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Has China lost its soul?

October 31, 2011

After the footage was aired on Chinese and international news channels, the entire grim episode has triggered an intense outpouring of outrage and angst over what many see as the wholesale collapse of ethical and moral standards in fast-changing China.

The minivan driver who knocked Wang down, and then ran over her deliberately, has since surrendered to the police, but offered a curious explanation for his action. He said he had been talking on his mobile phone when he hit the girl, but decided to run her over because it would have cost him less to pay off a dead girl’s parents than to pay for her hospital expenses.

“If she had died, I would have been required to pay only about 20,000 yuan (about Rs 1.5 lakh) in compensation, but if she were injured, it would cost me hundreds of thousands of yuan in hospital expenses,” he said.

The fact that passersby did not help Wang has led many commentators in China to wonder if Chinese citizens were particularly afflicted by the “bystander effect” – a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals don’t offer help to victims even in emergency situations.

This is from an article on the tragedy of the little two-year-old girl who was run over in China. I would really be interested to know just how much Chinese law, Chinese culture, and the bystander effect played in this situation. The article also discusses something called the “diffusion of responsibility” which is an interesting dynamic. Basically stated “the more people who are available, the less responsibility each individual seems to take for providing help to an individual in distress.”

Neither the bystander effect nor the diffusion of responsibility are problems specific to China. Sadly, they are endemic of all human society and we need to be aware of how these two things affect us.

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