Controversial verdict has damaged society

Updated: 2011-09-07 07:52

By Liu Shinan (China Daily)

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The fall of another senior citizen and his death have thrust the notorious judgment in the Nanjing Peng Yu case into question once again.

An 88-year-old man slipped and fell at the entrance to a vegetable market about 100 meters from his home and remained lying on the ground, face down, until an ambulance arrived one and half hours later. The man died "because of a respiratory tract clogged by a nosebleed".

Should anybody have turned him over or on his side, he might have survived. But none of the passers-by in the Zhiyin neighborhood in Wuhan, Hubei province offered a helping hand during those 90 minutes.

They should be condemned for their cold-heartedness or cowardice. But most people who learned about the tragedy from the media seem to think otherwise. For 12 hours, from 4:22 am on Sunday, when the news was first reported on the Internet, 29,892 users of Sina.com wrote comments on the incident. Almost all of them said they understood why the onlookers did not move to help the man and many admitted that they would have done the same if they were there.

Everybody in China knows why. It is the result of the many cases in the past when the helper has been accused by the beneficiary, or the beneficiary's family, of being responsible for the accident. Search the reports of such cases online and you will find there have been dozens over the past few years. But of these, the Peng Yu case is the most influential.

In 2006, Peng Yu, a young resident of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, helped an old woman who had fallen. She later accused him of causing her fall. The court decided in favor of the plaintiff, based on the reasoning that Peng would not have helped the woman up "if he had not had caused the fall". The verdict angered the public, who compared the judge to well-known "muddle-headed judges" in ancient China. Though the case was later settled in an agreement, Peng still paid 10 percent of the costs and it has been mentioned thereafter whenever a similar incident has occurred.

On Aug 26 this year, in Rugao, Jiangsu province, a bus driver saw an old woman lying on the ground near her overturned tricycle. He stopped his vehicle and went to her aid. The 81-year-old woman later told the police that his bus had hit her tricycle. Fortunately the bus was equipped with a video camera. The police checked the video recording and found that the woman was lying.

After reading the news, I went to the Zhongguancun electronics market in Beijing and bought a camera for my car on Saturday. The stall owner told me that after the Rugao event was reported in media, the product were selling like hot cakes. "In the past, I sold only several sets a day; now I can sell several dozens a day."

In fact, everybody knows that the incidents of the helped framing the helper account for only a small percentage of such good deeds. But people still shy away from aiding others because they are afraid of the possible outcome. Most netizens who commented on the Wuhan incident said they would have the impulse to help the fallen man if they were there but would not act, "because I dare not".

People take such an attitude for two reasons: first, they fear they will fall into the hands of a "muddle-headed judge" like the one in the Peng Yu case should they also be framed by the person they help. Second, those who frame their helpers are never punished.

The Peng Yu case is so influential it needs to be seriously reviewed. The Supreme People's Court should look into the case again and give the public an explanation on whether the Nanjing court was right basing its judgment on such dubious reasoning. The case is no longer an ordinary one. It has greatly affected our social ethics. The supreme authorities must give due importance to it.

Wrong court decisions have to be corrected and incompetent judges must be disqualified.

And ungrateful citizens who accuse their saviors must be punished with civil and even criminal liabilities once they are proven to have lied. Apart from causing others mental distress that invites indemnities, they have committed at least two crimes: first, obstruction of justice; second, extortion.

If our judicial apparatus cannot protect justice, our society will be irredeemably damaged.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. E-mail: liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 09/07/2011 page10)