The death of two-year-old Yueyue in Foshan, China after she was struck by two vehicles and merely gawked at by 18 passers-by, was not an isolated incident in China. Given Chinese law, it is not surprising so many people refused to help her.
The world was shocked by the total indifference of people who saw the two-year-old toddler lying in the middle of the road, clearly injured. While her mother was distracted, the little girl wandered out to the street where she was struck and run over by the front wheels of a van. The driver stopped, looked out, and then continued on his way, running over the girl again with the rear wheels.
Yueyue was later run over by a second vehicle whose driver also just drove away. Between the two different accidents, at least 18 passers-by obviously saw the girl lying in the middle of the road but did nothing. They passed by on foot, scooters and bicycles. The most any of these people did was to slow down and look before continuing on their way.
It was not until after she was struck by the second vehicle, that a Good Samaritan moved her out of the road. She was then taken to a military hospital where she died days later.
There were two aspects to this tragedy that are unusual. The first was the age of the victim and the second and perhaps more important one was that at all material times, the portion of the street where Yueyue was struck was caught on tape by a security camera. The video was uploaded to You Tube and caught the attention of the world. But ignoring someone who has been injured or is seriously ill in a public place in China is hardly an uncommon occurrence.
Most people in China are familiar with the case of Peng Yu. As reported by China Daily, an incident occurred on November 20, 2006 in Nanjing. An elderly woman was injured after falling down at a bus stop. At her request, Peng, who was getting off a bus, agreed to take her to a hospital. Not only did he take her there but Peng stayed with her while she was being treated.
The woman later claimed it had been Peng who knocked her down and the woman's family sued him. The judge in the case applied "common sense" and concluded that Peng would not have helped her if he had not injured her in the first place. If he had not been at fault, it was not logical he would have helped her. Peng was ordered to pay damages.
Since Peng was found liable, people in China routinely ignore those who have been injured or are seriously ill. In one case, a 78-year-old man was found face down on a wet road in Guangdong Province. Although police were called, the people who were around him refused to touch him. They were afraid if they did, they might have to pay damages. The man was dead when emergency personnel arrived but it is believed that if someone would have just rolled him over, he would have lived.
An 83-year-old man was found on the ground in Fuzhou. Two women were in the process of helping him up when another onlooker told them they should leave him alone or they could wind up in big trouble. They heeded his advice and limited their actions to calling the police. By the time the ambulance showed up, he was dead.
While the case of Peng explains the reluctance of people to get directly involved it does not explain why none of the 18 people that saw the toddler, didn't at least attempt to block oncoming traffic or call the authorities.
Under China's criminal laws, priority is given to offences against the State. The next most serious crimes are economic crimes committed against the State and individuals. Offences committed merely against individuals such as Yueyue, not economic in nature, do not seem to be viewed as particularly serious acts.
It has only been within the last year, that reckless driving and drunk driving have become criminal offences in China.
Under Chinese law, there is no clear cut division between civil law and criminal law. People who are found guilty of crimes are also required to pay damages to the victim or their families. Under civil law (and this is applicable in countries such as Canada as well), less damages are awarded for killing a two-year-old than would be if the two-year-old is severely injured and will require medical treatment in the future.
But in countries such as Canada, the criminal offence of criminal negligence causing death is more serious than criminal negligence causing bodily harm. And a person found guilty of those offences is looking at jail time. In China on the other hand, these acts are only big deals in terms of how much the person will have to pay in damages to the victim.
There are now calls for China to adopt Good Samaritan laws that will relieve people who assist strangers from damages, even if they are negligent. But given the nature of China's government and a legal system that puts rights of the State clearly above the rights of its citizens, it is doubtful much will change after Yueyue's death fades from the limelight.
Had there not been surveillance camera footage that went viral, what happened to Yueyue would have remained just an ordinary occurrence in every day life in China.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com