After a grainy video of a traffic accident in the city of Zhumadian surfaced on Chinese social media this past week, the initial reaction was one of outrage directed at the more than 40 pedestrians and drivers who passed within metres of the woman, all failing to offer help.
But for many Chinese, the video was something more: a 94-second reminder of their society’s deep rot.
Even as China presents itself outwardly as a prosperous rising power, around kitchen tables and in private WeChat groups, Chinese citizens routinely grumble about a nation that’s gone bankrupt when it comes to two qualities: “suzhi,” or “personal character,” and “dixian,” literally “bottom line” - or a basic, inviolable sense of right and wrong.
Here, the common refrain goes, is an unmoored country where manufacturers knowingly sell toxic baby formula and fraudulent children’s vaccines.
“It’s a problem with the entire country: our moral bottom line has fallen so low,” Tian You, a novelist based in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, said by phone. “If I’m truly honest, I wonder, would I myself have dared to help the woman?”
After the Zhumadian video surfaced this week, garnering more than five million views in its first 24 hours before being censored, local police were forced to disclose that the accident took place weeks earlier, on April 21. The woman, surnamed Ma, died, while the two drivers who hit her were held under investigation, police said, without giving further details.