Being a Good Samaritan gets easier with new law protecting those who help strangers

China has just introduced a new law which includes protection for those who help strangers  — ordinary citizens can now help those in need again, without fear of legal dramas.
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China has just introduced a new nationwide law which includes protections for those who help strangers, and it couldn’t have come sooner — ordinary citizens can now help those in dire need again, without fear of legal repercussions.

For those of you not familiar with them, they are pieces of legislation that protect members of the public from liability when they act, in good faith, to help those they believe to be in danger or injured.

Good Chinese people have been afraid to step forward and help after accidents, falls and so on since 2006, when a Good Samaritan case became huge news across the country.

A man, Peng Yu, came across an old woman, Xu Shoulan, who had fallen over after getting off a bus in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. He helped her up, accompanied her to the hospital and even offered to pay 200 yuan (US$30) toward her hospital checkup. The old lady soon received bad news — she would need to undergo surgery to replace her femur.

Xu, shockingly, then accused the man who helped her as being the cause of her injury and demanded he cover the full cost. When he refused, she sued him and won.

This case seemed to mark a tipping point, and from then on, good people became reluctant to step up and help strangers in need. Many “famous” cases followed, which highlighted the terrible effects of the Peng Yu case all too clearly.

Who can forget 2-year-old Wang Yue, who was run over in Guangdong Province in 2011 — 18 people walked past the girl as she lay bleeding on the ground before anyone helped her. She later died of her injuries.

My first run-in with the effects of the Peng Yu case happened on my first trip to China in 2010. I was walking with a friend in Guangzhou when I noticed an old lady lying unconscious on the street. It felt very strange, because no one was helping her. 

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Passers-by help an old lady up after she falls down on the street in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province.

“Is this normal?” I asked myself 50 times as I walked past and, too, did nothing. But something told me to go back and take another look, which was when I noticed that her teeth were smashed out from her fall and her face was covered in blood. It’s then that I woke her up and sat with her, giving her a tissue to wrap her broken teeth in.

Shockingly, most people just stood around in a circle and took photos. Some came forward when I yelled out for water to clean the lady’s face, and when I tried to get someone to find a seat for her.

At that time I didn’t speak any Chinese — I could only use my hands to gesture for someone to call an ambulance, which someone seemed to have done since one soon arrived and took the old lady away.

When I first moved to China to study, that incident was always something I would bring up, and something I would always enquire about. And the feedback I got was always the same: People were afraid of being framed after stepping up to help.

They were also afraid of a related phenomenon called pengci (literally “banged porcelain”) — a word to describe people who purposefully injure themselves or crash their cars with the aim of extorting money from hapless passers-by who come to help.

That is why I’m so, so happy that the government have enacted a new law which protects Good Samaritans from legal issues when they help those who need help. If anything, I hope that it gives people the confidence to do what is right, without thinking twice.

Chinese people are some of the nicest, most caring, most welcoming people, and I know the effects of the Peng Yu case being wiped from relevance will please a lot of people.

We should help those who are vulnerable and help those who are hurt. This new law can make sure we do that unhindered.


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