Last week Global Times reported a story of one Shanghai woman’s very shitty day. While walking home with her son, she was all-of-sudden hit by a blob of falling poop. After complaining to the neighborhood committee, it was determined that the feces-flinger must have come from one of four apartments above where the woman was hit. She was awarded 600 yuan in damages (the article didn’t make clear by whom) but since the exact perpetrator couldn’t be nailed down, all four apartments were ordered to pay 150 yuan each.
The story shows one of the peculiarities of China’s legal rationale that’s presumably a remnant of socialism, or perhaps even Confucianism. Several years ago I read a very similar case (which I can’t find now) where a woman was hit by a falling plant vase and sustained nearly 100,000 yuan’s ($15,749) worth of injuries. But investigators could only narrow down the origin of the plant to 30 balconies, so, you guessed it, the residents were all ordered to share the burden at about 3,300 yuan ($520) a piece.
Over the years whenever I’ve gotten on legal topics with Chinese friends, I’ve mentioned this case. To my surprise, more often than not, they support the verdict. When I ask how they can justify punishing 29 completely innocent people, they’ve basically said “100,000 is so much money for that one innocent woman to pay, but 3,300 is relatively little for the others.” They admit that they’d be very upset if they were one of the 29 innocents, but in the end 3,300 yuan would merely inconvenience their life, whereas 100,000 yuan on top of debilitating injuries could very well ruin the victim’s life.
I can’t say I agree with this rationale at all, but it is intriguing. It’s especially interesting imagining what other circumstances are influenced by this collectivist mindset – where suffering is spread equitably and manageably at the expense of complete fairness.