Death by Indifference

Little Yueyue and China's crisis of conscience.

Little Yueyue in the hospital.

Nearly everyday when I take the subway I hear the same refrain, “‘Respect the old and cherish the young’ is a traditional Chinese virtue.” So how does one make sense of the news that a two-year-old child was run over twice and passed by no less than 17 people before she was helped?

“Girl Who Was Hit Ignored by Passersby” is currently the most talked-about topic on Weibo and there is even a dedicated page which encourages users who care to write a post using the tag #please stop indifference. A notice on the list of “hot topics” says, “Please stop indifference! Don’t let Little Yueyue’s tragedy be repeated.” But sadly, Yueyue’s story is itself a repeat. Last September, a man was arrested for running over a three-year-old repeatedly in his BMW. That little boy is dead.

Viewed in this way, it is unlikely that pledges to prevent this kind of thing from happening again will be fulfilled. The problem is not as simple as arresting and punishing the drivers of the two cars that ran her over. If Yueyue dies, she will not have died of a car accident—she will have died of indifference. Two separate people drove over her. Seventeen people walked past her prostrate body. Any of these people could have saved her life. All of these people had the power to do what was morally right, regardless of the consequences. And yet none of them, not a single person, decided to help this child.

According to a damning report in China Daily, the driver was talking on his phone when he hit the girl. What’s more, he made the argument that should be familiar to us all by now:

“If she is dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan ($3,125). But if she is injured, it may cost me hundreds of thousands yuan,” said the driver over the phone to the media, before he gave himself up to the police.

It’s not a stretch to say that Chinese society is broken. The social contract has eroded. Values and virtues exist largely in school books. No one thing or person is at fault. This breakdown is the result of a confluence of factors: a political party that has destroyed their people’s faith and culture and can only replace them with material wealth; a government that is largely indifferent to the plight of the people it ostensibly represents, a government that emphasizes economic development at the cost of all else; a society that worships money because money is the only thing that can buy you safety; a weak legal system that, in this and many other cases, incentivizes immoral behavior; and citizens who are too scared to do the right thing, citizens who are willing and eager to sell their dignity for stability.

If I may take a moment to speak directly to any Chinese citizens that might stumble upon these words:

I know you’re scared. I know you just want a stable life. I know you want to go to a good college and get a good job and find a good wife and have a healthy child. I know in this dog-eat-dog world there are plenty of workers but not enough jobs, plenty of mouths but not enough food, plenty of things but not enough money. So it’s easy to see your neighbor as your enemy. It’s easy to think of their gain as your loss. It’s easy to say, I’m just going to keep my head down and worry about myself, worry about my child, worry about my family, and everyone else is on their own.

But, if everyone thinks that way, will this still be a society that you would want to live in? Do you really want to live in a society full of enemies, a society where every day is a battle, a society where all the fables about right and wrong you learned as a child are just that?

One person’s pain is the entire society’s responsibility. One person’s suffering is the entire society’s sorrow. Everyone is implicated in this tragedy, from the very bottom to the very top. If you are too cowardly to ensure that society advances in a positive direction, then you will have no one to blame when it is your child in the middle of the street. This is your country. This is your society. Whether you like it or not. Whether you choose to be a part of it or not.

Do not be indifferent. Do not let innocent children pay for your indifference. Do not close your eyes. The monsters will still be there when you open them.

UPDATE: Little Yueyue has passed away.