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China Searches Soul After Hit-And-Run Toddler Victim Ignored By 18 People

Essay: Last week, in Guangdong Province, a two-year-old girl was hit by a van and a truck. As many as 18 passers-by walked or cycled away from the scene. China asks itself if the "national character" has been sapped of any sense of indiv

A video image just before the van struck the toddler
A video image just before the van struck the toddler
Yu Ge

BEIJING - I like to stay objective in my role as a commentator, yet each time I watch the horrific scene on the video I cannot help but cry. I cry because China today is suffering, and the most brutal consequences are shown in this scene.

On October 13 in Guangdong Province, a two-year-old girl was hit by a van. Soon after, another truck ran over her. Seven long minutes went by before a woman scavenger finally helped the little girl. As many as 18 passers-by walked or cycled away from the scene, turning a blind eye to what had happened.

As was clearly shown in the video, had the two passengers in the first vehicle rescued the little girl, she wouldn't have been hit by the second one. Yet they didn't, neither did the following dozen persons. Instead they even quickened their paces as if they had a sacred and cherished mission to accomplish somewhere else.

A life which had only just started was abandoned at the roadside. Her temperature, like that of the world in her eyes, became colder and colder. Miraculously, she has survived, though she remains in critical condition.

After the exposure of this tragedy, quite a number of people brought back up the "Peng Yu Case," and criticized the effects it had in the latest tragedy. Many Chinese people recall well the 2006 case of Peng, who was held legally responsible for the injuries of the person he helped to the hospital. However, I don't believe that the 18 passers-by necessarily all knew about that case. For some, the choice to turn away had nothing to do with the fact that Peng had been wronged, but rather with an indifference and cowardice deep down in their souls.

Cold hearts, cynical spectators

I believe that the Peng Yu Case was not a cause but an evil effect. The type of human reaction and national character - and I do not enjoy this term - the coldness had already been deeply rooted in the Chinese mind. That's what led to Peng's case. The judge thus regarded the indifference as a legal premise: Who isn't indifferent? Who is courageous? Who will try to save other people? Nobody. So he came to the conclusion that Peng was a perpetrator, not a good Samaritan.

The lethal effect of Peng's case should be neither underestimated, nor overestimated. Peng's case was just the last straw, a catalyst that feeds a universal cold-heartedness and provides a legitimate excuse for the cynical spectators.

However, unconsciously, the corrosive effect of the case has spread through society, and is building up a shield of indifference with it. So many elderly have been left unassisted after falling down on the streets; so many children have groaned with pain without help. Each individual sits on the sidelines and declares "I'm afraid of repeating Peng Yu's mistake".

People do not dare give out their love because of fear. Yet they forget that the most powerful weapon for conquering fear is love. Love is courage itself.

Peng is repeatedly mentioned while at the same time his love and his good deed are blurred. All that is recalled is his misfortune and the judge's unfairness. The more the Peng case exposes the country's ethical crisis, the less the public feel stigmatized and guilty. In the end, indifference becomes habit, timidity a national custom. Wasn't that already the norm of our society before this poor little girl's accident?

From the error in Peng's case to the tragedy of the baby girl, neither case is the cause or effect of the other. The origin of the problem does not lie in judicial errors, but in the collective mental decay of China in this moment of its history. It's not that public morality has fallen, but that everybody's morals have fallen. In recent years, collective ethics have withered as individual Chinese become morally apathetic.

We should not expect courts or those in power to lead us to salvation. If they can rescue themselves, we are lucky. Nevertheless, if in spirit, each of us can walk to that place and that afternoon where the baby girl lay, bend over and hold out our hands, it would not only be saving her, but also saving ourselves.

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