from them is a great ethical failing. However from a social perspective, the issue has arisen because of a continual increase in the cost of living and widening in the gap between the rich and poor. The social security system is unable to provide a sense of security for those on the edge of society.

If we could ensure that every citizen had a secure and decent life, such cases wouldn’t be common around the country. The poor are quickly being left behind, and, extortion provides them with a way of raising their living conditions, which is protected by the law. 

To be clear, inadequate laws, useless social security and unequal wealth distribution provoke people at the margin of society to pervert ethics. Good Samaritans become the target in this dysfunctional society.

Of course, if we come across an injured old person, we shouldn’t hesitate to help. Rather than reflecting on social ethics, we should work to correct the abuses of society, but what we can do is very limited.


This story was edited by Will Bland.


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