In more than 12 years of writing about news events online, I’ve seen a lot of disturbing videos. Scenes of chaos and violence are not hard to find in the war on terror era or whatever we’re now calling the global conflict with radical Islam. If you’ve seen some of the theatrical murders staged and filmed by ISIS, you know what I’m talking about. But the most disturbing video I’ve ever seen wasn’t the result of a terror attack or an air strike or a mass shooting. It didn’t involve bombs or bullets. It was a 2011 video from China showing a 2-year-old being run over by a truck. And as the helpless child died in the street, no one came to help.
Recently, a similar video went viral in China, racking up 5 million views before it was censored by the government. It shows a woman being hit by a taxi. She goes flying and winds up lying in the street. There are dozens of pedestrians who see the accident from just a few dozen feet away. Some of them look at her as they cross the street near her unmoving body, but none of them stop or try to help her. At one point, the woman’s head comes up off the pavement. She is still alive. And still, no one helps her. Eventually, she is run over by another car, a large SUV that stops a few feet past her body. The driver opens her door and appears to talk to another woman who finally walks toward the body in the street.
The woman in the video died and the two drivers who ran her over are reportedly being investigated. But, like the previous video, what is shocking here is not the initial accident. Those happen everywhere. It’s the casual indifference that follows. There are lots of people right there who could stop to help but none of them do. The Associated Press reports that it has led many in China to wonder what, exactly, is wrong with their society:
Here, the common refrain goes, is an unmoored country where manufacturers knowingly sell toxic baby formula and fraudulent children’s vaccines. Restaurants cook with recycled “gutter oil” and grocery stores peddle fake eggs, fake fruit, even fake rice. Many Chinese say they avoid helping people on the street because of widespread stories about extortionists who seek help from passers-by and then feign injuries and demand compensation — perhaps explaining the Zhumadian incident…
“In the West, law, faith and morality are a three-legged stool,” said Ma Ai, a sociologist at the China University of Political Science and Law. “Our legal system is catching up, but we don’t have religion and a new moral system has not established after China transformed away from a traditional, collectivist society.”…
In 2009, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, ran a provocative story with a picture of a dog standing by another injured dog in a busy street and pondered whether humans would do the same. The report was headlined, “Do Chinese people lack compassion?”
A 2014 state media poll found that Chinese thought “lacking faith and ethics” was the No. 1 social problem, followed by “being a bystander or being selfish.”
I’ve heard plenty of sermons on the Good Samaritan over the years. It’s a parable in which the familiar, respectable religious people leave a man to die on the side of the road while a man from a culture that was widely despised at the time stops and helps the stranger. One of the lessons of the parable is that goodness transcends borders and cultures. But maybe that’s not always the case. There don’t seem to be many good Samaritans on the streets in China, only people who see a woman dying and keep walking. How do you begin to fix something like that?