China’s first “Good Samaritan law” (好人法), passed in February, comes into effect next month. A China Daily article from earlier this month explains the city regulation, suggesting that a similar state law could lead to a more “harmonious society”:
Shenzhen’s regulation on good Samaritans follows the presumption of innocence and the principle of, “The burden of proof is upon the party who claims”. It also stipulates that if people who are rescued falsely accuse their helpers, they will be punished according to the law.
In recent years, scandals where people who were rescued falsely accuse the people that helped them have been frequently revealed by the media, which expose the loopholes of our legal system in good Samaritan laws. Without a law protecting people who offer help during emergency, good Samaritans will be vulnerable and easily be wronged. The reports about good Samaritans being accused by people they helped have a noticeable negative influence in society. Many people hesitate to help others in need after reading the reports, as they don’t want to get involved in lawsuits. [Source]
The recent scandals that have led to a debate about the law’s role in protecting “Good Samaritans” include the high-profile case of Xiao Yueyue, a 2-year-old who suffered a hit-and-run in 2011 and was then ignored by many passers-by; an 88-year-old man who collapsed and found bystanders unwilling to help; a small boy who was hit by a bus in 2012; and the case of Peng Yu, who became the iconic endangered “Good Samaritan” in a nation of decaying morals, only to later be revealed as a fraud. The Economist’s coverage of Shenzhen’s “Good Samaritan law” looks at the “soul-searching debate” that these cases have inspired, and the social, historical, legal, and economic causes of public apathy in China:
Such grisly incidents are in fact rare. It is in the nature of things that good deeds go less remarked—including, for instance, a tendency for some Chinese couples to take in babies abandoned on their doorstep and, bureaucracy permitting, bring them up. Yet the incidents have stirred up press coverage and an anguished debate about contemporary Chinese values. Commentators blame the perceived callousness on China’s growth-at-all-costs mentality which, they claim, has created a moral vacuum. The China Daily said the case of Yue Yue symbolised “our moral decline”.
[…]Yet the Chinese still operate, more than the people of countries where trust is stronger, through networks of kin, hometown acquaintances and work colleagues. Outside such networks, people do not always see it as their responsibility to help strangers, however acute their need. China’s traumatic years under Mao Zedong only reinforced the instinct. The Communist Party destroyed people’s relations with many institutions, including, sometimes, their own families. Speaking or acting in public for the sake of others at a time of political persecution might have deadly consequences. This has added to what Charles Stafford, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, calls an abiding “anxiety” about sticking your neck out for other people.
Huge rural-to-urban migration has strained social networks further. Migration reinforces a reluctance to engage with strangers. Over time, however, the members of China’s new urban classes may come to identify with each other—and indulge more in the kindness of strangers. [Source]
Also see a Shanghaiist post from earlier this month explaining the Shenzhen law’s stipulations and its flaws, or prior CDT coverage of moral crisis and legal reform in China.