Reading this article (in Chinese) brought me back to one of my Chinese lessons at Tsinghua University back in 2010.
What Would You Do?
“Let’s say you’re walking down the street,” my Chinese teacher begins. “You see a child playing in the street, running around, and he suddenly falls down and hurts himself. You see the child crying and there’s even some blood on the pavement. What do you do?”
My Cambodian/American classmate, without hesitation, responds: “Go over there and see if the kid is ok, of course!”
I knew that all of my classmates (from America, Japan, Korea and UK) were thinking the same thing. If someone is in need, how can I just stand by idly and let them suffer? Any person with a conscious would go to help a hurt child!
“Ok,” my teacher smiles, expecting such a response. “Let’s say you go over to the kid, try to calm him down and help him up, ask him questions—and then suddenly, his mother comes over hysteric. Instead of ask you what happened, she cries: ‘you pushed my kid! You pushed my kid and hurt him and I’m going to press charges! You have to pay for these medical costs! He could need surgery!’ What do you do then? If you knew this was going to happen, would you have helped the child in the first place?”
My classmates and I were dumbstruck. The Cambodian classmate, after some pause, could only muster up the following response:
“But that wouldn’t really happen… would it?”
Of course, this happens all the time in China. My teacher even warned us that, although it’s good to help a person in need, in China you have to second-guess your noble Samaritan act. It could land you in the red, or even under worse circumstances—prison. Our teachers at Tsinghua were accustomed to hearing stories of their students being wrongly accused or cheated in China, and they were merely trying to help us survive in this dog-eat-dog society. Still, the impression this story had on us was deep. The simple act of helping someone in need would never be the same to us again.
This explains what happened last year in Foshan, Guangdong regarding a little girl that was hit by a car and ignored (left dying and bleeding on the street) for 2 hours. The entire incident was filmed on security camera. It was horrifying to see both young and old people pass by, take a glance at a young girl dying on the road, and continue on with their day. At the 2 hour mark, someone finally had the decency to call 911 and an ambulance—but it was too late.
In the article I posted above, a foreigner and a local on their bikes accidentally collided with one another. The foreigner saw the woman on her bike fall to the ground and instantly went over to see if she was alright. As soon as he was by her side, however, she clutched onto him and screamed: “This foreigner pushed me! He pushed me! This no good laowai is trying to hurt me!” She was hysterical and wouldn’t let him go, and only after an hour of police intervention did she finally consent to releasing her grasp on his shirt (she was clawing him so hard, his clothes ripped). She went to the hospital and talked about searing pain in her body, but the medical tests revealed she was completely healthy. After the results, she still continued to scream about the pain and demanded compensation. The foreigner refused to pay for her “medical bills” that resulted in 1800 RMB (250 USD).
When a bus almost runs me over or a car misses me by a hair, I always wonder if anyone would actually help me. I often ponder that, if I were to be hit by a 21 year old fu’erdai driving a Ferrari, would anyone come and help my cold, bleeding body on the asphalt? Would someone call 911 for me?
Do Our Moral Codes Change When We Live Abroad?
As a foreigner, being in China really makes you question your morals—as well as give you an understanding of the moral code of conduct and the base of principles that China instills in its people (aka, little to none). As a foreigner living abroad, there’s only way to survive: adaptation and assimilation. In China, the same can be applied to your morals. Are you going to help a kid that fell in the street and risk it, or are you going to let someone else bother with it?
Once I saw an old woman fall as she was walking down the sidewalk. I went to rush over and help her, but my Chinese friend grabbed me and said: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I looked at her, then to the old woman across the street, and shook off my friend’s grasp. “I think I’m going to take my chances.”
I ran across the street and helped the old woman get up. She thanked me, and I said 不客气 and returned to my friend’s side.
“That could have ended a lot differently, you know” she remarked, genuinely worried about my well-being.
“I can’t ignore a person in need,” I reply. “That’s just who I am.”