Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eighteen Bad Samaritans?

(Photo source and story here.)

Recently in southern China:

A van ran over a two-year-old girl.
The van kept going.
At least eighteen people walked by, captured by the neighborhood security camera.
During this time, the girl was run over by another vehicle.
Finally a street sweeper took notice of the bleeding girl, carried her off the road, and called for help.
She died of her injuries a week later.

This story has gotten a lot of publicity in China, with many people enraged at the cold hearts of the passersby.  Actually, this story may be unique more because it was taped and publicized than because it is uncommon.  Anyone who has lived in China long enough has witnessed public injuries, accidents, and beatings where no one stepped in to help.

In her post  "Insider, Outsider, and a Dying Toddler," Joann explains how Chinese culture is made of in-groups and out-groups.  Things are warm and fuzzy in your in-group, with lots of mutual care.  However, you have no obligations toward outsiders.  (As Joann puts it, "I don't know you; therefore, you aren't.")  This cultural value goes a long way toward explaining why Good Samaritans seem to be scarcer in China.

As I think about the sad story of the toddler (and others like it), I'm tempted to assume some sort of cultural superiority.  This would never happen in America, would it?  But I just read my friend Pete's post "Declining Morality Not Just a China Problem," which reminds me that broken people and ugly hearts exist everywhere.  It's a good reflection on the Righteous One as the only source of true morality, in any country.

A final thought about my own reaction to this story:

I often feel in China that the good is really, really good.
And the bad is really, really bad.

Some of the stories I read in the China news absolutely horrify me -- things like child-kidnapping rings, out-of-control corruption, and milk formula scandals that put infants in the hospital, or the grave.

But sometimes I pause during a quiet moment in class and think that the group of students I'm privileged to teach is almost too good to be true.  Sometimes I think there's no warmer feeling than sitting in the company of Chinese friends.  And I love that the Chinese are people who sacrifice themselves for others, who chase dreams, and who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles.

Sometimes I'm speechless at the suffering.  Sometimes I'm aghast at the beauty.

Today I sat in my office grading journals on the topic "Something Beautiful."  Students wrote movingly about kind hearts, their mothers' hands, inner goodness, and tiny chrysanthemums.  I saw oceans and sunsets through their eyes.  I think many Chinese are poets at heart.

Then I visited the ladies' room and in the first two stalls I opened, there were stinking piles of poo.

Poetry and poo.  Self-sacrificing friends and cold-hearted passersby.  This is life in China.  This is life in China.


  1. In the wake of a tragedy like this, I always find an explanation via the concept of a "value-belief matrix.” Unconscionably bad moral behavior always has its root in a flawed belief system, not a contradictory value system. Anyone who wants to see improvement in values, without questioning the underlying belief system, will inevitably be disappointed with the results, because values ultimately flow out of beliefs. Taking that a step further, one then needs to examine where their beliefs come from to reaffirm they are truly held, thus eliminating any practical dissonance.

    In this case, I agree with the commentary that there is an embedded belief in China that one must look out for oneself (and one's inner circle) before looking out for someone else. In this light, such a tragic incident becomes less surprising. How is it that people are outraged when people exhibit behaviors consistent with their own humanist/atheist belief system? Even "inner goodness" which your student wrote about is a humanist concept-- per Mark 10:18, "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone."

    While Pete's blog is a good reminder not to pile on, I disagree with his comment that "when you don't have God, you don't have a moral conscience." According to Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;" yet “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The reason you see atheists outraged over this incident is that their conscience has been awakened. Though it may have been repressed, it was there all along. Prov. 29:1, "A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy."

    To me, the conclusion is that the Chinese need to start questioning whether or not an atheistic belief system can produce a value on human life (it can't). Therefore, could it be that some have unknowingly smuggled in aspects of a Christian worldview?!

  2. Interesting thoughts here. One of the concepts we teach in our intercultural communication class is that behaviors come from attitudes and values, which come from beliefs. Sounds similar to the "belief-value matrix" you mention.

    It isn't uncommon for people in China to assert that the reason for the moral decline they observe in their own country is that they don't have some "belief," and then they will often point to a religious country in the West as an example of a country that has a "belief" that makes it moral. (In that sense, they are questioning their country-wide policy of atheism, as you mention in your last paragraph.) I disagree with this type of statement on two counts -- first, China does have a "belief," since everyone believes in something. And second, it is far more important WHAT you believe than WHETHER you believe.

    Finally, I think people who grew up in America or other countries with a Christian background don't quite understand the huge influence this still has on public morality, even though many people are falling away. You have to live for awhile in a country where the Light has never been widely spread to really see how dark things get without the Light.