Student Helps Old Lady and is Accused – China’s Bystander Problem

When an Anhui student was blamed for causing the fall of the elderly woman she helped, she decided to take matters into her own hands and look for eyewitnesses on Weibo. The case has now became a matter of online debate.

It has become somewhat of an urban Chinese legend: a passerby assists an old lady who has fallen down, and is then held liable for her injury. Stories like these often come up when people talk about China’s well-known    bystander problem. This week, a similar story became a hot topic on Sina Weibo, with the main question: did the old lady fall herself, or was she knocked down?

 

“Did the old lady fall herself, or was she knocked down?”

 

This week, a Weibo message became trending when a girl from Anhui searched for eyewitnesses of her helping an old lady, who then blamed her for her fall. The female student, named Xiao Yuan, was allegedly cycling near her university when an old lady fell down and broke her hip. After Xiao Yuan helped the lady, she was held responsible for her injury.

Family members of the injured woman claim that Xiao Yuan is liable. The university student not only go to the hospital with the woman, they tell Beijing Morning Post, she also apologized to her, and paid 2000 RMB (±310$) with her fellow student as an advance payment for medical costs. “If it was not her fault, then why would she do that?”, family members wonder.

 

“I did a good thing, why turn against me?”

 

Xiao Yuan maintains her innocence, and says on Weibo: “I did a good thing, why turn against me?” She claims she only assisted the woman in going to the hospital because her injury was quite serious, and she just wanted to help out. She paid money together with her classmate because the old woman did not have enough money with her, and the leg needed surgery.

Xiao Yuan’s Weibo post asking for eyewitnesses has been effective. An eyewitness came forward yesterday night, posting pictures of the incident and stating on Weibo that the lady was not knocked down. The witness had already seen that the old lady had some trouble walking before she fell down. When Xiao Yuan passed her on her bicycle, she fell on the ground for unknown reasons and then yelled after her. Xiao Yuan stepped off the bicycle to help her get up, and assisted her in getting to the hospital. The eyewitness states that there clearly was a distance between Xiao Yuan and the woman when they passed each other on the street.

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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 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.

The Anhui case has not been settled yet. Local police are currently investigating the matter. In the meantime, Xiao Yuan has become a Weibo celebrity overnight. “It has been three days since the incident,” she writes: “and I am still waiting for the police to answer me. People have been sending me private messages and journalists have been contacting me (..). I am just a student, and I need space to study. Why has this case not been settled yet? Can anybody tell me what to do?” In another post she says: “If I ever need to help an old lady again, I will make sure I videotape it.”

By Manya Koetse

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