This week I witnessed a taxi vs. bicycle incident in Beijing that lead me to reflect on the “Good Samaritan” scams that happen in China and why people are generally hesitant to help strangers here.
Let me preface this post by saying I want to share this road accident experience (and other people’s experiences) because they are situations and cultural behaviors you might encounter in China.
When you live abroad in any country, it’s important to be aware of scams and incidents that happen. I’m not saying that this is something that happens all the time, and not all people in China have ill intentions. I’m also not a lawyer, and don’t know the full extent of laws in China related to these situations. These are purely situational and personal experiences, and of course every situation will have different circumstances and outcomes.
Most importantly, road accidents can be stressful no matter what country you’re in, and it’s good to be prepared and know what might happen.
- My Taxi vs Bike Incident
- Pèngcí Scams in China (Bumping porcelain 碰瓷 )
- China’s Lack of Good Samaritan Laws
- Xu Shoulan v. Peng Yu Civil Lawsuit
- Stories About Scamming Or Hesitating To Help People
- Passing Good Samaritan Laws
- Be Cautious and Aware of These Scams and Situations
My Taxi vs Bike Incident
So here’s what happened. I ordered a taxi one morning, and hopped in. I sat down in the car and the driver made a right turn onto another street. While doing so, the car brushed against a lady riding a bicycle in the middle of the road. This was not even two minutes into my ride, and happened very quickly.
My driver stopped and rolled down his window, and the lady immediately hopped off her bike and started shouted very loudly at him, “You hit my leg! Get out of the car! Get out right now!” She continued shouting even more at him that I couldn’t understand. She pulled her phone out while yelling at him and began to make a call.
I immediately knew this wasn’t going to be a quickly resolved situation. I got out of the car and waved to my Didi driver, who was being loudly berated in public now, and he apologized profusely to me and ended my trip on the app. He seemed really nice, trying to make sure she was okay and sort out what she was saying.
While I ordered a new car to come, I continued watching the situation unfold. The lady was stopping a passerby, loudly shouting about how my driver had hit her. Now, in my opinion, she was just fine and wasn’t hurt. The car had barely brushed her, and I think she was in the road where she shouldn’t have been and made a much more dramatic scene than this warranted. I’ve been in other situations where someone accidentally opens a car door and/or brushes against someone passing by, and everyone kept going, no harm no fowl.
But this incident and her reaction made me think about how Good Samaritan Laws are approached and practiced in China, and sparked some interesting stories from my friends and followers on Instagram about their own experiences with these road incidents.
Side note: I’m very thankful this incident that happened was not a serious accident and no one was hurt. I’m grateful I could just get out of the car and walk away from it, which in some situations you may not be able to do.
Pèngcí Scams in China (Bumping porcelain 碰瓷 )
There is a certain type of scam that happens in China where someone sets up an accident and acts hurt so that another person will have to pay them money.
The Chinese name for this: pèngcí (碰瓷), which literally translates to “bumping porcelain.”
Essentially, these people are con-artists who hope to scam somebody by setting up or taking advantage of an “accident” in which one appears to have sustained damage or injury caused by the scam victim, then demanding compensation. This term pengci was coined to describe a situation where someone is ready to fall with the slightest touch so that he or she can rip off whoever comes close or helps.
Variations include putting “expensive” porcelain in a place where it is likely to be knocked over by passers-by, and stepping into the path of a slow-moving car. This scam might also be taking advantage of Good Samaritans just trying to help someone in need.
Now, I don’t know if this lady was trying to pèngcí or something like this. It was a quick incident that did not seem pre-planned on her part at all. And I don’t know this lady at all, maybe she herself has been taken advantage of before, or just wanted to protect herself. But it also just seemed like she wanted to take an assertive stance to try to make the situation work for her advantage.
This is something that I, and many of my friends, have told me they have witnessed in China, and you can find these kinds of stories shared in both Chinese and Western media. These situations may not be as obvious as the video below, but you get the idea.
China’s Lack of Good Samaritan Laws
The flip side to this is that this makes people hesitant to help others if they see some kind of accident. There’s a fear that if you get involved in an accident or try to help, that someone will take advantage of you or claim you hurt them. And previously, there wasn’t much protection to help you if someone claimed that you had hurt them when you didn’t.
I learned about this my first year in China. I was walking with some of my university students and we saw a man stumble and fall while trying to get on a bus, but the bus just kept driving and pulled away, leaving him on the ground. I asked my students if we should go see if he was okay, because no one went over to him. My students told me I should be careful, because the man could say that we pushed him and sue us for money. And that’s why no one on the street around the man was going over to help him.
It was a bit of a strange and shocking cultural difference to witness. But with further explanation and background of China’s (lack of) Good Samaritan Law’s, it makes even more sense.
Xu Shoulan v. Peng Yu Civil Lawsuit
In 2007, a court case in China shook people of China and created a loud public outcry. The case, called Xu Shoulan v. Peng Yu, also referred to as the Peng Yu case or the Nanjing Peng Yu Incident, was a civil lawsuit in the People’s Republic of China, brought before the Nanjing District Court in 2007.
“In 2006, Peng Yu had encountered Xu Shoulan after she had fallen, breaking her femur. Peng assisted Xu and brought her to a local hospital for further care. Xu accused Peng of having caused her fall, and demanded that he pay her medical expenses. The court decided in favor of the plaintiff and held Peng liable for damages, reasoning that despite the lack of concrete evidence, “no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty”.
The verdict received widespread media coverage, and engendered a public outcry against the decision. It is regarded as a landmark case because of its implication that the Chinese public is vulnerable to civil liability for lending help in emergency situations due to the lack of any Good Samaritan laws.” (Source: Wikipedia).
Because of this infamous legal case, many people felt cautious to ever help someone in need. The Guardian writes, “Lack of legal protections and string of extortion cases have contributed to a general reluctance to help strangers.”
Interestingly enough, the case actually concluded with Peng admitting having accidentally pushed Xu as he was getting off the bus, and agreeing to pay her 10,000 yuan compensation in the settlement reached in March 2008. But still, this case seriously highlighted the lack of protection for anyone who helps strangers and a chilling effect of Peng’s false narrative on bystander intervention still remains.
Stories About Scamming Or Hesitating To Help People
A few of my friends and Instagram followers shared their stories with me about their personal experiences with these kinds of situations.
Many expressed how friends told them to careful as foreigners, and to not get involved with situations. I know my students and Chinese friends used to also caution me, saying I should be careful because I was a foreigner and its better to try to completely avoid situations like this.
In another horrific point, some people told me their heard in China it’s better if someone dies in an accident rather than being injured because funeral costs are cheaper than expensive medical payments and settlement costs.
And, of course, not all situations turn out badly. There are many good people who offer to help or will take care of you if the situation was their fault.
Many more stories were shared in the comments of my Instagram post about this thread. Click the post below to read through the comments of stories shared.
Passing Good Samaritan Laws
In recent years, many cities in China passed new “Good Samaritan Laws” to counteract these fears and protect people who help others.
For instance, in Guangzhou in 2017, new laws went into effect. China Daily wrote: “Under the legislation, people who voluntarily offer emergency assistance to those who are, or who they believe to be, injured, ill, in danger, or otherwise incapacitated, will not have civil liability in the event of harm to the victims.”
In 2020 Sixth Tone published a piece entitled, “China Tells ‘Porcelain-Bumping’ Con Artists to Knock It Off” about how top judicial authorities issued a new guideline for dealing with pengci con-artists.
Be Cautious and Aware of These Scams and Situations
These experiences aren’t meant to scare you or to just talk ill of China (every country has it’s own issues), but rather to prepare you for some situations in the event you encounter them. Again, I wanted to share these experiences because it is something to be mindful of as a foreigner especially if your own country’s laws might be different.
I’m not saying that this is something that happens all the time. Not all people are like this or have ill intentions, and not everyone hesitates to help someone in China. I’ve seen people help others in accidents or other situations, and with new Samaritan Laws in place it seems this general fear might be changing (albeit, slowly).
It’s just good to be cautious and aware, especially if you’re new to China. These road incidents and behaviors might be something you’ve never seen before and it’s good to be know about the laws and cultural practices going on around you.
Overall though, I’ve never been fearful of my safety in China. Especially as a female who often goes places alone, I feel very safe here. Just be prepared, and stay alert the same as you would traveling anywhere in the world. Check out my Solo Female Traveler’s Guide To China & Tips For Traveling Solo in China for more information about that.
Have you ever encountered a situation like this? Also, what is helpful or useful information to know in situations like this? Please share your advice.
(This isn’t a platform for negative general China trash talking, but if you have an honest experience and perspective please share).