“…Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.” –William Shakespeare
The time finally came for me to confront the inevitable decision. It was at dawn on a chilly September day in my hometown of Nanjing in China, and I, a seventh grader, was on my way home after school. Suddenly, I heard a loud cry from the other side of the crossroad. I looked over and saw a multitude of people gathering in a circle, the center of which revealed the cause of the commotion.
I rushed over, and, through the tiny gaps between the bystanders, I saw an old man lying on the ground. His pain was evidenced by his distorted face and continuous moaning. He grasped his kneecap with both hands. Drops of blood leaked through his fingertips and trailed down his thin, dark leg.
A string of impatient car horns grabbed my attention. At the intersection, the serpentine traffic wound its way around the commotion, tires hissing over the wet road. Some drivers banged their fists on their steering wheels, other drivers opened their windows lighting up a cigarette while cursing at the traffic officers. On the sidewalk, a group of office-workers went out for their lunch break. Smartly dressed people’s faces winced and crinkled in disgust as soon as they saw the old man and slunk away from his presence. One thing remained consistent—no one was lending a helping hand.
This scene reminded me of the news that had swept across China in June of that year. A white construction van had hit a six-year-old child named Yue Yue in a market district of Foshan. The driver slowed down after the accident, apparently aware of what had happened, but then speedily fled the scene. What happened next was even more disturbing. For several minutes Yue Yue lay on the ground, still moving, as more than a dozen people passed by. Some glanced while others drove straight by, avoiding the girl, not offering any help. At one point a mother walking with her child saw the accident, covered her daughter’s eyes, and hastened their steps. This demonstrated lack of compassion kindled a debate in China about the proper response of passers-by to accidents.
I knew the proper response. My parents had always taught me to be compassionate, and my teachers had encouraged me to help those in need. What lay in front of me then was a perfect opportunity for me to demonstrate my successful upbringing and content myself with an act of high morality. But my self-fascination and smugness quickly dissipated when I overheard the conversation of two young men standing in front of me.
“What happened?” the guy on the left asked.
“Seems like someone hit him,” his friend answered.
“What do we do?”
“Just wait. Maybe the guy who hit him will feel bad and come back to help him.”
“Why aren’t we helping?”
“Because that old guy might be faking. I mean, who knows? You might even be mistaken for the one who hit him. It’s complicated!”
It’s complicated. I repeated the words to myself in my mind, feeling disturbed. I knew exactly what he was referring to. In July of that year, a month after the Yue Yue’s death, a twenty-one-year-old young man in Guang Zhou helped an old woman who was lying on the street. The woman, however, falsely charged him for hitting her, and threatened to sue him. The young man, feeling desperate and overwhelmed by the commotion the old woman caused, paid her 2000 yuan (300 USD).
This incident reflected a horrible epidemic in China. People capitalized on other’s sympathy or vulnerability and extort money out of the responsible people. If I am naïve enough to help the old man, I thought, I might be blamed for a crime that I did not commit. Like what was described in the news, the old man might grab my hand and not let me go until I gave him money. As I realized that my peaceful existence was at stake, the moral question became a dilemma of whether I should trust a complete stranger.
A lot of voices seemed to be whispering inside of my head, making me feel dizzy. As I struggled to make a decision during the twenty minutes, the sun faded, along with the possibility of my offer to help. I looked at my watch. It was eight, and the thought of dinner at home beckoned me. Thinking about my grandma’s specialty, Hunan Pork, I turned towards the direction of home.
There was just one problem: the red traffic light across the pedestrian’s sidewalk. The monitor ticked 30, 29, 28… Each tick seemed to challenge my choice. So I decided to give the old man one last look.
Instead of seeing his posture and expression, I noticed his over-sized and stained white shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. This was a typical outfit for the elders in the nursing home down the block. These elders spent their afternoons on the streets, either doing Tai Qi or playing chess around a vegetable stall. They conducted these activities alone, however, as their children were too busy to look after them. Abandoned and isolated by the rest of the youthful and magnificent city, these elders were like the dropping sun, plummeting violently and alone towards the dark abyss. They had already burnt all their light and life for the generation that would wake up and see tomorrow’s sun. As a part of that generation, I suddenly felt ashamed. I asked myself, what would I have hoped for in his position?
I turned back again towards the old man. This time, I was determined to act.
Oscar Liu is a Chinese student who came to America to study in seventh grade. He knew very little about how to write an English essay when he arrived, but his passion for writing encouraged him to keep writing. Oscar loves his home country, but it has some issues. One of them is the lack of compassion. With this personal story, he hopes to shed some light on the social issues in China. He hopes to make his country a better place.