Life is cheap

Court awards foreigners more

Life is cheap

Equal plots, but not an equal payout

It’s said that all lives have equal value. Not in Hunan province, where the life of a foreigner comes in at 2.5 times that of a local.

According to the China Youth Daily, a court in the province ruled that the family of a Singaporean citizen merited more compensation than would have been paid out to a family of local origin.

Chen Rui, a 25 year-old Chinese-Singaporean, was traveling in Hengdong county, Hunan Province, when he was killed in a car accident in March last year. An investigation by the Hunan Public Security Bureau found a lorry driver and the driver of Chen’s bus both responsible for the accident. The men were ordered by a court in Hunan to pay the victim’s family Rmb800,000 ($165,000) – more than double the compensation set for locals.

The court explained that it had ordered a higher amount because Chen lived in Singapore, where income levels and the cost of living were significantly higher.

The decision caused some consternation. Luo Qiulin, the defendant’s lawyer, told the Global Times that applying a different standard was unfair.

Chinese traffic laws calculate compensation for death and injury based on the average incomes of urban or rural residents in the region where the accident took place. Luo argued that Chen’s family should be awarded Rmb330,000, the maximum death compensation payable to urban residents.

“The law said foreigners living in China enjoy the same treatment as the Chinese. Therefore, it is unfair to give them more compensation just because they are from developed countries where the living standard is higher,” says Luo.

The verdict generated discussions online about the disparity between the “price” of a foreigner’s life and that of a local’s. Some called the judges “traitors” and demanded to know why a foreigner’s life seemed to be given a higher value.

A netizen asked: “Are the Chinese people second-class citizens in their own country?”

Similarly, a columnist in the Global Times argued: “When it comes to life and its value, the standard should be the same for everybody. If the life of a citizen of a developed country is worth more money than that of a person in a developing country, where is the dignity and respect for life itself?”

Legal experts, however, found no fault with the ruling. Gong Xiantian of Peking University told the Straits Times that while the law makes no special mention of foreigners, the court was right to grant higher compensation since the victim lived in a place with higher living costs.

But critics say the concept of “same lives but different prices” is hardly new in China. Last year, Guangdong province passed a new regulation on the damages to be awarded for traffic fatalities: victims with an urban hukou – the residency permit that ties government benefits to a person’s registered hometown (see WiC51) – could get as much as Rmb760,000, while rural residents’ compensation was capped at Rmb250,000 – a threefold difference.

But the Hunan court’s ruling may have an unintended side-effect: “I’m worried that in the future China’s taxi drivers will refuse to carry foreigners,” says one netizen mockingly. “After all, why would taxi drivers risk paying more compensation when carrying foreigners who pay the same fare as locals?”

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