On Jan. 28, when a foreign man passed out and collapsed at a subway station in the Chinese capital, enthusiastic local passengers immediately flocked around to help him. A boy removed his jacket and draped it over the man to keep him warm while a young woman called for emergency care. A middle-aged lady applied her knowledge of Chinese medicine by massaging his acupuncture points. The state-run Economic Daily reported that emergency response staff had arrived within five minutes.
All the attentiveness caught the attention of Chinese. Last August, the contrast could not be greater when an elderly Chinese man lost balance and fell when riding a scooter in Zhengzhou, northern China. No one lifted a finger to help him, even though he lay in ankle-deep water. According to the state-run Henan Television Network, the man eventually died where he lay of “unknown causes.”
The apparent double standard that exists between treatment of foreigners and locals in China became a topic of heated discussion on Chinese social media.
People in China are often reluctant to help strangers, who they fear may be out to swindle or accuse them. As one Internet user wrote: “many Chinese are actually enthusiastic to help others. … people trusted that this foreigner was not a swindler trying to fleece them. Praiseworthy but sad!”
Another wrote: “why there is no one to help when the same thing happens to a Chinese? Because we can’t afford it! Our help will cost at best tens of thousands of yuan, hundreds of thousands at worst.”
In a famous case that happened in 2006 in Nanjing, eastern China, a young man helped up an elderly woman who had fallen and hurt her thighbone. When the woman, Xu Shoulan, accused him of knocking her down, the court ordered the man, Yu Peng, to pay 45,000 yuan (about $7,000) as compensation.
Despite not having sufficient evidence to prove that Yu had actually done anything wrong, the court rested the case on the grounds that “no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty.”
The second internet user’s comment continued: “every Chinese is eating the disastrous fruit planted by our own hands.”