The grainy video of how a toddler named Yueyue ended up on the verge of death is almost too horrifying to watch, but millions of Chinese have stared at it in shock over the past few days. Many are now asking uncomfortable questions about how 18 people could ignore a badly injured little girl, and what such mass indifference says about their society.
The video circulating online begins with a little girl in red stockings wandering into the street in the crowded market of the southern city of Foshan. With her parents nowhere in sight, she gets hit by a speeding white van.
Over the next few minutes, the terrible descends into the incomprehensible. First, the driver of the van – after first coming to a stop, realizing he's hit something or someone – decides to flee the scene, driving over two-year-old Yueyue again with his back wheels as he does so.
In the six minutes after the incident – caught on closed-circuit television that was supposed to help save lives – 18 others walk or drive past the injured toddler. A second van drives over her without slowing. Finally Yueyue is spotted by an older woman who is passing through the market looking for recyclables she can exchange for cash. The woman cries out for help, and drags the toddler's crumpled body off the road just before a third van drives through.
Yueyue may have been ignored as she lay in the Foshan market, but the video has spurred an emotional debate on the Chinese Internet, where it has been watched 800,000 times on the Youku.com video-sharing site alone and prompted more than four million responses on the Sina Weibo microblogging website.
Many see what happened to Yueyue as a worrying sign that Chinese society – materially far richer than ever before – has lost its moral glue, with people caring only for themselves. "Please stop indifference! The state can rise up, people can get rich, cars can even fly, but we dare not to help out when the old and weak fall over," wrote one Sina Weibo user, using the name Guangzhou Haoye.
"Don't speak of any morality in current China. I can't see any of it," wrote another disheartened Sina Weibo user.
The case is sadly far from unique. The Chinese Internet is full of videos of people who have been injured or hurt being left unattended while crowds walk by unmoved. In a few famous cases (such as a recent stabbing incident at the Shanghai airport), a foreigner has been the only person to try and help the victim.
Some blame recent Chinese history – specifically the bloody Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, which saw neighbours turn on neighbours – for having taught citizens that worrying about anything but their own business can bring only trouble.
Others point to a 2006 court case in Nanjing in which a man who helped a woman who had fallen on the street, wound up being found guilty of causing the accident, and was forced to pay 40 per cent of her hospital costs.
"Don't blame the passersby, it was a Nanjing judge that killed this little girl," wrote one netizen on the popular netease.com website, a statement that was widely shared by other Internet users, many of whom wondered whether they would have done any different than the 18 who ignored Yueyue.
In the video, the first three pedestrians walk by without pausing to help the injured toddler, who is lying in the middle of the road in a pool of her own blood. A man on a motorbike slows down and swerves to avoid hitting her, but continues on without stopping.
Then comes the second white van. The driver, apparently not seeing the little girl lying prone in his path, runs over her again without slowing.
The appalling scene, which occurred Thursday, continues. A parade of motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians slows, gawks, and then carries on without helping. Among them is a woman walking her own young daughter. She simply steps to the left and pulls her mesmerized child away.
When the older woman finally does intervene, her cries for help draw the toddler's mother, who was working in a nearby store, and Yueyue is rushed to hospital. She was in intensive care Monday, unable to breathe on her own but with some sensation in her limbs. "The doctor said it went much better than expected," the girl's mother posted online Monday. However, doctors quoted in the Chinese media said the girl is brain dead and is unlikely to survive.
The drivers of the two vans that ran over the toddler were reportedly in police custody Monday.
Like millions of others, Yueyue's father was appalled that so many people saw a bleeding toddler and chose not to help.
"What's up with people these days?" he said, sobbing in remarks that were shown on television news bulletins. "They make so many excuses to turn a blind eye. The society is so indifferent, so heartless."