Fear of extortion: Chinese become wary to help another in distress

BEIJING, China - On Christmas Eve, a post went viral on China’s social networking sites, and made a brief yet poignant point that summed up China in 2013:

Fear of extortion: Chinese become wary to help another in distress

BEIJING, China – On Christmas Eve, a post went viral on China’s social networking sites, and made a brief yet poignant point that summed up China in 2013:

“Santa is not coming this year: He fell down while carrying his bag of gifts, and is still lying on the ground because no one dares to help him up.”

Following the recent coverage of extortion cases in the news, many Chinese have become wary to help or trust another in distress. As a result, some parents even hesitate as to whether they should teach their children to lend a helping hand.

It seems there has been a loss of basic trust among the public, the kind that binds a society together. Is mutual mistrust so deep rooted in Chinese society that there is no turning back?

Extortion cases

June 15, Sichuan Province
An old fallen woman made three primary school students pay up after helping her up, accusing them of causing her accident in the first place.

The woman in her 70s was given a 7-day administrative detention by police, and her family of has been fined.

November 14, Guangdong Province
Two senior high school students in Shantou, Guangdong Province received an apology from the elderly man for “being a dotard” in demanding medical expenses for his injuries, when the two had actually came to his aid after seeing him fall.

Misjudged ‘extortion’

December 3, Beijing
A post on the Internet said a woman fell to the ground suddenly when a young foreigner rode a motorbike in Beijing. The text claimed the foreigner helped her up but she asked him to shoulder responsibility, and eventually got 1,800 yuan ($295) in “medical fees” to resolve the issue.

But the foreigner did not have a driving license and the motorbike lacked a plate. Police confiscated the bike.

Positive energy

December 19, Liaoning Province
A video of an old man being knocked down by an electric bicycle has gone viral thanks to his response: “Child, I’m fine, I have health insurance. You better hurry off to work.”

More related news
Tumbling Chinese granny fined for extorting young helpers
Nanjing Samaritan confessed to knocking down old lady: police
Tumbling Chinese granny fined for extorting young helpers

Questions Out of Fear

Help or not help?

An online poll from news portal sina.com.cn found that more than half of the 28,384 participants would be hesitant to help a fallen senior out of fear that he or she would be blamed for their injuries. Only 10 percent said that they would help without first considering the consequences.

Several students reached by the Global Times said they would offer help under similar circumstances. “We are taught to do so, but I see more nonchalance in adults. Perhaps they are afraid of being extorted afterwards,” Lin Yue, a senior high school student in Beijing.

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Jing Shi (pseudonym), mother of a 8-year-old son
“My son said he would not help elderly people, for fear that he would be extorted like the people on TV reports. Then I asked him what if they really needed help and would not do that to him, he said he would help in that case…but I myself have no idea how to judge their intentions.”

How to teach the kids?

Jing Shi (pseudonym) feels confused when it comes to educating her children. The mother from Shanghai wants her 8-year-old son to be kind and helpful, but she cannot put aside worries after multiple news reports on woe coming to good Samaritans.

Many parents told the Global Times that they would not encourage their children to help elderly people unless there are other witnesses around. They also agreed to teach children to make emergency calls if someone needs help.

An emergency physician surnamed Wang reminded people to think carefully about what they can do to help, and not move people suffering from heart attacks or spinal fractures.

“While we encourage people to help those in need, we should also teach them how to offer help to avoid causing more injuries,” said Wang.

What’s wrong?

Lack of mutual trust

The nation is in serious trouble, after years of unbalanced economic and moral development since the reform and opening-up policy began in 1978.

Lack of mutual trust is one contributor to this “abnormal” society when senior citizens think helpers are actually wrongdoers and passers-by fear of being extorted for helping the elderly.
— Tan Fang, a professor at South China Normal University in Guangdong Province

Lack of public service

Authorities must offer better protection to Samaritans by strengthening the legal system in order to encourage more good deeds in the society.
–Ran Naiyan, a research fellow with the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences

Abuse of public power is also a main contributor. Governments should improve their services to better cope with such problems.
–Zhi Zhenfeng, associate research fellow of Institute of Law with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Abnormal social values

“The logic in our society is also abnormal: It is only possible that people would offer help if they are responsible for it. But it actually makes no sense at all.”
— Tan Fang

People at some point must take responsibility for themselves. Only through hard work and awareness can we as a society regain our trust in one another.
–Zhi Zhenfeng

Lack of legal protection

Some local law enforcement officials failed to stick to the principle of asking the claimants to present the evidence. Instead, the accused are usually assumed to be guilty unless proven otherwise.
— Tan Fang

While there has been a general loss of mutual trust among Chinese, at the same time little progress has been made in providing proper legal channels to settle disputes. This lack of developed contract law and civil reform has contributed to widespread fear and mistrust.

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