Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Aftermath of Peng Yu: Restoring Helping Behavior in China

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Aftermath of Peng Yu: Restoring Helping Behavior in China

Article excerpt

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I. Introduction

A series of high-profile incidents severely impacted the sense of civic consciousness in China. The seminal case, Xu XX v. Peng Yu, successfully chilled helping behavior1 tendencies within members of the general public.2 In November 20, 2006, Peng Yu, an alleged Good Samaritan,3 helped an elderly woman who fell while coming off a bus.4 With arguably good intentions, Peng sent the senior to the hospital and offered 200 RMB to help cover the cost of hospital fees. Ms. Xu, the injured senior, returned this kindness by suing Peng for personal injury compensation, claiming he caused her fall.6 Despite the plaintiff's lack of evidence proving Peng had caused her injuries, the Nanjing court found that "experience from everyday life" sufficiently proves that no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty.7 The court held Peng liable for damages and awarded Ms. Xu 45,876.36 RMB8 (approximately $6,076 USD)9 as compensation. This verdict received widespread media coverage, engendering public outcry over the controversial decision.10 The most criticized portion of the decision was the judge's reasoning that Peng Yu should bear 40% of the victim's loss even though no fault was determined in the collision.11

Peng Yu and the cases that followed set a precedent in China, holding that performing an act of assistance does not make one a Good Samaritan. Subsequently, an increase in incidents involving elderly individuals falsely accusing helpful bystanders grew as a trend in the media's reports.12 This caused widespread hesitancy to render aid to others in need.13 Media attention to the injustice of these incidents reinforced reluctance to engage in helping behavior because of the potential legal consequences created by these cases.14 Baseless claims found success in local courts applying the Peng Yu standard.15 Even though China is a civil law country, some courts followed the rationale in Peng Yu and produced similarly unfair verdicts.16 In the case of Wang Xiuzhi v. Xu Yunhe, the plaintiff's failure to produce conclusive evidence establishing that Xu caused her fall did not bar her from seeking damages. 17 Xu was ultimately held liable for 100,000 RMB (approximately $15,654 USD) in spite of the lack of evidence.18 The injustice of these cases disincentivized the public from helping others.

In 2011, the highly publicized hit-and-run accident involving a two- year-old child in Foshan reinvigorated the discourse on the state of civic consciousness in China.19 Security footage captured two vans that ran over a two-year old child nicknamed Yueyue ( 'l'íí ).20 The drivers drove off without stopping to investigate.21 Eighteen bystanders walked by without stopping to help her; she died of severe blood loss and internal injuries.22 The media amplified the drama of the tragedy and sent a signal to society that created political pressure for reform.23 In response, the People's Congress of Guangdong Province enacted the Regulation to Reward and Protect Persons of Courageous Behavior on November 29, 2012, which came into effect January 1, 2013. 24 However, the public responded negatively. The public criticized the reward for "distorting people's values" and claimed that the government "lacks morals and talent," because the regulation relied on monetary rewards to alter social behavior.25 This public outcry threatens the likelihood that the Guangdong regulation or a derivative statute will be effective in encouraging helping behavior. 27 Judging from its response to the new regulation, the public does not appear to believe in its efficacy. The new legislation and the media coverage of it demonstrated that the government cared enough to respond, yet the regulation falls short of the public's expectations because it only offers monetary rewards and not security of mind.29 The heart of the is that the has failed in its

The heart of the problem is that the government has failed in its response to an ever-present fear that Peng Yu created: the public's vulnerability to civil liability in emergency situations. …

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