BEIJING (NYTIMES) - An agonising traffic accident caught on surveillance cameras has reignited a debate in China about a lack of values and trust in society.
The episode took place on April 21 in Zhumadian, a city in the central province of Henan. The graphic video, which was posted online on Wednesday, shows a woman trying to cross a street on a crosswalk during what appears to be a red light for pedestrians.
After crossing two lanes, she is struck by a taxi and tossed in the air before landing on the ground. Then the light turns green for pedestrians. People walk by but do not help, nor do the drivers who were stopped at the light. The woman lifts her head, but the traffic resumes and she is soon run over by an SUV. She later died from her injuries.
"If this case was only about the first driver running away after hitting the victim, it would just be a normal traffic accident," said Zhang Xuebing, a lawyer and a former law professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. "But the reason it's stirred up a heated discussion is because many onlookers on site didn't help the victim."
The original video has been viewed 30 million times. On Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media site, the original post has been shared 70,000 times and attracted 80,000 comments.
On a report on the video by China News, a user called Zhuwu left this comment: "It is not the onlookers but society that is coldblooded."
Some say the problem is a legal one. In 2006, a man in Nanjing who helped an injured woman get to a hospital was held financially responsible for her treatment on the grounds that he would only have helped if he were responsible. In addition, many Chinese are wary of helping because of numerous scams where people purport to be victims of an injury in order to extract compensation.
"In the aftermath of the Nanjing case, many Chinese worry about the victims turning around to blame the helpers, and thus feel unable to offer direct help," Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who has written about the lack of social trust in China, said in an interview.
That was the view of one poster named Ranmo: "If I helped her to get up and sent her to the hospital, doctors would ask you to pay the medical bill. Her relatives would come and beat you up indiscriminately. Traffic police would then ask you to submit the data in your automobile data recorder and write up your witness account. It would go on till the next morning. Then the relatives would casually say 'Sorry and thank you' and then you could finally go home, exhausted, and deal with the blood on the back seat of your car. Am I stupid?"
But many people reacted differently. Police said that more than a dozen people had called the emergency rescue number, and some had offered help to the victim's family. Police also announced this week after the public outcry that the two drivers of the vehicles that hit the woman had been found. Police added that compensation had been paid to the victim's family, but it was unclear who paid it.
A common concern is that society lacks a moral compass. Some commenters on Weibo noted that onlookers could have saved the woman simply by stopping traffic. The Weibo user Jillna Chen wrote: "If someone went to halt the traffic and called the police - didn't even have to help her get up - she wouldn't have died. If one can leave a society that is this coldhearted, that may not be a bad thing."
Concern about the state of morality is reinforced by the frequency of these reports. Last year, a woman was stuffed into the trunk of a car and apparently kidnapped while bystanders did nothing. Also last year, a woman was slashed in an alley, and no witnesses offered help.
The case that arguably started the discussion took place in 2011, when a 2-year-old girl was hit by two vans and pedestrians simply walked by. Ultimately, the girl was carried to the side of a road by a street sweeper - a person often seen as at the lowest rungs of society - which further added to the nation's anguish. The girl died a week later in the hospital.