By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Correspondent
TRIPOLI – Even from a remote perch in Libya, we heard about the horrific story making waves in China.
Last Thursday, a two-year-old girl crossing a street by herself in the city of Foshan in China’s southern Guangdong Province was hit by a car. The driver paused briefly as the girl lay between the front and rear wheels and then tore off, thumping her now-limp body again.
Soon after, a second vehicle rolled over the girl, with the driver presumably unaware that a body lay on the road. The second driver also did not stop.
As if both these acts were not outrageous enough, 18 more people – on foot, on motorbikes, or on bicycles – passed by the girl, lying inert on the ground, and did nothing. Even a mother with her own child ignored the victim.
It wasn’t until a female trash collector saw her and proceeded to pick the girl up that she was moved to the side of the road. The trash collector asked passers-by who the girl belonged to, and eventually the mother appeared, distraught, to claim her daughter named Yueyue.
All of this was caught on surveillance cameras. A clip was posted on China’s popular micro blog, Sina Weibo on Sunday, generating a huge outcry as netizens counted the number of people who glanced at the girl and ignored her plight – all in the seven minutes she lay on the road until the Good Samaritan carried her to safety.
The story, which has been a leading headline on all of China’s news sites, touched a nerve in the country, with many decrying the lack of moral standards and general disregard for fellow human beings.
One report quoted the first driver as saying, “If she is dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan ($3,125). But if she is injured, it may cost me hundreds of thousands yuan."
Some news reports and online discussions made the point that civil behavior is not always rewarded in China. Many people fear they’re being subject to some sort of scam while others remember still a well-known case from 2006, when a man helped a woman who had fallen only to have her accuse him of causing the injury to begin with. She filed a suit against him, in which the judge ruled the man wouldn’t have come to her aid had he not caused the fall.
State-run news agency Xinhua has reported both drivers of the vehicles that ran over the girl have been apprehended by police.
Yueyue, meanwhile, is in critical condition with serious brain injuries, breathing with the help of a ventilator. Her parents are asking eyewitnesses to come forward with any additional information.
The story of Yueyue’s hit-and-run stands in stark contrast to another story that picked up steam online over the weekend.
Last Friday afternoon, a woman fell into a scenic tourist lake in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang. A Western woman who was walking by saw the Chinese woman struggling and quickly jumped into West Lake to save her.
After swimming back to shore, the foreigner dragged her onto the bank. The victim remained conscious and appeared out of danger. Police turned up ten minutes later, and the Western woman left quietly. Several websites reported she was American.
What was notable in this instance was the response of those who read the story online.
In addition to giving the rescuer high praise (“That American girl is great, she has a beautiful character”), people also made unfavorable comparisons to Chinese behavior:
“According to Chinese laws and regulations, if she hadn’t pushed the girl into the water, why ever would she save her?”
Thanks to China Digital Times for the translations.
Adrienne Mong is NBC’s Beijing correspondent. She is on assignment in Libya.