My last column, published two weeks ago, lamented the social phenomenon of people being reluctant to offer a helping hand to senior citizens who fall and injure themselves in the street. I called for measures to protect the good Samaritans who go to their aid, as the incidents of people being sued by those they have helped has deterred people from doing such good deeds.
To my great relief, I learned last week that despite the risks there are still people who are not deterred from helping those in need. Last Thursday, the Luohu District Communist Youth League committee, the education bureau of the South China city of Shenzhen and a good deeds award foundation conferred two high school students the title "Outstanding Communist Youth League Member" and awarded them 10,000 yuan each for the timely help they gave an injured woman.
On Jan 1, Zhou Tiancheng and Luo Wei found the 78-year-old woman lying on the ground with pedestrians standing around looking on. They immediately helped the woman up and escorted her to a nearby hospital. By the time the old lady's daughter arrived at the hospital, the two young men had left. However, the grateful daughter kept looking for them and found them two days later.
This good deed and the awards provoked a strong response among netizens. Many wrote to express their admiration for the two boys' courage given that there had been so many cases where old people who had been helped, and their family members, accused the helper of being responsible for the fall and demanded compensation.
One comment said: "Congratulations to both sides (in the case) for they both have fortunately met with good people."
This goes to the heart of the matter: both the helper and the helped need to be kind-hearted.
Many netizens conclude that the ethics of Chinese people have deteriorated and we have become indifferent or numb to our compatriots' sufferings.
But such a suggestion is surely too pessimistic. People who do not act to help senior citizens who have fallen in the street are in all likelihood not indifferent but are afraid of being framed.
On Aug 24, 2009 in Nanjing - where the notorious Peng Yu case must have cast a serious doubt in the mind of anyone considering offering help in such incidents - an old man was knocked unconscious in a fall in the middle of a road at 11 pm. More than 10 passers-by formed a circle around the man to prevent passing vehicles running over him, though none of them dared to touch him until the ambulance arrived. Obviously these citizens were not indifferent.
In fact, the undesirable quality in the people in these circumstances is not indifference, but rather cowardice. Yes, cowardice, we should not gloss over this word. We are kind-hearted and ready to lend a hand in most conditions, but usually flinch from danger.
Besides the fear of being involved in danger or being sued, another factor accounting for people ignoring the obligation to help a senior citizen in need is the reluctance to move because other people remain inactive. A commonly seen phenomenon in such cases is that once one on-looker begins to move, all the others do likewise. The initial move serves as an encouragement for the others.
This is why the good deed by the two Shenzhen teenagers and the awards given to them are significant.
The awards are not simply the reward for a good deed, they are a message sent to the whole of society - compassion still exists and is still acknowledged and appreciated.
What people should take from the Shenzhen incident is some consolation and confidence that our ethnics have not really degenerated and that ungrateful and greedy recipients of assistance are few in number.
The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(China Daily 01/19/2011 page8)