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At around 5:30 p.m. on October 13th, 2011, a two-year-old toddler girl Wang Yue was hit by a passing van in a hardware market in Foshan, Guangdong province of China. As shown in the closed circuit TV camera footage, the driver stopped momentarily before driving away. The toddler was left on the road without any assistance from bypassing pedestrians and as a result, she was hit by another van minutes later. Only after the second hit, a scavenger noticed the baby laying on the road and picked her up to call for help. Yue was then transferred to a military hospital in neighboring Guangzhou, the provincial capital, where she later died on October 21st.
News Media Coverage
The incident was recorded on a nearby surveillance camera. The footage was obtained by China’s state media and aired on the same day, which was then uploaded onto the video-sharing site Youku. The news report was also broadcast on TV and published on the official news site Xinhua and Sina, as well as English-language news sites like China Daily and People’s Daily.
The Chinese media tracked down some of the pedestrians identified in the video and asked them why, to which some responded they were hesitant to help due to concerns of widespread litigation scams.
October 13th: Online Reaction
Almost immediately following the broadcast, millions of Chinese netizens reacted to the news and the closed circuit TV camera video with commentaries on microblogging service Weibo and web portal NetEase, mostly criticisms aimed at the pedestrians’ display of lack of compassion for the child. In the first 24 hours of upload, 4 million response comments were posted on the Chinese microblogging service Weibo, igniting a lengthy and somber debate in the media and online forums about the alarming level of indifference among Chinese citizens and the national moral crisis.
The surveillance video uploaded onto Youku has been viewed 2.8 million times in its first week and there are several reuploaded versions on YouTube that have accumulated over a million views in total.
October 14th: The West Lake Incident
The next day on October 14th, a news story about a Western tourist rescuing a suicidal woman who jumped into the West Lake in Zhejiang province spread on the web. According to Shanghai Daily, local media reported that the rescuer is an American woman in her 30s, but she did not leave any name or contact information.
Many readers praised the tourist’s heroism while others compared the story with the marketplace tragedy in Foshan, intensifying online discussions as to why a foreigner would intervene to help a local in danger before any Chinese would.
October 19th: Nanjing Judge Case
As the conversations in the media and forums continued, journalists and bloggers began looking for answers as to why so many passersby failed to lend a hand for Yue. Bloggers and netizens began citing an infamous 2006 court verdict in Nanjing as the fault, which penalized a young man named Peng Yu after he tried to help a fallen elderly woman on the streets; the judge of the case ruled that “common sense” suggested that Peng only took to the woman to the hospital because he was guilty.
In September 2011, the Ministry of Health reiterated the same principle by issuing a Good Samaritans’ guidelines that advises one to take precaution when helping the elderly. As Chinese internet users continued to discuss the impact of the 2006 ruling, “Nanjing Judge” became a trending topic on Weibo with many of them containing satirical commentaries on the Good Samaritans’ guidelines.
October 19th: Chen Xianmei
Meanwhile, Internet users praised Chen Xianmei, the elderly woman who helped Yue, as a hero and local government offices sent gifts and letters.
On October 19th, 2011, western news outlets like ABC News and English-language blogs like The Shanghaiist reported that Chen Xianmei, the scrap peddler who was the first person to come to the toddler’s rescue, was being harassed by locals claiming she only rescued the child in order to become famous.
“A lot of people are now saying that I’m doing it to get famous, and to get money. Even my neighbours are now saying so!” she said. “That really wasn’t my intention, and I’m so afraid of hearing what people are saying that I don’t dare to watch the news. I’m not out for fame or money.”
The following day, The Diplomat reported that she was forced to flee her home after her neighbors began harassing her.
The toddler’s mother, who identified herself as Qu, rejected the rumors that Xianmei helped her child out for the fame, according to an interview with China Daily.
“[Xianmei] is really kind, not the type of person who enjoys publicity,” Qu told China Daily. “I don’t have enough words to thank her with.”
October 21st: Yue Passes Away
On October 21st, Wang Yue passed away despite the efforts of intense medical care at the Guangzhou Military District General Hospital. The hospital’s director Su Lei explained that “her injuries were too severe and the treatment had no effect.” Messages of condolences and calls for self-improvement continued to flood in on Weibo, spawning over 10 millions of posts along with the hashtag campaign “Please end the cold-heartedness."
Shortly after Wang Yue’s death, messages purported as personal responses from Wang Yue’s parents began to circulate on Weibo, which was reblogged over 22,000 times:
To all the kindhearted friends in the world, I am Yueyue’s dad. Thank you all for your attention, I bow to all of you. Yueyue’s medical condition was announced earlier today at a news conference at the military hospital. Yueyue is still in critical condition and is still under intensive care. Thank you all for your attention once again. I bow to you. Wang Chichang.
However, the tweets were revealed to be false rumors when Yue’s parents posted a message confirming that Weibo account @小悦悦妈妈 (“Yueyue’s mother”) was not a verified channel.
October 23rd: Drivers Arrested
Two days following YueYue’s death, Foshan police authorities told local media that they have arrested the two drivers responsible for the double hit-and-run at the marketplace that resulted in the girl’s death.
Backing Up Campaign
Along with the online spread of “Please end the cold-heartedness” (请停止冷漠) campaign on Weibo, YueYue’s death sparked yet another hashtag campaign on the popular Chinese microblogging service called “backing up” (腰撑体), according to the English-language blog Shanghaiist in post titled “Yueyue inspires a Good Samaritan online meme.”
The Good Samaritan campaign began when Dong Fan, a professor at Beijing Normal University, posted a message on Weibo with a quote by the Vice President of Peking University Wu Zhipan, who apparently pledged to provide free legal support to anyone who is involved in disputes for helping strangers who have fallen on campus.
“The Vice President of Peking University says: If you are a student of Peking University and you see an old man who has fallen on the ground, just help him up. If he later attempts to cheat your money, the law school will offer you legal assistance. And if you lose your suit, PKU will offer you compensation!”
Shanghaiist also posted several translations of derivative messages that followed suit on Weibo after Dong Fan’s tweet:
“If you are a student of Beijing Institute of Technology and see an old man who has fallen on the ground, just help him stand up. If he attempts to cheat your money, dynamite majors will offer you explosives, vehicle construction majors will offer you tanks, aircraft majors will offer you J-20, and missile majors will offer you missiles. If he is still not killed, our computer science majors will offer you hackers to invade his computer and format his disc! If that doesn’t help still, I have a relative who is a chengguan, he will visit the swindler!”
“If you are a student of China University of Political Science and Law and see an old man who has fallen on the ground, just help him stand up. If he attempts to cheat your money, our alumni will amend the Constitution right now and will have the final word on whether you should compensate or not!”
Washington Post – An injured toddler is ignored, and Chinese ask why
The Globe and Mail – Chinese-Canadians grieve for run-over toddler, question media frenzy
The Telegraph – Chinese toddler run over twice after being left on street