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UPDATED: October 31, 2011 NO. 44 NOVEMBER 3, 2011
Morals Under Scrutiny
A much publicized case of callous neglect spurs debate on the need for more good Samaritans in China

A NO-APATHY CAMPAIGN: Youngsters mourn Wang Yue in north China's Tianjin Municipality on October 22 (CFP)

Wang Yue, a 2-year-old girl who was injured in a hit-and-run accident and ignored by numerous passers-by in Foshan in south China's Guangdong Province, died in hospital on October 21.

Her death triggered a nationwide wave of mourning, as her case caught the attention of millions of ordinary citizens and sparked wider debate about the lack of morality in Chinese society.

"The scandal indicates that there is great room for the development of mutual assistant and mutual trust in society," said a statement from the Guangzhou Youth Volunteer Association.

Wang Yang, Secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, said it should be a "wake-up call" for society.

"We should look into the ugliness in ourselves with a dagger of conscience and bite the soul-searching bullet," he said.

Shocking coldness

Wang was hit by a van and then run over by another on October 13 on the narrow street of the Foshan Hardware Market, where her parents run a small shop.

Security camera footage released by the Southern Television Station in Guangdong revealed that Wang was first hit by a white minivan, which had suddenly accelerated and driven over her body with one of its front wheels. However, the driver, instead of rushing to aid the fallen girl, halted momentarily and then drove away, with a rear wheel running over her again.

The footage showed that three people walked past and observed Wang after the initial accident, yet they failed to take action and within a few minutes a second larger truck ran over the girl.

Altogether 18 passers-by walked or drove past the severely injured Wang in seven minutes after the first hit, but no one stopped to help.

KIND HEART: Chen Xianmei (right), who rescued Wang Yue and helped find her mother after the hit-and-run accident in Foshan, Guangdong Province, comforts Wang's mother in hospital on October 18 (CFP)

Finally, an elderly woman moved Wang to the roadside and helped find her mother, who took the girl to hospital immediately.

The scandal stunned millions of people and has triggered nationwide soul-searching and introspection. Many decried the apathy and cruelty of the drivers and the passers-by and wondered if China's rapid economic development has had an effect on the ethics and morality of the general public.

Hu Shenzhi, a psychologist and founder of the Sunflower Counseling Center in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, pointed out that the indifference of passers-by was caused by the "bystander effect," which refers to the phenomenon that a person will not offer to save a dying man if other passers-by have not already helped.

Hu added that some of the mistrust prevalent in society today stems from previous cases where people who stepped in to offer assistance were later accused of having caused the original accidents. "Many people would rather stay away than get involved in good deeds," she said.

Gu Xiaoming, a sociology professor at Shanghai-based Fudan University, suggests that humanitarian education should be included in the current education system to enhance young people's understanding of the value of life and foster a deeper sense of humanity among students.

Legal solutions

Wang's case once again raised the possibility of legislation against those who refuse to help others in danger at accident scenes.

Several government departments, mass organizations and academies in Guangdong, including the province's women's federation, committee of the Communist Youth League and academy of social sciences, have started seeking feedback from the public as to whether this sort of legislation should be enacted.

Zhu Yongping, a well-known lawyer at the Guangzhou-based Datong Law Firm, said that a taskforce would be set up as part of the Guangdong Law Society, which would push for the introduction of duty to rescue legislation.

"Many legal provisions in China, such as that criminalizing drunk driving, were passed after high-profile individual cases, and now is the right time to legislate against refusing to help people in danger," Zhu said. "If we do not use laws to guide our morality and ethics, our morals might become worse."

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