Adam Minter describes a dramatic twist in the tale of Peng Yu, whose prosecution for aiding an elderly woman became a potent symbol of modern China’s social decay and exerted a deep chilling effect over would-be Good Samaritans across the country. The new development has prompted recriminations from various quarters, but some argue that the moral of the story remains unchanged.
This curious but important tale begins on the morning of Nov. 20, 2006, when Xu Shuolan, a 65-year-old grandmother stepped off a bus in Nanjing, and fell to the ground. Just behind her was Peng Yu, a 26-year-old student. While others passed her by, Peng –- a self-described Good Samaritan — rushed to her aid, accompanied her to the hospital and even paid her modest bill.
In thanks, Xu Shuolin -– a woman of modest means –- sued Peng for roughly $7,000 in medical expenses she claimed were due to the fall, including broken bones. The judge, in turn, invented a new “everyday experience” standard in the law, suggesting that nobody pays a stranger’s medical expenses without a guilty conscience. And on that basis, he ruled against Peng Yu, turning the case into shorthand for the decline of Chinese morality ….
Or rather, it was until Jan. 16 — when, in what seems to be one of the great scoops in recent Chinese journalism, the state-owned news magazine Oriental Weekly revealed the content of some newly discovered and disclosed documents. According to the trove, Peng Yu not only confessed to knocking over that supposedly greedy granny in 2006, but he actively solicited the local news media and online forum moderators to promote him as a martyred Good Samaritan.
See also ‘In China, Don’t Dare Help the Elderly’ (featuring an earlier article by Minter), ‘Protect the Good Samaritan, or Punish the Bad?’ and ‘Toddler Declared “Brain Dead” in Guangdong Hit-and-Run Tragedy’, on CDT.