Tragedy in China Raises Moral Concerns

The Chinese people, as well as the rest of the world, are struggling to understand the reasoning that compelled 18 people to walk by a two year old girl who was the victim of a hit and run.  The girl, Yueyue, was hit by a van while wandering through a busy market and moments later was run over by another van.  The entire incident was captured by a CCTV surveillance camera and has led to much deserved criticism of the citizens who walked by the injured girl as she lay in a pool of her own blood.

Of the 18 bystanders, many denied even seeing the girl.  A motorcyclist who drove away from the incident claims that it was too dim for him to notice the girl and said that he believed the cries he heard were coming from a nearby shop.  One shopkeeper denies having seen the girl despite footage showing him seemingly looking at the girl before leaving the scene.  The man vehemently denied seeing the girl to a Chinese newspaper and says he has been harassed by customers who viewed the footage.  A woman who was walking her five year old daughter at the time stated that they saw the girl but were frightened by the blood on the road.  For what it’s worth, the woman did admit that she was ashamed by her behavior.

The girl was eventually assisted seven minutes after she was first hit by a street cleaner.  The street cleaner was later rewarded $3800 by the local government and the two van drivers have been arrested by the police.  The girl is currently in a coma at a nearby hospital and doctors expect that if she survives, Yueyue will remain in a vegetative state.

The actions of the 18 passersby have led China’s people to question the moral fiber of the country.  Some within the country assert that the nation’s morality has diminished.  Others believe this incident is an example of the “corrosive effect China’s economic pursuit has had on public ethics.”  Can we blame the economic pursuit of China for the abysmal sense of morality displayed by the 18 citizens?  Can a nation’s economic pursuit impact the ethics of its citizens?  Isn’t the reluctance of these bystanders also prevalent amongst the citizens of other nations, including the United States? (See Genovese syndrome and other instances).  If the law is intended to represent the moral and ethical values of a society, is the law in societies across the world failing in upholding those values?  Some areas of the world, such as the state of Vermont, have enacted Good Samaritan laws making it illegal for citizens not to lend aid.  Should China, as well as others, consider enacting such laws?

Full article available here.

Extended footage of the video available here.


  1. The story of this small toddler run over by a van shocked and saddened me. As a mother, I know that I would aid any child in a similar circumstance.

    However, this tragedy in China is not the first such incident, nor will it be the last. I recall a similar sense of shock when virtually this same scenario took place seemingly next door in Hartford, CT. On May 31, 2008, Angel Arce Torres, 78, was trying to cross the street when a Honda hit him. The Honda kept driving, as did nine additional cars that passed him lying bleeding in the street. Forty seconds passed before people even stepped of the sidewalk to look, though not one person diverted traffic. It was only after a police vehicle happened to drive past, one and a half minutes later, that an ambulance was summoned. I struggle to understand why a community would standby in the face of such a tragedy. The sooner help arrives, the greater the likelihood of a successful recovery.

    Nevertheless, I do not think it is an issue of culture or times. I wonder whether this sort of thing, as tragic as it is, has always happened. The difference being that now, with the media so pervasive and access to news stories at our virtual fingertips, there is greater knowledge and awareness of these similar tragedies happening around the globe.


  2. This is not an ethical issue at all. It’s a problem for social psychology- what is often described as the diffusion of responsibility among a crowd. The more people who are available, so the theory goes, the less responsibility each individual seems to take on in aiding someone in distress. We have seen this “bystander effect” over and over, in our country and in others, throughout history. What happened here has nothing to do with the ethics, or as some claim, the degrading moral character of China. No, this is a problem of human dynamics. But, there is an interesting legal debate that may (or may not) be at play here; and that is, do Chinese Good Samaritan laws need reform?

  3. First off, I would like to begin by saying that the content of this story is indeed tragic. That being said, I do not think it is at all atypical. As the author points out, such behavior is by far not limited to China. Indeed it is a global problem and I have no hesitation in saying that similar events have occurred on all corners of the globe. This statement, though tragic, represents the reality that the world is coming to.
    Though I have never been much of a proponent of Good Samaritan Laws, incidents like this make it hard not to be. Seriously, how hard is it to simply call the paramedics at the very least in a world where the vast majority of people carry a cell phone. Perhaps the only way to prevent behavior like this is to punish it. While I am not saying the punishment should be severe, I think that there needs to be some legal deterrence as apparently morality and conscience are just not cutting it.

  4. While this story is certainly tragic, it’s not uncommon to hear of bystanders ignoring a person in need. In 2008, a very similar incident occurred in Hartford, CT (see There may be many reasons why a bystander would ignore a hit-and-run victim, but I doubt that they can be blamed on economic pursuits. Many people ignore accident victims because they assume someone else has already called the authorities. Others may fail to help because they are, essentially, too shocked to know what to do. These days, it seems that everything can is blamed on economic pursuits, but economic pursuits certainly are not responsible for tragedies such as this.

  5. As the Captain of my town’s ambulance corps, it is utterly baffling to me that anyone could manage to walk by a person in need and not stop to assist him or her, let alone a two year old baby girl. The one woman with her child that passed by the little girl was admittedly ashamed of her behavior – the rest of the onlookers should be as well.

    Although I clearly abhor the behavior and choices of these bystanders, if the law does not obligate them to stop, there are no legal repercussions. Yet, it seems like those people who heard of the incident and the surrounding shopkeepers’ behavior are punishing their inaction by harassing them. Maybe this is where the moral fiber of the nation is not yet completely unraveled.

    However, I cannot help to think that some of these people stood by and did nothing out of fear alone. In the medical community, volunteers and specialists agree that coming upon a pediatric patient can be an extremely jarring experience, especially in such a devastating scene such as a hit-and-run like this. When I arrive on scene to an incident involving a child, I definitely feel on edge too. These people may have feared being linked to the incident somehow as well if they had offered to help. Regardless, my thoughts are certainly with the family of this little one, undeserving of the crime itself and the lack of assistance by those standing in the wings looking on. She unfortunately passed away yesterday.

  6. There is no question that the actions, or lack thereof, of the passers-by are appalling. Only those who truly didn’t notice the injured girl should be excused from feeling some amount of moral culpability. However, to conclude that the apathy of the passers-by is a product of diminished morality due to enhanced economic pursuit is to make an “arbitrary and capricious” finding (to borrow a phrase from the courts). The connection between diminished morality (specifically, failure to help another in need) and enhanced economic pursuit is too far attenuated to conclude that the former is a product of the latter. In fact, there is a strong argument that by creating a more prosperous society, enhanced economic pursuit actually encourages acts of kindness and charity. That is, charitable acts are more prevalent in economically prosperous societies (where they are not forced, which brings me to my next point).
    No matter how disillusioned we are with the actions of the passers-by, Good Samaritan laws are not the solution. This is true for two reasons (1) such laws infringe on personal autonomy and (2) such laws are likely to create more harm than good.
    As to the first point, liberty mandates that the state not compel or command a free people to do anything beyond those actions that are necessary to prevent such individual from harming others. That is, in a truly free society, the state can compel an individual not to murder but it cannot compel an individual to intervene on behalf of someone who is being murdered. Indeed, forced good-will is a slippery slope. How much help is sufficient to meet compliance with the law? In this instance, would calling the police and leaving the scene be sufficient or would the intervenor have to personally bring the injured girl to a hospital? What if it’s later discovered that the girl is homeless? Should the state impose a duty on the intervenor to take the girl under his wing and provide food and shelter? (Granted, this is an extreme example, but intentionally so to demonstrate the absurdity of a Good Samaritan law).
    As to the second point, the everyday person – indeed the average “good samaritan” – is often unqualified to intervene in dangerous situations. What is the legal result of state-mandated rescue if such rescue is botched? Suppose an intervenor, in an effort to rescue the little girl, accidentally moved her the wrong way causing permanent paralysis. Is the state prepared to cover the expenses of an intervenor who finds himself on the wrong side of a lawsuit? Tort law dictates that one who undertakes a voluntary rescue is liable for any damage occurring during the rescue (and for good reason – a person who undertakes a rescue should be confident enough that his heroic actions will not actually cause more damage before he proceeds with the rescue). Or, perhaps, under the law, the bumbling intervenor who causes more harm than good, would be immune from liability for his carelessness.
    Finally, let us not forget about the many voluntary acts of heroism that we often hear about. For every person who fails to act, there is at least one who acts without hesitation.

  7. This is a very sad story but for some reason not one that is very surprising. In my heart I think “wow how could people do this?!” but in my head I know that its something that happens from time to time in different reincarnations. I find this happens as part of living in a city. I especially found this when I spent the better part of 2 years on crutches and realized that more often than not out of a crowd of hundreds often only one would come to help me up after I was knocked down or to let me climb the stairs slowly and not push. These are relatively small things in comparison to the horrific events in China. However, I do think that to some extent the mentality might be the same – that someone else will take care of it, that its not your place.

    I dont know if things such as good Samaritan statutes would help with this mentality. However, it may help people feel that they should help to avoid a penalty – but to some extent I think that the inaction when a person is in need is also a strange mentality that comes from being in a crowd in public.

  8. Do people refuse to help others in need because they are too busy to stop? Or do they refuse to act because they know they do not have a legal duty to act? Whatever the reason might have been for these bystanders, are these excuses valid? Are people worried about not being able to save the little girl and then being on the “hook” for her death?
    For example, in Hawaii, a state that has a Good Samaritan Act, prevents that exact ‘fear’. Instead, the law states that:
    “Any person who in good faith renders emergency care, without renumeration or expectation of renumeration, at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim of the accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from the persons acts or omission, except for such damages as may result from the persons gross negligence or wanton acts or omissions.”
    Could the bystanders have refused to help this little girl because they were worried they would get sued if they didn’t save her? Unfortunately, it seems that unless a person has a legal duty to act, a person will not stop to save a little girl.

  9. I am really not surprised by the behavior of these people. As some of the other comments mention, there are numerous instances of this sort of thing happening both abroad and in the United States. For whatever reason, people just don’t want to get involved. I think a lot of this has to do with the loss of a sense of community as nations around the world grow and people move to pursue economic pursuits. The old sense of community and helping one’s neighbors becomes eroded. How many people in America’s suburbs even know their next-door neighbor’s name? Once the sense of community is eroded it becomes easier to stand by and not do anything. The bystanders do not feel accountable, and therefore do not feel as morally responsible for their omissions as they otherwise would have. Perhaps Good Samaritan laws could help bring back a sense of moral accountability. At the very least, they will make a bystander that refuses to help a person in need legally accountable. America, and much of the rest of the world, has paid a cost for economic growth and prosperity. A loss of a sense of community leading to complacency in helping one’s neighbors is one of those costs.

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