(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