Make me your Homepage
left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Nationwide good Samaritan law needed

Updated: 2014-01-17 18:00
By Harvey Dzodin (

Yet another negative story out of China has gone viral and made headlines, doing no good to China's image. Once again it concerns an elderly person allegedly making accusations against someone who claims to have gone to his aid.

According to news reports, Wu, a lowly rubbish collector, was on his motorcycle when he saw an old man lying in the road. Wu rushed to the man's his aid, got into a quarrel, and then with the help of a local resident, took him to the hospital and paid his medical bills. For his trouble, the old man's family turned on him and accused him of causing the old man's injuries. They demanded he pay compensation.

What proof was offered by the old man's family?

His eldest daughter said that if Wu "hadn't hit my father with his motorbike, why would he be so kind and take my dad to the hospital and pay for his medical expenses". Sadly judges have used the same logic to convict well-meaning good Samaritans in the past.

In the end Wu killed himself. His wife said he did so to prove his innocence.

While we may never know the real story, it's clear that this incident, only one in a long line of similar ones in which either a good Samaritan is ordered to pay compensation or in which a crowd of people gather around a person in distress, doing nothing more than perhaps gawking or snapping pictures to post on WeChat, is sullying China's image.

But what would you do? I know that because of such incidents, as much as I wanted to help, I would sadly refrain from doing so.

Yet what is sad about this situation and others like it, is how easily they could be avoided.

The answer to this moral dilemma can be found just down the road from where this tragedy occurred in the city of Shenzhen.

Because of many similar incidents, Shenzhen's leaders decided to study what other nations did in similar circumstances. Shenzhen's Good Person's Law took effect in August. It generally shields good Samaritans from being held liable when coming to the aid of others, as it puts the burden of proof on the person who was injured, and severely penalizes those who are found falsely claiming to have been injured by the good Samaritan.

Had this incident been subject to the same law, the old man would have had to prove that Wu caused the accident in order to claim compensation.

Perhaps the rest of the country should copy Shenzhen's example, as only when false accusers are penalized and punished will people be able to come to the aid of others without fear of being wrongly accused.

As we look forward to the Year of the Horse, let's hope that it will be the one in which a nationwide good Samaritan law is introduced. Only when judges throw the book at these con artists, who curb people's instinct to do good, will people be able to help others knowing that not only will they not be dragged into a nightmare of false accusations, but they will also be helping those in genuine need.

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