What the Chinese do when an old person falls down
An elderly woman exercises at an outdoor mini-gym, one of many physical fitness stations that are found in residential neighborhoods across Beijing, on November 22, 2010. (Getty Images)
September 8th, 2011
08:31 AM ET

What the Chinese do when an old person falls down

By Hannah Beech, TIME

China's bureaucracy has a lot to handle these days: rooting out corruption, facilitating global trade, censoring independent thoughts online that might “endanger state security.” But on Sept. 6 the Chinese Health Ministry issued a 41-page set of guidelines that was two years in the making. The topic? Technical Guidelines on Intervention When an Old Person Has Fallen Down.

So what's a witness to a fallen elderly citizen in China to do? Lots of basic medical advice is contained in the guide, which is available for download and cautions that falls are the main cause of death among Chinese 65 and older: check for head injuries, perform CPR if needed, clear airways But the Health Ministry's handbook also admonishes bystanders “not to help them up in a hurry, but to observe and inquire about their health conditions first and then act accordingly.”

For anyone who has witnessed the disregard of crowds in China, the advice borders on comical. Chinese accidents and other public mishaps often garner lavish gawking but helpful intervention isn't as common. Last Sunday morning, an 88-year-old resident of the central Chinese city of Wuhan slipped near a vegetable market and landed face down on the street. Roughly 90 minutes elapsed and a vigorous crowd formed around him. But no one bothered to actually help the elderly man, reported the Xinhua state news service. An autopsy found he had died from suffocating on a nosebleed—a preventable death, one presumes, if anyone had investigated.

A lot has been written about why helping hands can be uncommon in China. Some people blame the corrosive effects of a flawed communist ideology. But there also may be a legal impediment to Good Samaritan instincts, according to local media. “The government should focus on re-establishing social trust as the top priority after a series of cases across the country where people trying to help were instead wrongly accused of causing the accident,” wrote the Shanghai Daily. “Some old people even tried to sue people who rushed to their aid.” The Shanghai Daily was referring to a notorious case in the eastern city of “Nanjing in 2006, [when] Peng Yu helped an old woman up after she fell near a bus stop, but she then accused Peng of pushing her down. A court ruled in her favor and Peng was ordered to pay 40,000 yuan (US$6,255) compensation.” (The case was later settled, but Peng was still liable for a portion of the legal fees.) A poll by the People's Daily, the state mouthpiece, found that nearly 90% of 2,425 people surveyed online would refuse to help an elderly person who had fallen down, lest they land in legal hot water.

Read more at TIME's Global Spin blog.

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Topics: China • Demographics • Odd

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    I can imagine the same scenario in London, New York, Hongkong and other mega cities. It comes as no surprise that there's a lack of civil courage and the Good Samaritan spirit. People nowadays have no time and they are afraid of being trapped.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
    • lespinal

      Bullcrap. I've never seen anything like that (masses of un-helping, gawking masses around the sight of an accident) in cities, small and large in the US and in other countries. This is a pretty unique phenomenon in China. I won't play armchair sociologist and put theories as of why (as that is a sure way to make negative generalizations.)

      But I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is patently false that such a thing is also common behavior in most other countries (be them developed or developing).

      September 25, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply
      • Yvonne

        Not unique to China. For first hand experience, do come visit Incredible India.

        September 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
      • Joanna

        In the US it is more common to find good samaritans because they are unlikely to be sued even if by helping they make things worse. There are a series of good samaritans laws passed to protect those helpful people, therefor the population has not been conditioned yet to keep walking by if someone is hurt so they don't get sued and lose all their money and house.

        October 5, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • Danny B

      Being a New Yorker I can assure you when someone gets hurt or is in trouble people rush to their aid
      Be it first aid to a fallen elderly person or jumping into the subway line to save a jumper/ some who accidently fell

      October 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Reply
      • david

        about three years ago, my mother in-law who is in her 70's accidentally fell off the NY subway platform onto the tracks. A good samaritan jumped down to the tracks and rescued her saving her life. Thank god that there are still good people out there who care for others!

        October 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Anita

      Now you know what the chinese put in dim sum! Old people. Wish we were allowed to do that in the US. Give em AARP and they act like nazis!

      October 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
    • labunga

      I think many Americans are completely oblivious to what happened/happens in the US.
      There was a case in New York where a knife wielding murderer chased a victim in an ally stabbing him multiple times to death, while the victim kept on running around (bleeding) and screaming for help. Dozens of people merely watched this scene from the window but nobody called the police.
      I'm not an expert, but I read about this case in a psychology book. It stated that as the size of the crowd increases, each individual's sense of responsibility decreases, and thus creating a scenario where nobody takes responsibility.
      They did various tests on this theory as well and every time it proved correct. When an actor pretended to have a heart attack in the middle of NYC, nobody came to help him.
      The book also suggests that if you DO need help in a metropolis, point out a specific person to help.
      Ex: "Hey you! CALL 911 PLEASE" That person WILL help according to countless experiments.
      Anyway, point being, yes, the case in the news happens in most situations where there are crowds of people.

      October 5, 2011 at 10:56 am | Reply
      • Earnan

        Kitty Genovese was murdered back in 1964. If this was such a common occurence, don't you think you could find an example from, oh, maybe the last 46 years?

        October 7, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  2. Sandy

    We are meant to help people. This is a God Given command. Others are first so lets pick them up no matter where they are. Thats the Christian way.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • Palito

      "Christians" who stop building Christian church demand the Muslins to stop building mosques..................Christian light of the is dimmer and dimmer, Christian salt is tasteless.....Americans and Chinese are actually twin brothers without Christ.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply
      • Scott Key

        Palito, what on earth are you talking about? What you've written makes no sense. Better check with your English teacher again before you repost your gibberish.

        September 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Viktor- Troll Destoyer

      I thought the Christian way was to hate gays and proclaim that everybody else is going to hell, then going to bed with lollypop fantasy dreams about the afterlife?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
      • Spamboil

        I thought I pharted, but I sharted.

        October 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Sandy

      Very true!!!!

      September 30, 2011 at 4:02 am | Reply
  3. That'snotTrue:[

    Ummm....I've heard of a case where a woman was stabbed at mutiple times in new york...and everyone just went on their business, it was during the day. So this isn't as bad....at least in China the elders are respected, in America, its the retirement home. Author, you're picking out few incidents out of millions, stop the fear mongering.... if its negative fine...but just a rant with few facts and figures...that leave a lot to be questioned.

    September 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • Test

      The case you're probably referring to is the kitty genovese case. It happened at night. It was a tragic story, but it turns out it was quite sensationalized and that the original newspaper articles about it were severely factually inaccurate. Check your facts before you talk.

      September 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  4. Bill

    I spent 8 months in China last year. Chinese people are just people folks. They have the same strengths and weaknesses that people everywhere have. They have almost always lived under authoritarian rule, so their culture is to fear authority, and appeal to authority, to a much larger degree than American's do. That they would sue to get things they don't deserve, or refuse to get involved for fear of being sued should be no surprise.

    The Chinese that I got to know viewed their government much the same way that we view organized crime. It's distant, it's dangerous, its corrupt, and its difficult to predict what might get you in trouble if you come into contact with it, so best not to come into contact with it. Given that, I think the reaction described here is perfectly reasonable.

    September 24, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply
    • DoNotWorry

      About the same way most Americans feel about our government.

      September 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • stefanie

      seen it in Berlin. London. Paris. and Boston. but also seen people being helped up after slipping, chairs provided on the side-walk for folks that have slipped, esp. women with too many food store bags loading them down.
      it's the luck of the draw.
      In the UK I had a massive asthma attack, known as a total respiratory failure, a woman passing shouted you need a doctor, the next thing I awoke in hospital attached to machinery to keep me alive, CPU had been performed on me, and I was informed that I had , had a near death experience....OK ..now, this was four clear health years ago...but it shows there are the good guys out there...everywhere.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:02 am | Reply
  5. DoNotWorry

    Not to mention I lived in Mexico for 8 years and it is about the same way most Mexicans feel about their government.

    September 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  6. Dave

    This is not just unique to China, This is the case everywhere! It's a very studied subject in Social Science and it's called the "Bystander Effect" ....it has nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with people assuming somebody else is going to help, people feeling less responsible to help, And people assuming since nobody else is in the crowd is doing anything that help is simply not needed. This is the stupidest article I ever wasted my time on, Maybe you should move to Fox News?

    September 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
    • Dallas

      Funny how you thought it was so stupid you needed to write a paragraph in response. That makes you a bit of a joke! HAHA

      October 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  7. China Communism Fail

    They are too busy farming gold in World of Warcraft to spend any time helping one another out at all.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:29 am | Reply
  8. rob

    ill help and i don't care if they sue, im already debt ridden and don't give a damn. I will go to court just for a laugh

    September 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  9. jen

    when an old person falls down they might have broken a hip or leg or rib or even their neck or back. It is actually important not to help them up until you have assessed their injuries. If you move them you may injure them further. If there is immediate danger then you have to use your best judgement of what will do the least harm to the "old person". So maybe they should explain it further, but I don't think they are wrong, they are educating the public.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:05 am | Reply
    • Anita

      we should start tripping the old ones here and ease em out of social security so we have money for the rest of us. they been retired longer then they been working. soylent green anyone? lets turn andy rooney into dog chow.

      October 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  10. what really?

    I love how people defend it, if a person falls you can go up to them and ask them if they are ok, if they fall flat on their face and can't talk you can help them move on their side to make sure they can breathe, the big thing is asking them if they are ok, you don't even have to touch them to do that.

    I've never seen people just look at someone, I always see people rush to aid, I don't know where you guys are. Yes, I live in a big city

    October 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  11. Mike in Tennessee

    I guess no one in the US remembers late April of 2010, when a homeless guy tried to stop a mugger from assaulting a woman outside a hotel in Queens, NY? The guy was stabbed repeatedly by the mugger. The mugger and the woman ran off. The homeless guy who tried to help collapsed on the sidewalk. Over the next hour, he slowly bled to death on the street while a few dozen people walked by him. One even stopped to take pictures with his cell phone, but not a soul helped him. (Don't believe me? Google "Tale-Yax murder.")

    Before we throw stones at the Chinese, we need to take a good look at the glass house we all reside in here in the US.

    October 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  12. ArcaneD2

    The Bystander's Effect occurs worldwide (yes, even in the US) and is not unique to China. There are numerous examples to support this. There are times where the people in the area will help out, yes, but there are also times where they won't. In any case, it's also common for policemen, firefighters, and health professionals to ask if someone needs help before they act (unless a house is on fire, he person is unconscious, or something similar).

    A relative of mine who has been working in China for the past year or two also explained to me why some people don't help out, even if an older person fell down or got into an accident. Unlike in the US, where we have a Good Samaritan law, there have been instances in China where the old person you took the time and effort to help out decides to sue you. Now, you can say, "at least I did the right thing," but it's still very troublesome to be accused of causing the accident when you're the one who was helping out.

    You can disagree with the communist policies of the Chinese Government, but please don't keep saying Chinese people are bad, greedy, or selfish. It's almost the equivalent of others condemning US Americans because they don't like the policies of our own Government or president.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  13. Alexandra

    i'm pretty sure when i went to russia, and old man collapsed and people were just watching him.~ D:

    October 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
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