Opinion / Web Comments

A welcome to China's first good Samaritan law

By Harvey Dzodin ( Updated: 2013-07-29 20:32

On Aug 1, Shenzhen will implement China's first good Samaritan law, technically called the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Good Samaritans' Right Protection Regulation but more popularly nicknamed the "Good Person's Law". What does this have to do with President Xi Jinping's Chinese dream? In a word: "everything"!

In 700 Chinese characters, the Good Person's Law brings China back to some of its ancient core values, although — at this point — it is limited to upwards of 15 million people in one metropolis that ironically did not exist a generation ago.

I've asked many Chinese people, especially those born in the '90s, what the Chinese Dream means to them. Because Chinese people are generally patriotic, I expected them to define it along the lines that President Xi did: "realizing a prosperous and strong country, the rejuvenation of the nation and the well-being of the people".

So I was surprised that nearly all of those I asked cast the dream on personal terms such as an apartment, a car or an attractive significant other. It reminded me more of the American dream of one of our most maligned American Presidents, who presided over the early years of the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover. His campaign slogan was "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."

I believe that this materialistic view represents neither traditional values nor what China's new president had in mind. Starting with the humiliation suffered by China in the 1840s and for some of the 20th century, traditional bedrock values dating at least from the time of Confucius, such as being ready to help others in need and fighting for a just cause, have suffered severe erosion. It's one thing to see them on a daily basis on TV in historical dramas and quite another to observe them in practice today.

When I first came to China a decade ago, I was appalled at how aggressive and unyielding drivers were, the polar opposite to the many other countries in which I have lived or visited. At first I thought it was just because Chinese people lacked multigenerational experience driving cars, so they drove like they were rode Flying Pigeon bicycles a few years ago. But in retrospect, I see this more as a clear instance of the loss of traditional values.

I was also shocked how most Chinese people would not help those in need — so different from at home. But then, I understood after reading stories of Chinese judges finding those who came to the aid of others guilty of causing injuries to them, merely because, as in the most celebrated case, the judge concluded that nobody would do such a thing except out of guilt for causing that injury in the first place.

So looking at the situation in the best possible light, I concluded that while people might have wanted to assist those in need, they were afraid to do so. This was because they might themselves become the innocent victim in the course of coming to the assistance of someone in need.

I can empathize with them. As a foreigner, I think I am even more at risk if I were to do so. My heart actually feels pain to just walk on by.

The new Good Person's Law in Shenzhen has the potential to help rejuvenate the nation and the well-being of the people by promoting traditional Chinese values. The law frees good persons from worrying about their liability when coming to the assistance of those who appear to be in difficulty.

First, the law liberates good Samaritans from any legal responsibility for the condition of the person they assist, except in cases of gross negligence. And importantly, the law shifts the burden of proof from the helper, to where it should be: the person in need of assistance.

The law also provides significant punishment for those who falsely accuse those who come to their aid. This includes both fines and imprisonment.

As originally debated, there was discussion of the offer of cash or other rewards to good Samaritans. Unfortunately, this was not included, but the law does include legal aid.

While in the ocean of China's vast population, Shenzhen's few million people are just a drop in the bucket. I'll be rooting for the law to be a success and used as a model for a national law to help fulfill the Chinese Dream and build a more harmonious society at the same time.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.

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