09/12/2011, 00.00
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A changing China shows no respect for the elderly

In China, an elderly man falls, bleeds from the head, but no one stops to help him. The case becomes a cause celebre. Online surveys indicate that most people would not help for fear of false accusations and blackmail. China’s ancient ethics once extolled respect for family and the elderly.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On the morning of 4 September, in the boomtown of Wuhan, Mr. Li, 88, fell in the street and injured his nose. Dozens, hundreds of people passed him by, but no one raised a hand to help him as he lay on the ground. Only an hour and half later, when his relatives arrived, was he taken to a hospital.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, ran an online poll that asked if people would help an elderly person in distress. More than 80 per cent of respondents said that they, too, would not help for fear of extortion.

Another poll, on Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblog, showed a similar result: 43 per cent said they wouldn’t help, 38 per cent said they were not sure what they would do, and only 20 per cent said they would “definitely” help.

In another survey, fewer than 7 per cent of 20,000 respondents in an online poll by Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television said they would stop to offer help. More than 45 per cent said they would turn a blind eye and 43 per cent said they would help only if there was a camera.

Many in China still remember the case of Xu Shuolan, a 65-year-old woman. On 20 November 2006, she fell and broke her hip whilst boarding a bus in Nanjing.

Peng Yu, a 26-year-old man, was the first to help her. He gave her 200 yuan and escorted her to the hospital, staying with her until her family arrived. In thanks, Xu sued Peng for 136,419 yuan, or US,000, claiming that he was the one who knocked her down.

Despite the lack of evidence, a court ruled against Peng, ordering him to pay Xu 45,000 yuan. Its decision was based on the “daily life experience to analyse things” standard.

Since then, there have been other cases. In one, a court ordered compensation be paid to a woman who fell four or five metres from a car because she was afraid it might hit her.

In 2009, a Nanjing man fell at a bus stop and reportedly yelled out to the bystanders, “I fell on my own, you all do not need to worry; it had nothing to do with you all.” Then, and only then, did someone offer to help him.

The problem is so widespread that China’s Health Ministry issued the 41-page document, “Technical Guidelines for Preventing and Treating Falls by the Elderly.” According to Chinese state media reports, the document had been in the works for a few years and includes detailing technical protocols for helping drowning victims and children involved in automobile crashes.

Quickly, it sparked a heated debate on the internet, becoming the second-most popular online trending topic. Some doubt its usefulness though. For instance, the guide suggests calling an elderly person’s relatives to take him or her to hospital. However, “if we can't get in touch with them, what can we do? Let them wait to die?” Shui Yinhe, a freelance journalist, tweeted on Sina Weibo.

For many, the guide is of little use because it can neither replace simple human decency in providing help nor prevent cheats from filing fraudulent lawsuits.

Others turned to black humour, suggesting that would-be rescuers should wait for the arrival of witnesses before helping an elderly person in need. Alternatively, they could take pictures with a mobile phone before intervening, never give their name or avoid using their own phone to make emergency calls.

All this points to a major break in China’s history. With deep roots in Confucianism, Chinese culture has always venerated parents and the elderly for as Analects 1.2 says, “It is honouring parents and the elderly that makes people human.” Indeed, “Isn't that the root of Humanity?” it asks.
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