The value of Chinese lives

Feeling too happy? Need to raise your blood pressure and your anger level? Then take a look at this article, which proves that your actual dollar value as a person in China depends on where you are born.

He Qingzhi’s teenage daughter, Yuan, and her two friends lived on the same street near the Yangtze River, attended the same middle school and were crushed to death in the same traffic accident late last year. After that, the symmetry ended: under Chinese law, Yuan’s life was worth less than the others’.

Mr. He, 38, who has lived in this town in central China for 15 years, was told that his neighbors were entitled to roughly three times more compensation from the accident because they were registered urban residents while he was only a migrant worker.

“I was shocked,” said Mr. He, as he sorted through legal papers in his apartment recently while his wife sobbed in the next room. “The girls are about the same age. They all went to the same school. Why is our life so cheap?”

Outraged, Mr. He and his lawyer are considering a lawsuit, saying the decision was discriminatory and that the family was entitled to full compensation under the Chinese Constitution. The problem with that argument is the Chinese Constitution. More Chinese citizens like Mr. He are claiming legal rights and often citing the Constitution, but it is actually a flimsy tool for protecting individual rights.

The Chinese Constitution. Please. They might as well cite the writing on a candy wrapper.

I hate the hukou system. In every way, it is a stacked deck against the farmers, creating a huge Untouchable caste and giving every benefit to the urban-born. Read the whole article to see how blatantly unfair it is. There are some glimmers of hope that Mr. He may eventually get his compensation if he keeps fighting hard enough, but that doesn’t alter the fact that China’s caste system is depraved and unjust in every way.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

THat’s disgusting.

But probably the same case,why Chinese citizen cant trvel freely to find job in US?

WTO only cares about cargo,not people,right?

April 13, 2006 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

Does anyone know how to contribute money to this guy? I read this article (or the China Daily version) not too long ago.
I’d like to start a drive on my blog for the poor guy.

April 14, 2006 @ 5:11 am | Comment

This is terrible! Surely this would never happen in the U.S. Actually, the article notes that it *does* happen in the U.S., except that we determine the value of a life based on income rather than residency status.

For example, from

“Inevitably, the family of a well-paid young bond trader who had small children will receive more in compensation for economic loss than the childless widow of an elderly janitor.”

So let’s raise money for the poor janitors at Windows on the World, or perhaps the relatives of the people killed in Oklahoma City.

April 14, 2006 @ 8:01 am | Comment

As we all know, the Communist Party always represents the interests of the workers and peasants! Correct your thoughts! Patriotically follow the correct leadership of the Communist Party under the historically inevitable correct path of Marxist-Leninist-Maozedong Thought! Resist harmful information from hostile foreign elements!
Correct your thoughts under the correct line of correct thinking of the correct Communist Party who correctly represent the workers! Wash, rinse and repeat!

April 14, 2006 @ 8:41 am | Comment

I’m not sure we can blame this on the communsit party. Unfortunately in reality, the value of our lives depends very much how much money we make and how famous we are, at least from a institutional casualty compensation point of view.

I remember a few years back, after a China Airlines accident, the Taiwanese were complaining that the Japanese got compensated more.

At the same time, China’s problem is a lot worse, because unlike income and popularity (for which we are all upwardly mobile), you can’t change where you’e born. That’s like a cast system. But the CCP cadres would all say rest assured, that all this is benefitting to a rising China, so it’s all good.

April 14, 2006 @ 1:48 pm | Comment

Ok, just read the stimulus in detail. The two girls from the same school died, not the janitor and an exec or something..

That is just screwed up. This would never happen in the US, barring any difference in actual insurance policies that were taken out on the two girls.

April 14, 2006 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

And the difference here isn’t based on the economic status (and presumed earning power) of the families – only on the Hu family’s resident status.

April 14, 2006 @ 1:57 pm | Comment

I don’t want to shift this particular issue into any suggestion that “America is just as bad” – because that’s not quite the point here and it would open up “tu quoque” arguments from the CCP apologists.
What strikes me most about this is how absolutely contrary the hukou system (and its effects) are to any CCP pretension to “represent the workers”

HOWever: Skystreaker, if you were talking about America when you said “we are all upwardly mobile”
then you’re at least 30 years behind the times. Upward mobility in America was almost non-existent until FDR’s time, and has become almost extinct since Reagan took office.

And very few aspects of American law are more abhorrent to me than the custom of evaluating a person’s “life’s value” based on presumed future earnings.

April 14, 2006 @ 5:48 pm | Comment

The life value you’re talking about is to establish compensation for loved ones that would have otherwise benefitted from the deceased’s income, when the death of an individual is due to homicide or negligence of a party or company.

If there are no parties responsible, and no insurance policies in force, families of deceased are never compensated based on how much the deceased made.

Regarding upward mobility, while odds and feasibility change over time, to claim that people were only upwardly mobile between FDR and Reagan, you’re claiming that there are almost no rich people in the US that were not rich before 1988 using legal means? The many friends I have making good money now yet raised in poor families proves you wrong on that point.

The point is that

April 14, 2006 @ 10:21 pm | Comment


Making the argument of America’s “upward mobility” based on a handful of anecdotes is the oldest trick in the book.

I can also tell you about a few people who won the lottery. Big deal.

Statistically, at this time almost all Americans have slim chance to none of ever rising above the class they were born into. A handful of precious Horatio Alger anecdotes about your friends does not refute this.

April 14, 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

All encompassing statements such as “upward mobility is almost extinct since Reagan” are certainly easily refutable, depending on what you mean by almost extinct. Compare this threshold against how many poor people go to top universities is a decent proxy for upwards mobility – and I’m just saying I see a decent amount, “almost extint” would have meant I saw nearly none.

I didn’t say the odds are good, or that is even easy. In fact let’s say for the sake of your argument it’s one a million.

My context (and the point) was that we have zero control of where we are born, but have influence on how much we make and how famous we become.

April 14, 2006 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

It’s the same principle in the UK; climbing the queue for an operation of any kind depends on your postal code.

April 15, 2006 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

I think Ivan is correct when he claims that American upward mobility isn’t what it used to be. An easier stat to find is is the huge increase in income disparity – in other words, the rich have gotten very much richer and control a much larger percentage of total wealth than they did thirty years ago. You can also look at the gap between the most highly compensated and lowest paid workers to get a grasp of how much more polarized the distribution of wealth has become. It’s a very disturbing trend and not a healthy one.

April 16, 2006 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

Upward mobility has gotten more difficult. However, it’s not clear to me that this causes increased income disparity. Disparity can come regardless of the degree of mobility.

April 16, 2006 @ 10:43 pm | Comment

Skystreaker, I think it’s the other way around – increased income disparity is a symptom of a lack of mobility.

Or something. Paging an economist, stat!

Tired now…12 midnight where I am…

April 17, 2006 @ 12:40 am | Comment

Nice article. Richard.
Through this article we can see clearly the fact of a great constitution, the fact of the designer of HuKou system–Mao, thus we know the lie behind “chinese people are rising”.

April 17, 2006 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

According to china’s “voting act” which enacted in 1995, when the election commission is alloting the representatives (these representatives will have the right to vote/elect the members of NPC. in china, common people have no right in directly electing the NPC members ), they must abide by one rule. that is, every four representatives from the rural village equals to every ONE representative from city. that means in china one city citizen equals to FOUR peasant. this is the notorious “1/4” clause.
Another statistics is, in china, the number of peasant NPC members only accounts for 8% of its total, although the peasant accounts for more than 80% of chinese population.

April 17, 2006 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

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