The idea of helping out a pregnant woman—for example, by giving up a seat on the bus or train—is ingrained in both Western and Chinese culture as the right thing to do.
It was disrupted recently in China, however, after a 17-year-old girl, after helping a pregnant woman on the street, was drugged, raped, killed, stuffed in a suitcase, and dumped in the woods, in the northern province of Heilongjiang.
The Internet in China responded with shock and outrage, and spread the story widely. The case is being added to a numbing list of such incidents, all of which contribute to the reluctance of Chinese people to help and trust one another.
A poll on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posed the question: “Would you help a pregnant woman cross the street?” Of the 1,054 votes, 86.7 percent said, “No, I’m afraid of being tricked.” Less than 20 percent voted for, “Yes, I will still do it since most people are inherently good.”
“What this incident took away wasn’t just a young girl’s life, but taking away all the compassion in this world,” a Shanxi netizen wrote after seeing the result.
The incident took place on July 24 after a pregnant woman, surnamed Tan, pretended to fall ill in the street. After luring her home she gave the girl, named Hu Yixuan, a yogurt with crushed sleeping pills inside. After the drugs took effect the husband sexually assaulted Hu, before the couple suffocated her with a quilt and buried her a few miles away from their county, where police found her on Sunday.
More than 160 websites linked to the original report from Heilongjiang Morning News, a local state-run paper, and netizens have made over 364,000 posts tagged with the victim’s name.
This isn’t the first time China has seen people exploiting the kindness of others. In 2007, a young Nanjing man, Peng Yu, was fined $6,000 for the medical bill of a woman he had aided.
In 2012, a man, Yi Jianbin, helped a woman injured in a traffic accident, only to have her relatives blame him and demand compensation. After Yi sued the family and won, he asked: “From now on, should I help people or am I better off just ignoring them?”
Like Yi, many Chinese people have grown reluctant to come to the aid of strangers. One of the most famous cases was of a two-year-old girl who died of blood loss in 2011 after being hit by a van. 18 people had walked by without helping her.
Mark Mackinnon, the Beijing bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, said that Chinese people are sympathetic to those in need but “the legal system here is unpredictable and unfair to those without money and political connections. Getting involved can often get you into trouble.”
Over 1,000 people from Huanan County went to her memorial on Wednesday, according to the local report. Several people held up banners that said, “Little angel, have a pleasant and safe journey,” and lit candles for her. Others wrote blessings on paper lanterns that were released to float into the sky.
Hu Yixuan, the teenage victim, was described by friends as outgoing and cheerful and interested in fashion and beauty. She interned at the county hospital as a nurse.
On her QQ, a Chinese instant messaging service, Hu’s last posts show a young person of some self-reflection. “My bad temper has driven away so many people, but those who stay are genuine friends” she wrote. “Being good company is the best show of love.”
“This girl was so kind-hearted. It was tragic that something like that happened to her. After I read her story in the paper, I felt extremely angry,” a local, surnamed Xu, told Heilongjiang Morning News.
Another local, a female surnamed Liu, near tears, told the paper, “We’re here to say goodbye to the girl and hope her soul can rest peacefully in heaven.”
A female netizen from Shandong Province wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, “The victim was such a beautiful girl. You can’t even do a good deed anymore without being exploited. What’s wrong with people?”
Translation by Billy Xu and Frank Fang. Research by Ariel Tian.