The tragic story of a toddler who was run over on a street in China while more than a dozen bystanders stood idly by has stirred up a hive of mixed emotions for Canada's Chinese community.
As English-language media detailed the video capturing the moments when two-year-old Wang Yue (Yueyue) of Foshan was run over by two separate cars and ignored by the 18 people who left her lying in the road, the Chinese-Canadian community struggled to reconcile their anxiety over moral norms in their homeland with disgust at the way the incident was depicted in the international press.
Shock and dismay over the plight of the girl — Chinese doctors say it's unlikely she'll ever emerge from a vegetative state — was tinged with chagrin that long-standing biases against Chinese culture have re-emerged in the Western media.
Ray Chan, Toronto editor at Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily, said the story warrants only moderate coverage.
The fact that the incident took place five days ago in an area well outside of its usual Canadian focus, coupled with tepid community interest, ensured the paper never treated it as a top story, he said.
The approach contrasted sharply with western news outlets, many of which gave the story top billing and prominently displayed photographs extracted from the surveillance video capturing the hit-and-run.
Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said the English media treatment plays to a long-standing tradition of portraying China as a backwards and irresponsible nation.
While lamenting the toddler's plight, he questioned why the accident should draw more attention than the many other similar incidents taking place around the world each day.
"It's almost like the old Cold War stories about China. They're not civilized, they're not ready for Prime Time," Mr. Wong said. "There's that kind of holdover from the Red China days, and we still see this in our North American news outlets today."
Mr. Chan said Chinese-Canadians have expressed dismay at the tone of the English-language coverage, but said their frustration is tempered by the anxiety they feel about the state of society in their homeland.
Mr. Chan said the Chinese have grown leery of acting as good Samaritans in recent years thanks to a similar incident that took place a few years ago. A Chinese bus driver who stopped to help the victim of another hit-and-run was publicly upbraided and ultimately accused of causing the accident himself, Chan said, adding the story dampened enthusiasm for civil co-operation. Chinese who are living in Canada who may not have witnessed this change are now lamenting the effects of the attitudes that took root since they left, he said.
"We feel, it's a small baby, somebody should do something — calling the police, or something," Mr. Chan said. "How some people can do this kind of thing? In Chinese saying we call them cobra — their blood is cold."
James Miller, associate professor of Chinese studies at Queen's University, said the shifting social standards may also have roots in the country's exponential economic development. The past few decades have seen Chinese society shake off the mantle of communism as the economy becomes more liberalized and rural residents flock to the rapidly evolving cities in search of new jobs.
Such massive upheaval can't help but tear at a society's moral fabric, he said.
"The old ways of doing things, the old social networks, the old kinship ties based on extended families, all of those values that are associated with that have really gone out of the window," Miller said. "I don't think yet Chinese society has solidified in a way that it knows what its ethical values are."
The hit-and-run has sparked outrage in China as people begin to question the society that has evolved, he said.
Similar concerns were voiced on social media targeting Canada's Chinese community.
At info.51.ca, a chat board billing itself as an information gateway for Chinese people in Canada, a thread discussing the story drew about a dozen comments condemning those who failed to help the girl.
"The driver involved in the accident, the passersby, the peddlers on the street, even the woman who walked by with a child ... Damn it! They're no better than animals! It's the shame of the local people, shame of the nation," one poster wrote in Chinese.
"Seeing this happen, I realize that if this sort of thing keeps going on, the nation is finished. Maybe it is already finished," wrote another.