China toddler's tragedy exposes trust crisis

Published Oct 21, 2011


A two-year-old girl died in southern China Friday, eight days after she was run over by two vehicles and ignored by at least 18

passers-by, igniting a fierce public debate on the nation's moral standards.

“Girl's tragedy exposes trust crisis,” a headline in the official China Daily said on Friday.

“It is more than a tragic traffic accident but an ominous sign of a collapsing social trust system,” the newspaper said.

A nearby security camera recorded a van in Foshan city knocking over Wang Yueyue and continuing along a narrow commercial street.

Several pedestrians and motorcyclists passed by and appeared to ignore the girl. A second van ran over her with its front wheels, stopped with her between the wheels and then ran over her with its back wheels before driving away.

More passers-by ignored Yueyue until a woman collecting rubbish for recycling dragged her off the road and shouted for help.

Yueyue's mother then came out from her nearby shop and carried her critically injured daughter away.

Dozens of versions of the video footage recorded about 4 million hits by Friday on the popular China video-sharing website Youku.

Thousands of people commented on the case via popular microblogs, criticising everything from the morality of those who ignored Yueyue to the lack of care by her parents and the public health system.

“Who is going to clean and collect the scraps of the degenerative morality in our society?” one user said on the micro-blogging site.

In an editorial called “We could all be passers-by,” the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, said the nation needed to “stop moral decline and strengthen the power of kindness.”

The growing use of the Internet and video surveillance in public places have made Yueyue's demise the focus of one of China's broadest reflections on public morality. But such debates date back at least 20 years.

The 1996 film After Lei Feng depicted a former soldier's efforts to lead a morally good life in the 1990s when he works as a truck driver.

The main character had served in the 1960s with the Communist Party's model soldier, Lei Feng, and vowed to carry on Lei Feng's spirit after he killed him in an accident with his military truck.

The state-approved After Lei Feng, which was widely distributed in China, opens with a scene in which an affluent middle-aged couple knock down an elderly man on a quiet road.

After a brief discussion, the couple decide to drive off and leave the injured man to his fate.

The truck driver passes the old man and stops to take him to hospital. Relatives later persuade the old man to tell the authorities that he was knocked down by the truck, not the car, so that they can claim compensation for his medical costs.

The film appeared to be designed to encourage the public to think about their duty to help others, yet 15 years later, there are few signs of improvement and some signs that things have become worse.

Liu Shinan, a regular China Daily commentator on public morality, in January discussed the case of an 83-year-old man who died after pedestrians ignored him for half an hour as he lay face down after a fall in the south-eastern city of Fuzhou.

“The case is not exceptional,” Liu said. “A similar tragedy happened just 13 days earlier.”

He said the main reason why many people failed to help others after accidents was out of fear that they would be held responsible for medical fees, compensation and other costs.

Police in Foshan detained the drivers of the two vans for questioning. Some state media quoted the second driver as saying he drove away because he feared paying far greater compensation if Yueyue was seriously injured, rather than dead.

The woman who dragged Yueyue off the road, Chen Xianmei, 58, said she shouted for help after finding Yueyue but nobody came to her aid, the local Yangcheng Evening News reported.

“When I see old people who fall down, I help them,” Chen was quoted as saying. “Somebody has to help. The most important thing is to save a life.”

Too many Chinese people seem not to share Chen's ideals of social responsibility.

In another commentary last year, Liu lamented that “fighting to liberate the human race,” which was “once the catchphrase of Chinese Communists, is not even to be found in the official vocabulary of today.”

“We once had strong beliefs, but decades after the economic reform, those beliefs have become diminished or even fallen into oblivion,” Liu wrote.

“The pursuit of wealth has permeated all levels of society,” he said. - Sapa-dpa

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