Debate: Yue Yue

Updated: 2011-10-24 07:53

(China Daily)

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Society's hollow moral claims were laid bare in Foshan, Guangdong province, recently when 18 people passed by a fatally injured 2-year-old girl without stopping to help her. Three authors try to find out, with different results, what has led to our moral decline.

He Bolin

Needed legal as well as moral liability

The death of Yue Yue has sparked a heated public debate on declining moral standards and whether the country should enact laws to punish people who shy away from lending a helping hand to accident victims.

Two-year-old Yue Yue was knocked down by a van before being run over by a truck near a market in Foshan, Guangdong province. She died on Friday morning.

And as happens in many hit-and-run cases, both drivers proceeded on their way after hitting Yue Yue.

That may be shocking, but not as shocking as footage from a surveillance camera,which revealed that 18 people passed by the fatally injured toddler, but none stopped to help her. Even shop owners nearby and their employees turned a blind eye toward the victim. Eventually, an elderly refuse collector came to the toddler's aid, but precious seven minutes had passed by then.

Many people have lambasted the 18 people who passed by the 2-year-old girl for their coldness and indifference. The question, however, is: Had the people who are criticizing "the lack of morals" in society been present near the accident spot, would they have stopped and helped the victim?

No one can give a definite answer. And that is precisely why there must be some institutional mechanism to compel people to help others in times of emergency like the one Yue Yue faced, for only in this way can people be obliged to help the needy.

China has laws to deal with accidents and hit-and-run cases. Take the Foshan case as an example. The two drivers will be punished according to the transport and criminal laws for knocking down a person. Drivers who knock people down generally get three to seven years in prison, which could be extended to 15 years if the victim dies.

But if laws cannot stop people from breaching criminal liability, could "moral legislation" transform passive onlookers into good Samaritans? Frankly speaking, passive bystanders are found not only in China, but also other countries - they may differ in numbers and intensity. Last December, Simone Back, a woman in England told more than 1,000 Facebook friends that she was going to kill herself but no one tried to stop her. Instead, some sent her rude messages. The news of Black started heated online discussions on the indifference shown by people toward the imminent death of a person who some of them knew.

Some countries have laws aimed at preventing people from acting indifferently. Article 223-6 of France's Penal Code says: "Anyone who, being able without risk to himself or to third parties to prevent by immediate action a felony or a misdemeanor against the bodily integrity of a person, willfully abstains from doing so, is punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of 75,000."

In the United States, some states have laws saying that if a person doesn't call 911 after seeing someone injured, sick or in trouble, he/she could face legal charges. Minnesota has a law that says a passive bystander could be considered to have committed a crime and thus punished.

Many local governments have issued administrative directives to encourage people to help others and even reward them with material and other benefits.

Many say most people choose not to help an injured or a sick person because they are worried that the victims may sue them for compensation.

So any legislation effort should focus on this key point of how to protect helpers so that anyone can offer assistance without worry.

What must be emphasized is that issuing directives to make people fulfill their moral responsibility toward others cannot solve the problem. So in Yue Yue's case, we cannot blame the people who passed by the victim without extending any help.

That may sound cruel but it should be noted that if Yue Yue's parents had taken better care of her, the tragedy could have been avoided. And there are millions of parents in China who are like Yue Yue's parents. In others words, for a society to act responsibly, we need legal and moral liability.

The writer is a reporter with China Daily.

Wang Yiqing

Improve social norms and regulations

The death of 2-year-old Yue Yue is a tragedy that should not have taken place. But instead of only condemning the moral bankruptcy of society, the media and public should focus more on solutions to prevent such tragedies.

Some people have urged the country to revise the criminal law to include the "crime of ignoring people in mortal danger". This suggested move is plausible but indefensible.

There are strict legal regulations to decide in which specific situations someone can be accused of "not saving people in mortal danger". For example, a person cannot be accused of not helping another when he/she or a third party is, or could be, in danger.

That's why randomly extending the scope of "crime by abstention" from specific people to people in general would do more harm than good to the cause. Moreover it's very difficult and controversial to determine a situation in which a person could be accused of not helping another in mortal danger.

The problem, in fact, lies with inappropriate law enforcement and judgment rather than legislation itself. Legally, a rescuer (or good Samaritan) is not obliged to prove himself or herself innocent for helping or not helping others, because he/she doesn't have to prove anything legally, for only "he who asserts must prove".

But the judgment in the Peng Yu case has raised the feeling of insecurity among potential good Samaritans. On Nov 20, 2006, an old woman fell to the ground at a bus stop in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and broke her leg. Peng Yu, a young man who had alighted from a bus, felt obliged to escort her to hospital. But later the woman and her family dragged Peng to court, which ruled that he should pay 40 percent of the medical costs.

The court said the decision was taken after reasoning that "according to common sense", the defendant is likely to have bumped into the old woman and "according to what one would normally do in such a case", Peng would have left soon after taking her to the hospital instead of staying there till details of her surgery were made available by the hospital.

Although Peng wasn't found guilty of any wrongdoing, the court ordered him to pay 45,876 yuan ($7,200) to the old woman. The judgment evoked strong reactions from the public and negatively influenced even kind-hearted people.

Self-protection is the most basic of human traits. Hence, to some extent, traditional Chinese ethics that advocate unconditional sacrifice of one's interests to help others may be a little impractical. This is not to justify apathy. But it is physically, mentally, socially and morally wrong to expect people to help others even at the cost of self-harm.

The adage, "one good turn deserves another", will come true only if cases - social and legal both - are judged correctly. And laws should be enacted to protect innocent people irrespective of whether they are victims or good Samaritans, for that will not only guarantee fairness, but also help prevent people from trying to blackmail altruists.

Besides, some victims don't intend to extort money from their saviors or rescuers, but are forced to do so to pay the huge medical bills that come with a serious injury or illness. This shows that moral problems reflect the defects in the system, which in this case is the weak social security system. Under the present circumstances, some kind of government relief to accident victims could help reduce the medical costs of victims and encourage people to come to others' help.

Some local authorities have already taken positive steps, such as establishing a traffic accident relief fund to help people who do not have enough money to pay their medical bills. Along with this, the authorities should improve social policies and the judiciary process to encourage people to help others and rebuild the moral fabric of society.

The author is a reporter with China Daily.

Xiong Bingqi

Education to blame for state of affairs

In the hit-and-run case that claimed the life of Yue Yue, the only heartening (and indeed human) act was that of the 57-year-old refuse collector.

Socially marginalized as she is, the grassroots woman was the only one who helped the toddler, while others, who were probably more educated, turned a blind eye to the victim. This compels us to wonder why and how education has made people more self-centered and less human.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Education earlier this year showed that 31.05 million students were enrolled in institutes of higher learning, with the gross enrollment rate for higher education being 26.5 percent and the average period of education for Chinese people continuing to rise.

The sixth national population census shows that more than 10 percent of the country's population - that is, 120 million of the 1.37 billion people - had attained higher education.

Despite the impressive figures, many Chinese people do not exhibit civilized behavior. The reason is that China's education, both at the basic and higher levels, focuses mainly on competition and material success and is deemed to be a means to an end.

From kindergarten to university, education, be it in a classroom or at home, is focused on acquiring knowledge and skills to "succeed" in life, that is, to make as much money as possible. The national college entrance examination-oriented education fuels competition among students, and the extremely competitive environment drains off solicitude and altruism, and forces the younger generation to pursue material success through means fair and foul.

A true incident should prove how materialistic people (including children) have become today. Before the midterm exam for fourth graders at an elementary school, a teacher told a class that one of the girls would not be able to take the exam because her grandfather had died. The reaction of the students left the teacher stunned. The class burst into celebration, because the girl was the top student in the class and her absence meant others could get a better chance of earning a higher rank.

Filial piety, gratitude and other virtues, too, are compromised for the sake of good results in a class or exam.

There are many instances of parents chiding their children for helping neighbors in household chores after school instead of burying themselves in homework. Children are even dissuaded from visiting ill grandparents so that they stay focused on their studies.

So low is filial piety in a country that considers it a great virtue that Peking University, one of the country's top universities, was forced to announce that it would not accept applicants nominated by their secondary school principals if they were found lacking filial piety. But, no matter how well-meaning the move is, it cannot cure the country's ailing moral education.

Many of today's students may have acquired a world of knowledge and the best of skills through utilitarian education, but they lack values, cannot tell right from wrong and are driven by material needs. Worse, hypocrisy seems to have become the norm, for many people who swear by virtue and morals behave quite differently in real life. The indifference of the 18 people who passed by the fatally injured Yue Yue in Foshan is a tragic example of such charlatans.

To rid society of the ills of hypocrisy and excessive material comforts, we have to reform the utilitarian education otherwise we will have to pay too big a price in future.

The author is deputy director of Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute.

(China Daily 10/24/2011 page9)