On Oct. 13, a 2-year-old girl walking alone in the middle of a market street in the southern Chinese city of Foshan was run over by a van. Had her story stopped there, it likely would have generated little interest from the Chinese media. But a security camera in the market recorded the accident, and the video would horrify people around the world.
It showed that the van didn’t stop after it hit the girl, and neither did the next 18 people who passed by her body. A few slowed their pace and glanced down, the kind of thing a jogger on a trail might do to step around a dying animal.
A few minutes after she was struck by the van, a second vehicle ran over her leg. The girl barely moved. The vehicle kept going. Eventually, a trash collector stopped, pulled the girl’s body to the side of the street and left to find help.
The girl, later identified as Wang Yue, was critically injured and taken to a hospital. The video of the accident was posted on Youku, China’s version of Youtube. It quickly went viral, with viewers expressing their disgust at the people who walked by Wang Yue but didn’t help.
When Western news websites picked up the story, some commenters criticized the Chinese society as a whole and said the incident reflected the values of the country.
“China the land of the evil and wicked,” a commenter with the username davidrocky777 wrote on cnn.com. Orc402 was more blunt: “Chinese are the sickest people on this earth.”
“Not surprising this happens, China is a darwinian country and society, filled with darwinian amoral people, who wouldn’t blink an eye when inhumanity presents itself,” wrote tellingtilikeitis. “Everybody in China has been told for centuries to mind their own business, they typically treat everyone outside of their own family as competing predators. The bystanders who ignored the little girl, just thought she was just a piece of garbage, which is very typical for most of the Chinese there.”
After watching the video, I understood the outrage at the people who could have helped Wang Yue but didn’t. But to say that their actions represent the values of Chinese people as a whole is extreme. I have generally found the people here to be helpful, especially if you speak a little Mandarin, China’s national language. I once had a security guard chase me down because I had dropped a one yuan note (15 U.S. cents). I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so he led me back to the spot where it had fallen out of my pocket.
I’ve heard similar stories of random acts of kindness from my expat friends. One of those friends, Ellen Smith, told me about an experience she had on her way to work one morning. Ellen was in line to board a crowded subway car when she stepped into a gap between the platform and the car’s doors. She fell, and the doors began to close. “I screamed. I thought the train was going to take off,” Ellen said.
Before it did, a Chinese man in his 30s bent down and helped Ellen to her feet. The man didn’t speak good English but tried to make sure she was OK. “He said, ‘No hurt? No Hurt?'” Ellen recalled. “He kind of looked shaken up a little bit.”
Wang Yue didn’t survive the injuries she suffered. She died of brain failure a week after the accident, according to state media. The two drivers who ran over Wang Yue were arrested by police, but there was no mention of the people who walked by her without stopping. I wonder if they’ve seen the video that sparked a national conversation in China and feel the burden of a country’s grief.