The Cost of a Human Life in China

January 11, 2006 Updated: January 11, 2006

How much is a person's life worth in China? In many cases, the value of a person's life is determined by bureaucratic guidelines.

According to the Temporary Compensation Regulation for Passenger Body Damage during Domestic Air Travel in China, the highest compensation for a passenger who loses his life during a trip is 70,000 yuan (US$8,485). If you lose your life on a train in China, the highest compensation you will receive according to the Compensation Regulation for Passenger Damage during Railroad Travel is 40,000 yuan (US$4,848).

What is the maximum compensation for a traffic accident? In Jian city, Tonghua, Jilin province, Mr. Ding ran into a dog while riding his motorcycle. The dog was owned by Mr.Yu. Both Ding and the dog died in the accident. After three public trials, the Jian City People's Court decided that Yu had to be responsible for 30% of the financial loss that the Ding family suffered. The amount due was 19,000 yuan (US$2,303). But the Ding family had to cover 70% of the value of Yu's dog, around 14,000 yuan (US$1,696). Under the current system in China, a person's life is valued at 19,000 yuan. This is only slightly more than the value set on a dog's life.

For traffic accidents, there's a baseline for calculating the value of a person's life. According to the Road Traffic Accident Processing Guide (published and implemented by the State Council in 1992), the recovery compensation for a victim's death is based on the yearly average living expenses in the area where the traffic accident occurs, the total amount not to exceed ten years of living expenses. The average monthly living expense in Changchun is 430 yuan (US$52) per month. Ten years of living expenses adds up to an estimated 50,000 yuan (US$6,060).

On July 1, 2002, senior technician Lu Yaohua of Changchun University of Sciences and Technology was struck by a small bus while on his way home. His family asked for nearly 250,000 yuan (US$30,303) in compensation. The other side agreed to pay the victim's family only 78,000 yuan (US$9,454). Lu Yaohua's 78,000 yuan compensation was calculated based on the above guideline.

How much should an injured party receive in compensation for malpractice? On March 26, 2004, the Shanghai Legal News reported that Mr. Zhang's son died in an accident related to malpractice. A court ordered the hospital to pay 30,000 yuan (US$3,636). In the same city, a pedigreed dog also died in a malpractice accident at an animal hospital. The court's decision required 50,000 yuan (US$6,060) as compensation for the dog's value.

The following is an example of accident compensation in Chongqing, China, in 2003. On December 23, in the severe gas explosion incident at the Chuandong Oil Drilling & Exploration Company, the households of 190 victims received compensation for recovery. The total amount was 30 million yuan (US$3.64 million). One person named Tang Chunwu received 300,000 yuan (US$36,364) because both of her parents and her son died in the incident. Each individual's life was assessed at 100,000 yuan (US$12,121).

What about injury on the job? On September 3, 2000, at the Three Gorges dam construction site, the No. 3 tower belt machine suddenly broke. Three people were killed, and 31 were injured. The three victims' families received 80,000 to 100,000 yuan (approximately US$ 9,696 to 12,121) in compensation.

Based on the living expenses that would be accrued living in a city, a farmer's life was worth 14,000 yuan (US$1,696), and a city resident's life was worth 54,750 yuan (US$6,636)