Last March, a Chinese high school student helped an old woman to her feet, only for her to accuse him of knocking her over. Now, he faces a $23,000 fine.
That day, the student, who is going by the name of Zhou Yang, says that he was with a group of students from other schools when he heard yells from nearby.
“I raised my head and saw an old lady wearing traditional ethnic clothing who had fallen to the ground. I was shocked and rushed to help her without a second thought,” the student wrote in a Jan. 29 blog post detailing the incident.
But when she had stood up, the tottering lady suddenly claimed that she had difficulty walking and that Zhou had run into her and caused her fall. She later gathered her relatives and they went to his school to complain.
Eleven months later, the authorities decided in favor of her version of the story. A local court in China’s impoverished southwestern province of Guizhou has demanded that the boy pay a fine of 150,000 yuan, or roughly $23,000.
Zhou, who lives in the city of Anshun, says he “broke into a cold sweat” when he saw the court summons. He wrote his post on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, and hopes to find witnesses to back him up.
“The students on the scene went to different high schools,” Zhou wrote. “Those who helped the old lady up and called the police…I don’t even know their names. I hope to find the witnesses who were on the overpass that day and have the truth be told.”
Zhou’s family told local Guizhou media that they had sought legal help to resolve the case.
In January, the People’s Court of Anshun posted on its official social media account that they are aware of Zhou’s blog post and that he will stand a fair trial.
Swindlers in Chinese are notorious for their outrageous methods of making money. The Catch-22 of whether or not to help those who appear in need has become a social trope of sorts.
Internet users responding to the incident lamented the dearth of trust in public spaces.
“One time, my mom had a sprain and couldn’t stand up,” one comment reads. “No one helped her. In the end my mom asked a pedestrian to give her a hand, the latter replied just get up by yourself. It took her over ten minutes to stand up. I feel sorry for my mom and feel powerless in this society.”
“It’s not that Chinese don’t have sympathy,” another said, “but we’ve been cheated before and have become numb. I remember I used to give coins to every beggar I saw, but when you do that many beggars come to you in particular for your money, so I never did it again. If the law does not punish them, there’s nothing we can do even if we are kindhearted.”