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Empathy for strangers does not exist in China

A couple weeks ago my husband and I were walking down the street and there was an old woman lying in the middle of the sidewalk. People were just bustling past her as if they didn’t even see her. We stopped and tried to see what we could do for her but she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her. When others saw us helping her they stopped too. Soon someone had called the police to come and help the woman.

Before that I had seen two guys riding a motorbike get hit by a car. They were both thrown off the bike and we left lying in the middle of the road. The cars just drove around them. I headed over there but before I go there they were up and riding off.

3 months ago a tourist fainted on a subway in Beijing and everyone on the train simply ignored him and left him lying there while they exited the train.

1 year ago a woman got her head stuck in a railing. People passed by her all day. Stopping to stare. Taking pictures with their cell phones. She died.

1 year ago a 2 year old little girl was hit by a car. A security camera shows over 15 people walking past the child lying in the road. Eventually a 2nd car hit her body and killed her.

The stories go on and on. Why is this? How can people be so cruel?  Those are shocking stories but there are the tiny almost mundane ones too like if a little old lady drops her bag of groceries in a crowd not one person will stop to help her gather them (but me).

I’ve been researching this for a few days now and it seems to stem from Taoism.  Apparently Laozi’s utopia was described as “Let your community be small, with only a few people. He said that “to do nothing is actually to do everything.”Laozi_002

So there we go. They have a 3,000 year old tradition of not caring for their neighbor. Only have a few people in your community and don’t ever help anyone with anything. It’s tribalism to the extreme.

In the lobby of my friend’s apartment building there is a sign that reads:

Look on and Do Nothing.

That about sums up life here.

It’s not as if Chinese people are not capable of empathy. They are very friendly to people they consider part of their group as in their family and their small circle of friends but anyone outside of that may as well not exist. It’s as if in Chinese culture there are two distinct, completely separate castes: my circle and the untouchables. They don’t separate themselves by class or rank or anything like that it’s just me, my family, my friends, and then the untouchables.

Then everyone lives in their little worlds like that. There are millions and millions of microcosms in China. Millions of groups of 20 or so people that are wonderfully sweet and helpful to each other that never intermingle with other groups and wouldn’t lift a finger to help the other even if a life were at stake.

For anyone interested there is a Chinese professor at UCLA writing a book on the topic. I have emailed him to learn more.