By Li Hongmei
BEIJING, Sept. 20 (Xinhuanet) – It was lately reported that a 90-year-old man who fell down at a bus stop appealed for help. A middle-aged woman surnamed Liu stopped by, and, for fear that she may become a new victim in a case like the infamous Peng Yu case, she called together witnesses nearby. On the conditions that the witnesses would testify her innocence if necessary and the fallen old man also promised he would never extort her, Ms. Liu helped him up and escorted him to the roadside, and called his family.
But when the old man saw his grandson at the hospital, he suddenly changed what he had previously said. Instead, he made a false statement, reporting it was Liu who knocked him down. Fortunately enough, Ms. Liu’s forethoughts and adequate preparation before offering a hand helped her beat a lucky retreat, or she could be another Peng Yu.
The notorious "Nanjing Peng Yu" incident has all the way remained high on the consciousness of the Chinese public in the last five years. Back in 2006, in Nanjing, a young man named Peng Yu who had just got off a bus went to the assistance of a 65-year-old woman who was knocked down by a fellow passenger. The woman eventually sued him for 136,419.3 yuan RMB, saying he was the one who knocked her down. In a judgement that infuriated the public, the court ruled that Peng Yu was liable to pay for 40 percent of the total damages. Yet even after an extended period of legal wrangling that culminated in an out-of-court settlement, Peng Yu was still made to pay a 10 percent.
An eery echo is found in a more recent event that took place in Rugao, east China’s Jiangsu province on Aug 26: A bus driver went to the help of an 81-year-old woman he saw lying on the ground by the side of her overturned tricycle. She eventually told the police that he was the one that hit her. Fortunately the bus was equipped with a video camera that showed that the old woman was lying. Sales of video cameras for cars have reportedly shot up in the days since.
The same street stunt recurs----an old person falls down, a woman who happens to be on the spot will have to think twice before springing to the rescue. Seeing a fallen oldster, to lend a hand or not, it is a question!
In today’s China, it seems, a good deed can be compounded by extortion and even legally punished. That explains why Samaritans are thin on the ground these days in a country that enjoys time-honored fine traditions of being ready to help those in need. A recent online poll found in China that 84 percent of the polled would not offer assistance to a fallen oldster on the street for fear of extortion.
"It is not always necessary to help old people immediately after they fall down, depending on different conditions and symptoms they have shown," according to the “timely” guidelines published early the month by the Ministry of Health.
"If the fallen person has shown symptoms of a stroke, fracture or lumbar damage, passersby should not move them and, instead, call an ambulance immediately," according to the guideline.
As expected, this guideline elicited gasps of disbelief, and the brouhaha immediately erupted around it.
There is also some biting sarcasm over the guideline. In a cartoon that first appeared in the Southern Metropolis Daily, a heart-shaped character "Morals" is left on the ground shouting "Who will help me up?" while a booklet "Technical Guidelines" assists the poor guy.
Also, the comic strips which go popular online present a rather ironic picture-story: Hordes of passersby stand around and gawk while a man comes to the assistance of an old man who has fallen to the ground, but before the man does so, he takes a few pictures. "I can't help it," he says. "I'm just protecting myself." Then he turns to the old man, "please sign this agreement before I help you." In a third picture, the man holds up a huge sign that says "Passersby please take note: I'm a good man."
In reality, there are innumerable cases one can cite to illustrate it is no longer a pleasure to be a good man. For instance, an 88-year-old man had to lie helpless on a crowded avenue in Wuhan for about 90 minutes before someone actually took him to the hospital. By the time he got there, all that the doctors could do was to pronounce him dead. The cause of his death? A nosebleed that blocked his airway eventually suffocated him. This could have been easily prevented if someone had just bothered to raise his finger.
Admittedly, to encourage people to help fallen old ones by following a set of technical guidelines alone is far from sufficient. It is suggested that the government set aside a special fund that can come to the aid of such elderly folks in the event that nobody can be found responsible for the predicament. This will also help mitigate the misgivings that people may have about coming to the assistance of others in need.
Now that the Health Ministry has laid down the "very practical" guidelines, other relevant authorities need to step forward to do their part. Civic groups also need to be encouraged to organize training sessions to raise the public awareness of what can be done in similar cases.
In a nutshell, to call Samaritans back to the Chinese streets, we need a sound social mood nursed by a sound social moral system, and measures taken by relevant authorities should be concrete enough to help Samaritans effectively fend off potential troubles. Only then, can “good people and good deeds”, the line oft-sung in China for decades, be free from being dust-smudged.