Last October the story of little Yue Yue captivated China for several weeks. In the search for answers as to why 18 bystanders ignored a dying toddler, Peng Yu was frequently cited. He was the young Nanjing man who, in 2006, allegedly helped a fallen old woman to the hospital who turned around and sued him, saying he had knocked her down. This case has been cited again and again, even before Yue Yue, as the reason Chinese don’t lend assistance to hurt strangers.
But today a story came out that, if true, is kind of a bombshell. It says Peng Yu was guilty all along.
Now it has been revealed that Peng lied at the court hearing and he had, in fact, knocked Xu down, Outlook Weekly magazine reported yesterday.
Peng admitted accidently pushing Xu as he was getting off a bus, and agreed to pay her 10,000 yuan compensation in a settlement reached in March 2008. The two sides withdrew their appeals and came to an agreement that they would not disclose details of the case, Liu Zhiwei, director of Nanjing Political and Legal Affairs Commission, told the magazine.
Liu said he was disclosing the agreement because the case had been seriously misunderstood and was said to have been a turning point in moral standards.
Liu said he had the consent of Peng and Xu to do so, the magazine said.
Just like scores of people on Weibo, I was pretty skeptical on reading this. There have been numerous incidents of non-assistance in past five years allegedly inspired by Peng Yu. Why come out with this now? Especially three months AFTER all the hoopla about Yue Yue. The knee-jerk reaction was that the government probably stepped in to “maintain social stability” by discrediting the Peng Yu case.
But in retrospect, everyone did seem to take for granted that Peng Yu was innocent from the beginning. In Peng Yu’s original version of the incident, he was the first to get off a bus and saw the fallen woman. He accompanied her to the hospital, gave her 200 yuan and stayed with her until after her treatment – saying she didn’t need to repay the cash. The woman said that he had knocked her down while getting off the bus.
Suppose you hadn’t been previously been influenced by the presumption that the woman was an extortionist. There were no other witnesses, so it’s her word against his. I wouldn’t hold Peng liable in the absence of hard evidence, but I’d still probably suspect he did it. (Of course, hindsight is 20/20 though)
The judge initially ruled that “according to common sense” it was very possible Peng was guilty and that he would have just left the hospital after dropping the woman off “according to what one would normally do in this case.” So the judge ordered him to pay 40% of the medical costs (45,000 yuan).
According to the new information released this week, during the appeals process a year later the two settled with a non-disclosure agreement for 10,000 yuan. Nothing here seems too unbelievable. I wouldn’t have awarded the money originally, but then I come from the American legal system. The Chinese system is much more egalitarian and prone to favor the weaker party.
I recall reading a case where a flower pot fell from an apartment complex and hit a woman, but no one could determine whose room it came from. Rather than leaving the injured woman to fend for herself financially, the judge ordered all 30 of the tenants who might be responsible to share the medical costs equally. I’ve frequently mentioned this case to Chinese friends; the majority of whom agreed with the verdict.
So if Peng Yu was probably guilty (even though there wasn’t physical evidence), the judge’s ruling wasn’t so outrageous by Chinese legal standards. But the media has run with the story framed from Peng Yu’s perspective again and again. And the fact that the settlement was a year later and confidential just allowed the story to keep running.
Now however, someone involved with the case apparently finally felt the need to make it public. But that person wasn’t Peng Yu. I just wonder where he’s been this whole time. Surely he’s noticed that he’s become somewhat of a folk hero from his name being mentioned by so many over the past five years as the reason for bystander ambivalence.
I’m not totally convinced the new revelation wasn’t crafted by higher powers, but either way, now that his non-disclosure agreement has been voided, Peng Yu has some explaining to do.