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China’s ‘Bystander Problem’ and one Neglected Hero

When a naked girl plunged into a river in Nanjing on January 12, one young man did not hesitate to jump after her into the cold water. His action was noticeable in a time when China’s ‘bystander problem’ is a recurring issue.

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Trending on Sina Weibo this week was the story of a young woman in Nanjing and the man who saved her.

When a naked girl plunged into a river in Nanjing on January 12, one young man did not hesitate to jump into the cold water after her. After rescuing the girl, whom the police later stated was dealing with mentally issues, the young man had to climb back to the shore by himself as the crowd of bystanders only paid attention to the girl. Most Sina Weibo users commenting on the story expressed their admiration for Nanjing’s ‘neglected hero’.

leapThe naked girl before her jump in the water (Photo: Sina Weibo)

leap2The man who saved the girl from drowning climbs back onto the shore. (Photo: Sina Weibo)

This is not the first time a Good Samaritan gets into trouble in China. There are many stories of people who are disadvantaged for helping others in need. A well-known circulating story is that of Peng Yu who helped an old lady get up after a fall, and was later held accountable for causing it. Peng Yu was sued and had to pay a large sum of money for the woman’s medical costs. Another high profile case is that of Hugjilu. One night in Hohhot in 1996, Hugjilu heard a woman screaming and rushed out to help her, only to to find her dead body. He called the police, who suspected him and forced him into confession. The 18-year-old Hugjiltu was convicted of rape and murder, and was executed three months later. Authorities only recently admitted it was a miscarriage of justice, after finding the actual murderer of the woman.

It is stories such as these that can partly explain China’s so-called ‘bystanders problem‘, where many people will do nothing when someone is in need of help. A notorious 2013 case is that of a 26-year-old Beijing woman who got her head stuck between railings next to a road. Although there were many people passing by and taking pictures, it took thirty minutes to call the police. The woman was later pronounced brain dead in the hospital. In 2011, security cameras recorded how a two-year-old girl in Foshan was struck by a van. As she lay in the road, 18 people passed by without helping. The girl was killed when a second car hit her. The story became international news.

There are other theories that explain people’s unwillingness to help those in peril. One version is the Chinese concept of “mind your own business”, “shaoguanxianshi” (少管闲事), where people are accustomed to remain uninvolved when it does not concern them.

Although there have been many news stories on the ‘bystanders problem’, the issue is not unique to to China. The ‘bystander effect‘ is a worldwide phenomenon where people will not help a victim in need when other people are present. It is a social psychological matter; the more people that witness a person in peril, the less the changes are that one of them intervenes. In other words: one is more likely to help out in an emergency situation when one is alone, than when there are ten people standing by.

The Nanjing hero, who remains anonymous, did not suffer from the ‘bystander problem’. Weibo netizens praise his courage. Although it might be safer and easier to stand by, he took the leap into the icy water. In doing so, he saved a girl’s life. This time, a story that could have ended up amongst those reflecting the bystander-problem was concluded with wet clothes and a happy ending.

– by Wei Jia and Manya Koetse

[box]This is Weiblog: the What’s on Weibo short-blog section. Brief daily updates on our blog and what is currently trending on China’s biggest social medium, Sina Weibo.[/box]

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

‘Hard Isolation’ is Shanghai’s New Word of the Day

In line with a new ‘hard isolation’ measure, the entrances of some Shanghai residential buildings were fenced up.

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While some Shanghai households have already endured weeks of isolation, a new word was added to their epidemic vocabulary today: ‘hard isolation’ or ‘strong quarantine’ (yìng gélí 硬隔离)

The word popped up on Chinese social media on April 23rd after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out.

“New word: hard isolation. Shanghai is rotten to the core,” one commenter wrote.

The word soon turned into a hashtag page where people started commenting on the issue of fences being placed around residential buildings, voicing concerns on what a fence around buildings would mean for fire safety, especially after online rumors suggested that there had been a fire at one community in Pudong on Saturday night.

An official document regarding the ‘hard isolation’ measure was also shared online on Saturday. It is dated April 23, 2022, and its source is the Pudong New Area Office for Epidemic Control.

The document states that in line with the guidelines for the city’s epidemic prevention and control, the division between areas or zones that are in certain risk categories should be ‘optimized,’ with those in the high-risk category requiring a ‘hard isolation.’ Security guards should also be on duty 24 hours a day at the entrance of the buildings.

Earlier this month, Shanghai adopted “3-level control measures” after its initial phased lockdown. It means that local areas will be classified as “locked-down,” “controlled” or “precautionary,” based on their Covid19 risk.

“Could we also put fences around the homes of Shanghai leaders?”, one person suggested, while others posted images from the Walking Dead to mock the situation.

In the hope of Shanghai soon tackling the Covid situation, not everybody disagreed with the decision to fence some buildings or communities in the Pudong area: “I don’t disagree with it, as long as there is always someone there to open the fence in case of fire,” one person stated.

Although having a fence around their building is currently not a reality for most in Shanghai, the online photos of some communities seeing their buildings being fenced up is a reason to worry for some: “It’s been 40 days, and now they start hard isolation? This actually scares me. Before we know it, it’s June.”

One Weibo user asked: “Why is it possible to implement this hard isolation now? Was this created by the same persons who also implemented the rule to separate children from parents at isolation sites?”

“I truly can’t imagine why some people thought this is a good idea,” others wrote.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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