China’s Bad Samaritan Crisis

China’s toxic norm of ignoring those in need, and how it’s being solved

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Most would agree that if you come across someone who has been injured or killed, it is your responsibility to provide help in any way you can. Whether that means calling an ambulance, or simply checking to see if they are okay, it has become a standard of decency to be a good samaritan. And yes, there are plenty of scenarios where people ignore this responsibility and choose not to help, such as hit-and-run car accidents. In China, however, it seems that being a bad samaritan is the true standard, and as a result, many people have died after being stepped over, run over, or avoided by passersby. Yes, the sheer size of China’s population — nearly 1.4 billion people — may be in part to blame, but I believe their laws and societal norms are actually the main culprit.

Take a look back at the image above. You will see the agonizing, bloody-faced two-year-old girl Xiao Yueyue, laying in an intensive care hospital bed.

She was there because a van driver ran her over, paused for a few seconds, and then continued driving, running her over with the rear wheel as well.

She was there because the first person to see her decided not to help, but to keep walking.

She was there because the next seventeen people to see her acted identically to the first, including another driver who ran over her again.

A total of eighteen people passed a bloodied, severely injured toddler before a female trash collector came to her rescue. By then, it was too late to save her. She was declared braindead at the hospital and was never able to recover from the trauma of the accident, dying eight days later. The question remains: who is to blame? Of course, the driver who initially hit her should carry the brunt, but what about the eighteen people who saw her and chose not to help? What is it about Chinese laws and societal standards that made these eighteen people decide to continue about their days, paying no attention to the dying girl in front of them? To gain a deeper understanding, let’s first examine Good Samaritan laws around the world.

Protection for Good Samaritans

Many countries have very specific laws regarding the actions of good samaritans, often providing legal protection to those who attempt to help someone in need. Finland, Germany, and Israel, for example, go so far as to require passersby to help, or at least alert the proper authorities. Other countries provide liability protection to good samaritans, as long as the act is done in good faith and no severe mistakes are made.

Until 2017, however, China had no national law providing legal protection to good samaritans. Instead, the law made being a good samaritan extremely risky, allowing people to sue their rescuer to recover medical bills, and scammers frequently took advantage of this rule. Under the eyes of the law, the assumption became that you would only help someone if you were responsible for hurting them, resulting in a bad samaritan crisis. According to the South China Morning Post, this was something that happened frequently. In 2006, for example, a university student was required to pay the medical bills of an injured elderly woman whom he helped, because she sued him and claimed he pushed her. If a good samaritan is painted as evil, it is no wonder so many people are unenthusiastic about helping those in need.

Clause 184

As of October 1, 2017, China has had a national good samaritan law in place, providing legal protection to good samaritans. This clause allows passersby to assist an injured person without worrying about being scammed or sued, removing a lot of the fear previously involved. However, law professor Donald C. Clarke from the George Washington University argues the law goes extraordinarily too far:

Article 184 provides, somewhat startlingly, that those who attempt to aid others in emergency situations shall never be liable under any circumstances. If I see you coughing, assume you are choking, and attempt a tracheotomy with a butter knife despite a complete lack of medical training, your next of kin cannot sue me. The legislative history makes it clear that this is in fact the desired result.

While other nations are careful to avoid unlimited liability, China seems to have missed the memo, opening the door to many potentially dangerous legal situations.

Broken Laws and Anarchy

Despite the obvious discrepancies in Clause 184, the law seems to have been relatively effective; however, there is an even greater issue in China: intentionally killing someone after hitting them. In fact, there’s even a saying in China that translates to, “It’s better to hit to kill than to hit and injure.” This is because of a terribly convoluted law requiring motorists to pay for the care of the person they injured for the rest of their life, while the payment required for killing someone outright is a one-time fee, usually associated with the cost of burial. Although this strange phenomenon was more common before mobile video capabilities, drivers continue to do it because of the ease of escaping charges. Gruesome stories describe car-owners reversing over children’s bodies they hit, going so far as to drive over the same person two or three times. Even with video proof, all it takes is a corrupted officer and a good lawyer to avoid being sentenced for murder.

The Chinese legal system is clearly broken when it comes to motor laws and vehicular homicide, and unless something is done to reform it, innocent people will continue to die. As long as people in China choose to value money and material wealth over the lives of their fellow countrymen and women, their reputation in the international community will be one of selfishness and greed, both of which are terrible qualities for a country attempting to rule the world.

Despite its necessity, I am not optimistic about law reform in this matter, and quite frankly, the current administration is explicit in their lack of interest on the subject. Chinese law is broken, and it is up to the Communist Party to fix it.

Written by

Journalist, entrepreneur and student - Boston College, University of Otago. Buddhist. Expert adventurer and consultant for conducting business in Asia.

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