T he Confucian tradition prides itself on respect for the elderly: the ideal family consists of “three generations under one roof” and children are taught from an early age to care for their elders.
But that cherished stereotype has been called into question after an online survey by the People’s Daily suggested that 80% of respondents would not help an elderly person who has collapsed in the street.
The newspaper asked the question following an incident in the central city of Wuhan earlier this month, when an 88 year-old man called Li Pu fell in the street. He received no help from passers-by, before suffocating on blood from his injuries.
The case prompted an outpouring of sympathy from netizens – but mainly for the passers-by at the scene.
The general view was that they would have been torn between their instinct to help the aged, and their fear of being tricked out of money as a result.
Another opinion poll conducted by Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s Twitter-like microblogs, showed that only 20% would “definitely” have intervened in a similar situation.
The reason for the reluctance seems to be a dramatic increase in the number of lawsuits filed by senior citizens against young people who have come to their assistance, but end up having to pay out damages.
Many trace the trend back to a landmark case in 2006, when a 65 year-old woman fell over while trying to board a bus in the eastern city of Nanjing. She broke her hip and a young man helped out by escorting her to hospital and giving her Rmb200.
She responded by suing the man, claiming he had knocked her over. A Chinese court eventually ruled in her favour, arguing that the financial support he had offered was evidence of his guilt.
For some, the trend reflects the decline of traditional values in an increasingly fragmented and individualistic society. Others blame the rising cost of medicine and other public services for the elderly.
Either way, debate was further stirred this month when the Ministry of Health issued a 41-page pamphlet entitled “Technical Guidelines for Preventing and Treating Falls by the Elderly”. “It is not always necessary to help old people immediately after they fall down, depending on different conditions and symptoms they have shown,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted the guidelines as saying.
“If the fallen person has shown symptoms of a stroke, fracture orlumbar damage, passers-by should not move them and instead call an ambulance,” it said.
Shanghai Daily also offered advice: “Next time you see a senior fallen on the street, before offering a helping hand take out your mobile phone and record them saying that you weren’t to blame.”
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