Thursday, February 21, 2008

No good deed goes unpunished

As a child in Catholic school, we had the parable of the Good Samaritan drummed into us repeatedly. We were always told to 'love thy neighbour', and as far as I am concerned this has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with basic human morality.

However, the following article is from the China Daily:

A case of bad judgement by a good Samaritan.
Ask yourself this: If you saw a person in distress of injured on the street, would you go to their aid?
If you answered "yes", you had better hope the local judge shares your sense of community spirit. If he doesn't you could
find yourself facing some rather unpleasant
Such was the case for Peng Yu, a 26-year-old man from Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, recently, whose efforts to help and elderly woman who had fallen at a bus station landed him in court.
The injured woman, however, told a different story.
Rather than hailing Peng for his (allegedly) kindly act, she instead claimed he was responsible for her fall and sued him.
And in court, the judge believed her.
According to Peng, as he was disembarking from his bus, he say the 65-year-old, surnamed Xu, fall to the ground.
He said he went to her aid and, in the absence of any of her family, took her to a nearby hospital, where doctors determined she had broken her hip.
Peng said he also gave the woman 200 yuan (US$27) when he discovered she had very little money with her.
However Xu later said that rather than being her savior, Peng was actually the person who knocked her over in the first place. She took him to court seeking 136,000 yuan to cover her medical expences and emotional suffering.
The judge found Peng guilty and ordered him to pay 46,000 yuan. He reasoned that Peng must have been guilty or he would not have acted in such a charitable manner.
(.... )The court's decision has sparked much debate, mostly concerning whether or not it s ever wise to go to the aid of a fellow citizen in distress.
A recent survey conducted by asked the questions: "Would you go to the aid of a person in need?"
Of the respondents, more than 53 percent said they would avoid getting involved in other people's business as it could land them in trouble.
Just 20 percent said they would offer a helping hand, regardless of the possible risk.

Now, I am not saying that, as a foreigner, that all foreigners would help any injured person they saw on the street, and in fact there have been many documented cases of the opposite of that occuring (one of the most well known being when 38 witnesses ignored Kitty Genovese's screams for help when she was fatally stabbed in New York city in 1964). However the real clincher for me is the Judges response: "...Peng must have been guilty or he would not have acted in such a charitable manner."

I am absolutely disgusted by that attitude.

I cannot count the number of times I have seen people knocked off their bicycles by a vehicle (but not badly hurt), and rather than brushing themselves off and apologising to each other, the person on the bike will lie down in the street for the minutes or even hours it takes for the police to arrive and see the 'evidence' of the accident. In the meantime a huge crowd will gather, all shouting their own opinions regarding who they believe to be responsible. In the cases where the person on the ground is injured, no-one will help them, as they must lie there until the police can come and assess the situation.

I know myself when I fell over in the street and tore a tendon in my foot last year that nobody helped me- in fact people stood around and laughed at me.

In some countries 'anti-good Samaritan' laws exist ranging in effect from protecting people from blame if they help a stranger, to punishing people for failing to help a fellow-human being need. (read more)

"Whosoever does not render help in cases of accident, common danger, or necessity although help is needed and can be provided in the circumstances without danger of serious injury to the person and without violation of other important duties, will be punished by imprisonment up to one year or by fine."

Article 323c of the German Criminal Code.
cited by Criminal Law And Its Processes

However obviously nothing like that exists here in China.

Something has to change- If helping a stranger in need is a moral obligation (not a legal choice), then as far as I am concerned, this system is immoral.

The painting is 'The Good Samaritan' by (ironically) Chinese artist He Qi;
The article comes from the China Daily, November 14, 2007;
The photo was posted by Joseph Constanty, on the Facebook group Shanghai's Funniest Moments- all about events you only ever see here in China;

And thanks to Phil for finding the China Daily article and passing it on to me.


Louise said...

From Natalie:

"Saw your post on China's lack of Good Samaritans - it's incredible! I'm sorry you didn't get any help when you fell over.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the Maoist era - perhaps people didn't want to interfere too much in case they drew attention to themselves. I got the feeling in Russia that the reason for the infamous sombre faces was that you didn't want to seem too happy in Stalinist/communist Russia, in case the KGB decided to pay you a visit and ask some questions.

Of course it could just be the Russian winter making them all miserable.

But still, I wonder if repressive regimes do take away little bits and pieces of humanity?"

Natalie, this is a good point, and there is definitely some truth to the fact that such a culture of unwillingness to help strangers can be attributed to a brutal history.
However it also goes further back into the history of Chinese culture, where traditionally one would die for one's family but feel little obligation to help a stranger. I heard a quote form Mao Zedong once (which unfortunately I cannot find now, so I'll paraphrase liberally) that went along the lines of it being better to do one good thing for your neighbour then 100 good things for your relatives.
I also have to say that when I was in East Timor in 2000 the country was literally just months out of the bloody shadow of the Indonesion regime which resulted in one third of the population being killed in just 25 years- and yet the Timorese are literally the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met in any culture worldwide.
So I guess many things can cause it, but the biggest problem is that it seems very hard to undo.

Girl Clumsy said...

Hey Lou,

Maybe it's got to do with population as well?

I mean, there's so many Chinese people, so many big families (smaller these days though) - all after the same food, jobs, resources etc.

Perhaps in a dog-eat-dog world (no pun intended!!!!), you just had to put your family first, and everyone else a very distant second.

Conversely in East Timor, there's a tiny population that's really had to fight the big brutal Indonesia to survive - perhaps that forges more friendliness, and working together.

I don't know if I'm making any sense, but it's interesting to contrast attitudes on population scales! ;)