Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Hole in Xi'an: Understanding People's Willingness to Help Accident Victims in China

In "People Not Helping Accident Victims in China" I considered the tragedy of a little girl in Foshan, Guandong province who was hit by a truck and then ignored by numerous people. This single incident was particularly notable not just because of its graphic nature as seen on a video. There were reasons to believe it was indicative of significant issues specific to mainland China, although people differed on the nature of those issues.

The lack of response by many passersby to the injured girl in Foshan brought to my mind a far less dramatic incident I had seen in Taipei: people quickly assisting a woman whose leg was stuck in a hole created by a collapsed sidewalk. I mentioned it in the post because it provided a contrast and occurred in a culture outside of mainland China. But I would not (and did not) claim that the cultures in Foshan and Taipei could fully (or at all) explain the different reactions of passersby in these two specific incidents. Other factors could have been at play--for example, the type of accidents and the immediate environments in which they occurred.

It could be that neither of these incidents are truly representative. For example, I am not aware of any formal psychology studies or analyses of a large number of accidents which strongly indicate people in mainland China are less likely to help accident victims. As I mentioned in the earlier post, there are incidents of people ignoring accident victims in places other than mainland China, including the U.S. But as also mentioned in the above linked posts, there are reasons to believe that mainland China does significantly differ in how people react to accidents.

In light of this complicated issue, I think it is valuable to consider a recent incident that happens to be more similar to what I saw in Taipei. In Xi'an, Shaanxi province a portion of another sidewalk collapsed. But this time the resulting hole was larger and swallowed an entire teenage girl who fortunately survived relatively unharmed. The dramatic moment was caught on video:

In contrast to the incident in Foshan, but similar to the incident in Taipei, people quickly provided help.

So what does this mean?

There are two things I feel confident to say.

One, it highlights that the conditions under which people are likely or not likely to help accident victims appear to be varied and complex. Numerous possible explanations exist just for the different behaviors seen in the Foshan and Xi'an incidents. For example, there is a large amount of diversity between different regions in China, and the willingness of people in Foshan to help accident victims may differ from Xi'an. Or people may be less worried about being blamed for someone falling into a newly created hole than for other types of accidents. Or witnessing the accident may increase the chance of people involving themselves. Other explanations are also possible and they all lead to further questions. Although at the moment there is no clear answer to which explanation(s) is correct, there is plenty of reason to believe a variety of factors need to be considered in order to explain why a person did or did not help an accident victim.

Two, the example in Xi'an further highlights that even if mainland Chinese are more likely to not help an accident victim, it would not be appropriate to assume the actions of any individual. The Foshan incident itself also includes a person who eventually saw and provided help to the little girl. If it were a fact that 70% of Americans and 40% of mainland Chinese would help an accident victim, the difference may be indicative of a negative condition in China. But it would be ridiculous to say to an individual, "I know you probably won't help an accident victim since you are from mainland China," when over 500 million would indeed help. In reality, these percentages are unknown. But the available evidence does not suggest that the blanket statement "mainland Chinese do not help accident victims" is justified.*

The incidents in Foshan, Taipei, and Xi'an are all striking in their own ways. They are single examples but together with others they suggest possible avenues of exploration to better understand the willingness of people to help accident victims. They also suggest that applying such an understanding appropriately requires thoughtful consideration.

*As a point of comparison, I do believe it is reasonable to say "mainland Chinese use chopsticks" or "mainland Chinese do not want to blow up the world". The likely proportions of people covered by the claims seem high enough (even though they may not be 100%) to make the statements reasonable for most typical purposes.

1 comment:

  1. This kind of thing is hard to quantify. Regionally in the U.S. as well, I see differences in people wanting to 'help' in any number of ways (not just accidents). I think if an area is a bit more 'guarded' in general due to fear, disinterest, in a hurry etc. they obviously will take less interest in outsiders having trouble. If the region is a bit more relaxed, friendly etc., they probably take more of an active interest in trying to help. Obviously there are individuals who will act regardless in any segment of society. W.C.C.