Good Samaritan Laws in China

October 24, 2011

Political Theory


From left to right: First truck running over the toddler, A man riding past the crippled toddler, Another individual walking right past the toddler

This past week my sister brought to my attention an article she had come across on CNN and when I saw the title I was instantly horrified.  The article contained a video footage of a 2-year-old girl, Wang Yue, in China being hit twice by vehicles while more than a dozen passerby did nothing to help.  The footage was captured in a market where after the white van runs over the girl, pauses briefly and continues driving off.  Several people pass by without stopping the girl until, awhile later, she is hit by a second vehicle.  More people continue to pass by her without stopping when finally a lady drags her off to the side and calls for help.

Clearly, China’s legal system seems unable to properly respond in incidents like this one, thus, new legislation is required.  Some sort of Good Samaritan Law seems like a good idea if you ask me.  What is a Good Samaritan law?  It is legislation that provides for legal immunity for certain categories of individuals who respond to emergency situations.  For example, firefighters and ET’s would be covered under this rule.  However, in other jurisdictions, the category is more broad.  In this case, if a random individual, not affiliated with a federal establishment, assisted during an emergency, he or she would be protected.  Since China lacks such a jurisdiction, it has resulted in a moral numbness within the people.  I understand many Chinese people are hesitant to help others after seeing others have to pay fines to the individuals they sought to help.  However, how can this justify helping a toddler that is slowly dying?  Chinese policymakers must immediately pass a law like the Good Samaritan one to protect compassionate bystanders from prosecution.

Another theory that could be associated with this situation is the Bystander Effect.  The Bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the more people there are, the less likely they are help a person in distress.  When an emergency situation occurs, bystanders are more likely to take action  if there are fewer people around.  So, could this psychological theory be applied to the people involved in this devastating tragedy?   In my opinion, I do not believe the Bystander Effect applies to this situation because the phenomenon occurs within large groups of people.  But, as shown in the video, the market is calm with a few people walking past on occasion.

In another aspect, religion comes into play.  Those of us who have grown up in a Christian household are probably familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Seeing as the people of China are dominantly not Christian, this could have affected the actions of the bystanders.  Some people maybe quick to correlate the lack of the Christian religion with the lack of concern for human life.  However, there is no evidence that the people involved in this crime didn’t hold those beliefs.  Furthermore, some may attribute this event with the communist party, who could be seen as killing morality.

Wang Yue being hospitalized

However, would any of the people who passed the child have stopped to help her if they had known there was camera footage to prove their good intentions?  Also, even if a Good Samaritan law were in place, how would a judge grant immunity to a person when it is not clear whether he or she was assisting the injured person or actually causing the injury?

At the end,innocent  Wang Yue, was in a coma when she arrived to the hospital, however, has passed away a few days ago.

Some questions to consider:  To what extent does people’s morality clash with the laws?  Is this clash understandable and or excusable?  Why do you think it has occurred?  Have there been other instances in which the intersection of law and morality come into play?

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9 Comments on “Good Samaritan Laws in China”

  1. maddycaroline Says:

    I think that this incident was so horrifying was because it was a young child that no one would help. As stated, even if someone was worried about getting fined by the injured person, in the case of a toddler one would think that the instinct to help would be instantaneous because a child such as this would not be able to help themselves. I actually saw this a few days ago on a different website and was disgusted by the way people acted. From what I read, the car that first hit her, backed up and ran back over her multiple times and after about 15 people walked by a woman picked her up and moved her to the side of the road because she was ‘in the way’ and did nothing else to help. First I wonder where this child’s parents were and why they weren’t watching where she was at all times.

    While there is no law that was broken, I believe that there was something other than the bystander effect and fear of penalty that made these people not stop and help. No matter what religion one is born into there is always a sense of morality that comes along with it, whether or not it is of a good type or whether they choose to follow that moral compass. I would like to think that when it comes to helping another person in a dire situation that most people would follow that moral compass and get involved, no matter what the law. While there are some people like this in the world, sadly many act in their own self-interest and choose to avoid it altoghether even if there is a good samaritan law in place. When this happens it seems to be inexcusable to outsiders, yet understandable to those who were in the situation. I’m sure now that this story had been exposed those involved wished they had helped, but obviously in the moment they chose not to.

    In a perfect world, incidents such as these would not occur but yet that is an unrealistic dream to have. Sadly, many people will act in their own self-interest when it comes to helping those they do not know. For example, in gang related crimes, even those who witness the event dare not tell for they fear or help for they fear for their own lives. The fear of being held responsible for making it worse, as mentioned, is another one of such selfish reasonings. If this incident had occurred in america, i’m sure that not everyone would have walked by (at least one person would most likely have stopped to help) but most who witnessed it would simply stand around and watch it unfold. Is it because of the bystander effect? Is it due to conflicts with self-interest? There is no real answer. I can only hope that horrific incidents such as these ones are as few and as rare as possible.

  2. ksaukas Says:

    I totally aree with this post’s call for a good samaritan law. It will protect those who are trying to help others.

    While I do believe a good samaritan law is a great idea I do disagree with the reasons you believe these people in China were unwilling to help the girl. Firstly the belief that not being Christians was a factor in their indifference take a look at this study http://people.eku.edu/falkenbergs/psy397/chapter8/sld013.htm (you will have to go through a few slides to find the actual numbers but starting here gives a good reference on the experiment)(by the way this was performed on PrincetonTheological Seminary students look it up if you want). It shows that the main factor of helping another person was due to the amount of time and how convenient it was for the helper, and not based so much upon those who had heard the story of the good samaritan (admittedly there were more of them but hey they had just heard the story but that number would probably drop if there was a significant amount of time between these events). And do you consider the Christian religion to be the only religion to value life? What about Buddhism that is quite predominate in China?

    Secondly why is this attributed to the communist party? http://hartfordinformer.com/2010/04/opinions/bystander-effect-still-america’s-downfall/
    http://articles.cnn.com/2009-10-28/justice/california.gang.rape.bystander_1_bystander-crime-prevention-kitty-genovese?_s=PM:CRIME
    http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/26/understanding-the-bystander-effect/
    These are three websites with quality credit that will provide examples where the bystander effect happened in America. So much for democracy. Not that I am saying this happens more in America than anywhere else, but morality can only be created by an individual not a government or religion. It is why Hobbes was wrong saying in a State of Nature we are only self interested.

    • Lilian Baek Says:

      Hi ksaukas, thank you for your insight. You bring up a good point about Buddhism. Please let me clarify what I meant. I do not consider Christianity nor Buddhism to be the only religions to value life. I’m sorry if this caused confusion. I was merely using Christianity and religion as an example of the many factors that could have influenced the actions, in this case, the non-actions of bystanders. An article I came across on CNN explains the main objectives of my post. Hope this helps.
      Here is the link:http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/22/world/asia/china-toddler-reaction/index.html?iref=allsearch

  3. danieltarockoff Says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous, I couldn’t believe how many people walked past this girl without thinking twice. While I agree with you on the fact that there should be some type of Good Samaritan Law in place, I fail to see why that would change anything. I’m confused as to why these people could just let a little girl lay there and die. What could possibly have happened to them if they helped her? I can’t imagine they would have to “pay a fine” for any reason at all. It’s called caring, looking out for others even if you don’t know them. At the same time, I fail to see how some of the other points made would be relevant. I agree with you that the Bystander Effect was probably not existent here, considering the small amount of people and the fact that only one person went by at a time. Religion to me would not justify this in any way. You could be the most religious person of any type or the least religious person of any type and still have the common morals instilled in you to help a dying 2-year-old girl. All they had to do was call 9-1-1. Or whatever 9-1-1 is in China, that is.

    Although this case is much more drastic and severe, this post led me to think of similar situations that the Good Samaritan Law could be applied to. They may not be completely abundant in Ann Arbor, but there are definitely a few homeless people around town. It’s sad to see these people, especially during cold days, stuck outside begging for spare change or food. Yet still, hundreds of people walk by and don’t give it a second thought. Why aren’t these people looked at the same way as those who passed Wang Yue? Is it because her case directly involved the need for immediate attention? I would assume that’s the answer, and the fact that she’s so young. But still, we fail to recognize that so many homeless people ARE in fact going to die, and soon. But we pass them without an ounce of regret. And how do we justify our actions? Oh, that man was probably just going to buy cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs with my money. He doesn’t actually need food. Yes, sometimes that is the case. But many times, it’s not. I think in Wang Yue’s case, many of the people who passed by her probably assumed she was homeless, or something else. They must have assumed something. I can’t imagine that many people would pass by a dying 2-year-old unless they didn’t know she was just hit by a car. The video quality was low, and maybe there wasn’t a lot of blood or it wasn’t apparent that she was hurt. I don’t mean to justify their actions, I think it’s horrible, but the fact of the matter is I just don’t see how any human (nonetheless about 17) could pass by this girl and do nothing. Hopefully they DID misinterpret what was going on.

    I definitely agree with you that some type of system needs to be put into place. However, at the same time, I’m unsure the lack of a Good Samaritan Law was the reason so many people failed to help.

  4. jeanchaw Says:

    This is a very tragic and horrifying story. Anyone with any sense of morality would have helped this poor little girl. Due to China’s laws, the people of China are afraid to help others or get involved in situations like this one because they may get arrested or fined. Could you live with yourself if you decided to leave a girl in the road dying instead of paying a fine and saving her life? I know I couldn’t.

    Awarding people for helping in situations like this only makes sense. Why would you punish someone for saving a life? Maybe thats the reason for China being so messed up.

  5. parijog Says:

    This story brings to mind the case of Kitty Genovese, which is often used in Psychology classrooms and texts to exemplify the bystander affect. In this case, a women was repeatedly raped and eventually killed over the course of an evening. Bystanders in apartments buildings nearby attested to having hear/seen these awful events take place, but decided not to take action because it was assumed that someone else would call instead. Had someone taken initiative to call, Kitty could have been saved. In the case of Wang Yue, I agree with the author of this case in that the Bystander affect is not entirely applicable. People could plainly see that Yue was in need of assistance that she was not receiving (In Kitty’s situation, it was impossible to know if the police had already been called, and it may have been dangerous to provide direct assistance to her.

    For these reasons, it is clear that the only obstacles presented to people in the market would be a) being the devil b) being afraid of unjust punishment for their actions to help her. Since I refuse to believe all of those people were guises of the devil, I am led to the assumption that China’s laws do not promote being a good Samaritan, and that change needs to be made. This event reflects poorly on China’s lawmaking and care for their citizens.

  6. sbsmoler92692 Says:

    I understand that the Good Samaritan laws is a tricky subject. It is hard to understand that most people who pass by an injured person on the street, while they might be willing and want to help them, might also refrain for fear that they would do something to the person to make them more injured, and risk being sued. This is sticky, as when do we give CPR or revitalize those that are unconscious, etc, in that state, when it could risk them becoming more injured. Though we are Good Samaritans in the sense that we do want to help those that are injured, often times it is “easier” to overlook those people in need of help, for fear of being sued or making matters worse. This can also be related to the act of the state of nature as described from the social contract theory that we had discussed in class this week. Oftentimes, without the Good Samaritans, life would be “brutish and unpleasant” in that state of nature. This is where it becomes more of a moral debate, where doing the right thing, and wanting to do the right thing to help somebody might actually just harm the injured person more.

  7. Baihan Li Says:

    In fact, I have little to say about how horrified I am by this incident. In fact, as a Chinese, I am much more familiar with the story, and this is why I am writing this post now.

    I have to admit the lack of Good Samaritan Law in China does reveal the insufficiency in protecting people who try to protect others. However, I would not connect this lack to the indifference criticized in this event. In fact, this case is so rare that it would be quite biased to make any assertion. For example, few would claim the judicial system in America is inappropriate due to the Luzerne County corruption case in 2009. In fact, a little was reported by media outside Pennsylvania, while 6500 innocent juveniles suffered from unfair sentence.

    Let’s turn back to the Wang Yue case. While reading the report from CNN, how many of you think it is really strange that few offered the help, or do you guys just think this is the way Chinese people live? If you choose the latter answer, well, it seems for me to be too hard to argue this question. However, if anyone takes a look at the original video of this accident, he/she will find those passersby are not only “indifferent”, but also far from “surprised” or “scared”. Imagine this, if you are walking along a road and noticed a bloody “thing” on the road, would you be comfortable enough to continue as if you see nothing. Well, you might at least choose to bypass this “stuff”, right? Therefore, what made those people to calmly keep their own way without a stop or turning around?

    There are two explanations for this abnormal phenomenon, if you consider this situation strange just like I do. First, people have got used to bloody things to appear on the road. Second, it is too dark, which is just as one passerby stated interviewed, to notice there is a little living creature. In fact, both theories, to some extent, make some sense in this case. In fact, it is quite normal for any bloody stuff, which would usually be considered as pork or beef, to appear in a market, as meat in China is “bloodily” sold for freshness. Though the incident did not take place in a farmer market, yet the appearance of any meat product as a great number of merchants simply live in their stores.

    Meanwhile, it could be also be true that it is too dark for people to see Yue Wang. When the mother of Yue Wang rushed into the video, the supervising camera capture her eyes were as bright as light bulb. Those scary eyes were, in fact, a result of infrared filming and infrared filming is, in most situations, used only when the light condition is extremely poor. For most people, what they passed by might just some wet stuff in a little pond. This king of unknown thing might deserve little attention for not only those passersby but even us, in such a nasty rainy evening. Therefore; it actually makes sense when those people claimed they did not see the little girl on the ground.

    It would be really biased to assert, just as I said in the beginning, that the lack of Good Samaritan Law prevents people from helping others. In fact, there are numerous real stories in China about one helping an unknown person. Moreover, in this case, it is not that passersby were unwilling to help but it could be true they did not see the incident.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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