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Outrage in China after toddler run over, ignored

By Haolan Hong and Steven Jiang, CNN
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Tue October 18, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The toddler was the victim of two successive hit-and-run accidents
  • The incident has galvanized public debate in China about morality
  • Her father said she's is in a critical condition in a military hospital in Guangzhou
  • Police have caught and detained two drivers

Beijing (CNN) -- Gruesome footage of a toddler falling victim to two successive hit-and-run accidents and then being ignored by many passers-by at the scene last week in southern China continued to galvanize the nation Monday, prompting a fierce debate on the state of morality in Chinese society.

A security camera captured the horrific incident last Thursday outside a hardware market in Foshan, Guangdong Province. Two-year-old Wang Yue was seen toddling in the middle of a narrow street and looking around, oblivious to a fast-approaching white van.

The disturbing video shows the van knocking the girl over. The driver briefly stops with the girl underneath the van, before continuing on, its rear tires slowly rolling over her small body. The girl is left barely moving in her own blood as several pedestrians and cyclists pass by.

Minutes later, another small truck drives over Wang without slowing down, the video shows. More passers-by walked, cycled or drove around her motionless body without stopping -- until a woman carrying a sack appeared 10 minutes after the initial collision. Dropping her sack, she quickly moved the girl to safety and went to look for help.

Wang remained in critical condition Monday afternoon in a military hospital in the nearby city of Guangzhou, her father told CNN.

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"I'm still so worried," said Wang Chichang, who runs a hardware store in the Foshan market, as he waited for updates from doctors.

At the time of the accident, Wang was busy tending his shop while his wife was hanging laundry, and neither noticed their daughter had wandered outside, state media reported.

"I feel helpless and angry," the father said. "Had one passer-by stopped to help earlier, this whole thing wouldn't have been so tragic."

Police have caught and detained both drivers, state media reported. Wang, the father, told CNN that the van driver had earlier called to offer the family money, but refused to turn himself in.

The heroine in the video turned out to be a 58-year-old scavenger named Chen Xianmei.

"Blood was coming out her nose and mouth," Chen told local reporters. "I didn't understand why no one else had carried her from the street."

In emotional video posted online, the girl's wailing mother bows on her hands and knees, her forehead resting on the ground at Chen's feet -- a symbol of extreme deference to show the family's deep gratitude for her daughter's rescuer. The mother is inconsolable as loved ones lead her -- her body as limp as a rag doll's -- from the scene.

The grainy footage of the accidents went viral on Chinese Internet within minutes of posting. By Monday afternoon, it had become the most viewed topic on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, with more than 4 million tweets discussing the video.

"This kind of news sends chills down my spine every time," a user named "the silent wolverine" wrote. "We once believed in a world filled with love and were taught by the government on maintaining high moral standards -- but the cold reality just keeps flying in the face of our belief."

Echoing such sentiment, Wang's father said her tragedy is more than just personal.

"If our society continues to be like this, my child's case won't be the last one," he said.

While netizens directed their anger on the indifferent passers-by and lamented vanishing morality in society, many also see a glimmer of hope through Chen's action.

"The scavenger probably never imagined she was actually 'richer' than many of us," user "Van-stephen" commented on Weibo. "She follows her conscience, which many of us have already lost."

In recent years, assisting victims in traffic accidents or other emergency situations has become controversial in China. In an attempt to cover costly medical expenses, several senior citizens, injured in accidents that were their own fault, turned against people who helped them at the scene by suing the good Samaritans for compensation, according to state media.

Despite the potential trouble and some criticism that she was seeking fame, Chen appeared unfazed.

"I didn't think of anything at the time," she told local reporters. "I just wanted to save the girl."

CNN's Eve Bower contributed to this report.

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