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Opinion
Adam Minter

Why China Lacks Do-Gooders

For the better part of a century,Chinese intellectuals and citizens alike have worried over and decried China’s lack of good Samaritans, never more so than now.
In this screen shot of a surveillance video, women reportedly ordered Zhang Lidong, right, to kill a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in  Shandong province.
In this screen shot of a surveillance video, women reportedly ordered Zhang Lidong, right, to kill a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in  Shandong province.

On Friday evening a cellphone camera captured the brutal murder of a woman at a McDonald's in China's Shandong Province. The footage is shaky, but the basic facts are not in dispute. The six Porsche-driving perpetrators were members of an apocalyptic cult; the murder itself was committed with an iron bar; and finally, and most disturbingly, the video clearly shows at least half a dozen witnesses to the act (including McDonald's employees), none of who intervene to save the victim.

It's this last fact that has transformed the video and the crime into one of the most intensely discussed topics on Chinese social media in several years (at one point this weekend it occupied five of the top ten spots on Sina Weibo's trending topic list), prompting a round of national recriminations and soul searching. "I can't sleep tonight," wrote Cui Yongyuan, a popular TV talk show host, to his Sina Weibo account at 4:35 a.m. Saturday. "Because I watched the video to see the killer and saw the bystanders and heard the woman's screams. If I'd been there, would I have helped her? Probably not, because in life we never imagine that we'll encounter such a situation." He concludes, solemnly. "Tonight, this is the Chinese people's collective shame."