by Harvey Dzodin
BEIJING, Oct. 11 (Xinhuanet) --The artist Andy Warhol once said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Tragically, for 2-year-old Wang Yue, her 15 minutes of fame came a year ago on Oct 13 in Foshan, Guangdong province. On that day she was the victim of not one but two hit-and-run drivers. In the richest of China's provinces she was finally pulled out of the road by a trash collector after she was ignored by 18 people. Millions of people, not just in China but in other countries as well, wondered what had become of compassion and our willingness to help others in need.
As a lawyer, I strongly believe that legislation would make a huge difference in changing people's behavior. I believe that China should enact a good Samaritan law to protect aid-givers from liability in similar situations.
Such a law should have three key elements: Protecting the people who come to the aid of others, punishing those loathsome people who fake injury for monetary gain at the expense of those coming to their aid, and last, and in this case least, rewarding those who step in to help those in need.
China's Ministry of Public Security has been considering proposing such legislation, but they seem to be hung up on the last point: Defining exactly what makes a hero and how they should be compensated. Some places in China already award people monetarily for heroic actions but the requirements and rewards vary widely. However, I think the rewards are the least important element.
Isn't virtue its own reward? Hasn't it been a moral imperative to help others in need here for thousands of years? Indeed, being ready to help others for a just cause and never hesitating to do what is right have been core societal virtues since at least Confucius' time.
Speaking personally, I think of myself as a person who is predisposed to helping others. When I lived in New York I never gave it a second thought to give up my seat on the bus or subway to someone in need, or to help a blind person cross the street. In China, however, I always think twice about doing so and I hold myself back from helping someone who is seriously injured or in real distress. I have read too many stories, or heard them from friends, about people being held liable for damages by courts that conclude that nobody would help another injured soul unless the helper had caused the damage.
I hope China can soon enact legislation that protects people helping others. In most countries such people and laws are labeled good Samaritans after a story told in The Bible. In this country I think it would be more appropriate and more widely understood to name the law after Lei Feng, who was a soldier from Changsha but is famous for helping people in need. Upon hearing his name, every Chinese citizen would immediately "get" its import.
I also hope that China considers enacting legislation that severely punishes with both prison and fines those people who pretend to be injured with the intention of entrapping well-meaning people coming to their aid. To me this is no different than a kidnapper or modern-day pirate seeking to hold someone for ransom. The penalties should be severe enough to deter all but the most foolhardy.
When it comes to the cash rewards, I don't think that these should be given merely for coming to the aid of others. We shouldn't have to bribe people to do good! I do, however, think that if helping others results in injury or death, then appropriate and sufficient compensation should be awarded.
China has a long way to go in its laudable goal of building a harmonious society. But changing people's behavior to encourage them to come to the aid of others in need, rather than ignoring them, will take us all a long way down that road.
The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.
(Source: China Daily)