What caused the Wang Yue tragedy? Depends who you ask.

For those of you who have somehow managed to miss it, a recent tragic accident in Foshan, Guangdong province has prompted a round of soul searching within China.

On October 13, A two year old girl named Wang Yue was hit by a truck and lay on the road. Passers-by ignored her as she lay on the middle of the road where she was then also hit by a van. The 18th person passing by finally did something – the woman, a garbage collector named Chen Xianmei, ran from shop to shop looking for the girl’s parents. The entire incident was caught on CCTV camera.

As Chen desperately searched for help, many people told her to mind her own business.

As it turned out, the van driver came forward and said he hadn’t seen the girl. He apologized profusely to the parents. He’s been arrested and is being questioned by police. It was also evident from the footage that the truck driver had most certainly seen her, and he even went so far as to call the parents to apologize, but say he wouldn’t be coming forward because he couldn’t afford the repercussions. He has since been arrested.

Wang Yue later died in hospital.

In the wake of this accident, numerous theories have been put forward as to why so many people could just walk away and do nothing. Without realizing it I’d been mentally compiling the various different theories, so I thought I’d put six of them here and see what others think. It’s not explicitly political, but there are certainly related issues which have a bearing on Chinese politics. Anyhow, in no particular order:

1 – Fear of litigation.

“The best-known case is that of Pengu Yu. In 2006 in Nanjing, he helped an elderly woman who had fallen. She later accused him of causing her fall. A judge ruled in her favour, without any supporting evidence, saying that he would not have helped her unless he caused her fall.”

Setting aside the prize idiocy of that judge for a moment, this is actually the top reason cited for this tragedy. People are afraid that if they help, they will be taken advantage of.

2 – No Good Samaritan Law in China.

Similar to the first, hypothesis and it’s self explanatory. This is being debated online and within legal circles as we speak.

3 – Confucianism and Relationship-based morality.

It’s pretty common, even accepted in China, that if you come from another village it’s OK to charge you higher prices. This is because of a morality system which places family at the top, friends second, fellow-villagers next and beyond that, there are no obligations. Most Confucian scholars would argue that Confucianism does impart a degree of loyalty to society as well though, so other factors would also need to be at play.

4 – A morality vacuum left behind by Maoism. (This link also covers 5 and 6)

Chairman Mao waged war on China’s cultural traditions. Shrines were torn down and ancestor worship was frowned upon. All that China has are the remnants of their moral traditions and many are struggling to connect with both the past and the present.

5 – Rapid development

Jiang Xueqin explains in The Diplomat“China has become an ultra-utilitarian society that concerns itself only with GDP growth, with rich lists, and with test scores. Psychologists have long known that there are two motivational centres in the human brain: one that’s utilitarian, rationale, and self-interested, and another that is social, emotional, and altruistic. We appeal to the former by emphasizing material results and rewards, and to the latter by emphasizing lofty principles and social ideals… China seems to have become so utilitarian that it can’t understand or even tolerate people who do things for altruistic reasons.”

6 – Government hypocrisy.

Given that at present, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is under house arrest because he tried to oppose the local government’s forced abortion program (he was jailed, then released and put under house arrest, despite having served his time) and his six year old daughter was prevented from attending school (she’s since been allowed to go) and hired thugs regularly rough up anyone who gets close to his house, it’s a bit difficult for the government to take the moral high ground. How does this relate to the Wang Yue case? Well, given public cynicism regarding government (which in all fairness is caused by corruption more than anything else) it’s difficult for the government to address these kinds of problems meaningfully.

There are other considerations as well such as the hyper-competitive attitude that is drummed into children and the Chinese fear of losing face, but I think a lot of those are covered in those six topics. Anyhow, over to you.

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