Inexplicable Chinese Laws: a guest post

I’ve been exchanging emails with a reader who harbors some interesting points of view on life in China. I told him if he wrote some of these things up, I’d post them as guest contributions, and this is what he sent me. While his views don’t necessarily reflect my own – I don’t know enough about the Chinese law in question to agree or disagree – I think he raises some fascinating questions.
Does the rule of law in China support Lawful or Unlawful acts?

By Guy

Reading the news in China recently, a man is driving his car down a main road in Beijing. He follows the rules, drives carefully, isn’t speeding, however a pedestrian decides to jump over the central reservation (the barrier that separates the lanes on busy roads) this is in direct disregard of the local traffic rules. When jumping over the reservation he jumps directly into the way of the car and as such is run over and killed as the driver of the car has no chance to react. However the driver is found guilty and has to pay compensation to the family of the killed man of about 150,000 RMB. How can it be right for an innocent driver to be penalized for following the law? I understand that this rule has been changed in Shanghai recently, such that the driver is not automatically found guilty, but in many parts of China this still appears to be the case.

In the event of an accident the police will come along, take pictures and then tell the people affected to talk to each other to arrange who pays for what. The driver normally will be expected to pay for all medical expenses, repairs to the other vehicle and also for the time off work of the injured party, even though they did nothing wrong. Even then, once an agreement is reached the police don’t give any advice to the injured people (assuming they were not killed) about how dangerous it is for them to behave that way on the road. I have been informed by local Chinese that whatever you do if you drive a car in China, and you hit an old man or woman, make sure they are killed in the accident. It sounds callous, but the reason being if they are alive it will cost you a lot more money as they will go to the doctors and come back with fees for every thing wrong with them, whether this is caused by the accident or not.

Why is it that such gross stupidity and ignorance is rewarded in China? Why is no money spent on educating the drivers of mopeds and bikes as well as normal pedestrians in China? Especially since the majority of road accidents seem to involve them. Almost all of them are not even insured .

Back to Richard… Well, I’m not so sure about the last paragraph; should you really have to spend government money to educate pedestrians not to walk across highways that are forbidden to pedestrians? If they are that mind-numbingly stupid that they would even consider doing such a thing, would some public service announcements really convince them to alter their behavior? In any event, this brought back memories of an old blog post that I found one of the most interesting ever; here’s the part it reminded me of:

This idea is sometimes taken to its logical, but most grotesque end. At accidents that occur at places and times where there are no witnesses, but one of the drivers is injured, the other driver sometimes intentionally hits the other person again to kill him. Why? Because if he stayed alive the other driver would be responsible for his medical bills, but if he’s dead then he doesn’t have an impact on the other driver’s life or pocketbook. Pause and consider the twistedness of that. Then pause again to consider that such stories are common enough to make it onto CCTV.

So what’s the reasoning behind a legal system that permits – no, encourages – such inanities? What’s the logic? Is it grounded in any philosophical or legal argument, or is it simply a matter of pure insanity? I really wonder. I really want to know what’s behind it.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

Technically, I don’t think this is much different than similar situations in other countries. I’m certain this ‘silence the witness’ mentality is limited to China.

I’m no legal expert, but I am also pretty certain that – at least in Canada – even if a pedestrian is breaking traffic rules, the onus is still on the driver. This, I think, is the number one reason why drivers in Canada actually slow down or stop for pedestrians crossing the road. I’m not sure why it doesn’t deter Chinese cabs in their attempts to race photons.

December 15, 2006 @ 12:08 am | Comment

Sorry, that last sentence in the first paragraph should have read: “NOT limited to China.”

December 15, 2006 @ 12:09 am | Comment

I’m curious the old story about the driver intentionally killng the pedestrian he has just injured to avoid paying out medical fees.

I’ve heard peoplw talking about this phenomenon since I was a youngster from Chinese and Taiwanese family and friends (I grew up in California). The funny thing was, in the late 80s, when I first heard these stories they were actually about Taiwan, and now they are always about PRC.

Are these legit stories or merely apocryphal? They “seem” plausible, but I just want to turn a critical eye on this troubling, but commonly communicated aphorism.

Anybody have first-hand knowledge of such incidents?

December 15, 2006 @ 12:11 am | Comment

Caliboy, one such story was recently featured on a local Shanghai tv show, according to some of my adult students who saw it (I didn’t).

As they related the story to me, apparently early one morning when few people were yet out, a man accidentally backed his car into an old woman, knocking her down. After he realized what he had done, he deliberately backed over her three times, then drove off. Unbeknown to him, the incident was captured on a security camera, and he was later apprehended.

The students told me that the show placed the incident in the context “Is our society becoming too ‘black’?” (for those unaware, in Chinese, “black” can mean evil or corrupt, e.g. criminal gangs are known as “black societies”).

December 15, 2006 @ 1:29 am | Comment

The one thing about living in China that really frightens me is the traffic here. Everybody, but just everybody, no matter if they are walking or riding a bike or driving whatever vehicle, just ignores traffic rules and, by the way, common sense. I’m wondering why I am still alive.

December 15, 2006 @ 2:38 am | Comment

For all the apparent illogic and craziness you see on the streets here, and there is lots of it, I feel more comfortable and safe on Chinese streets than I do at home [UK] whether I am walking or cycling. In the large cities, such as London, you have a high chance of being hit but a low chance of being killed; in my home area the chances of being hit are less but you are more likely to be killed as the traffic moves much faster; that is bad enough but what causes more grief than anything else is that the driver would have to be very unlucky to be charged with anything at all. Stories of vulnerable road users being seriously injured or killed and the driver getting off free are too common in the UK. In Britain, I’ve been hit and put in hospital twice and no one has been charged with any offence. I’m not saying the Chinese raods are perfect, far from it, but, so far here, I’ve escaped injury and I’m alive. I suspect the difference is with the attitude of drivers; UK drivers are amongst the most aggresive I’ve ever come across.

December 15, 2006 @ 4:41 am | Comment

Korean traffic laws are similar although blame is usually apportioned as a percentage to both parties. How could a driver prove they weren’t speeding? Koreans often settle up on the street to avoid contacting the police.

A student at the university where I taught was paralyzed after being hit by a car when he was young. The driver panicked after knocking him over, and then ran over him again to finish him off, so he wouldn’t have to pay enormous medical payments. The driver was never apprehended.

December 15, 2006 @ 7:41 am | Comment

Pedestrians are at great risk in the United States, as well, especially areas where republican racists live.

White racists who don’t like non-whites, will deliberately strike them with their vehicles.

Men have run over their wives, too. But they only have to go to jail for a year when they do this. That’s because they will lie, and say it was an accident.

December 15, 2006 @ 8:17 am | Comment

Laowai: I’m no legal expert, but I am also pretty certain that – at least in Canada – even if a pedestrian is breaking traffic rules, the onus is
still on the driver.

I think in most countrie pedestrians have right of way. If they throw themselves in front of cars on highways where pedestrians are illegal, however, I don’t believe the driver would be held liable, at least not in the US. I’m sure there’s anecdotal evidence of ocasional nutty judgements against drivers for hitting a pedestrian who is all but begging to be hit, but I’ve rarely if ever heard of this happening in the US or Canada.

Catnapping, thanks for that excellent comment above. Yes, every day in America evil drivers slice down pedestrians from races they hate. Nary a day goes by without such an incident. And it’s always whites who do it, as you say, and most likely they are white Christians. Thanks for contributing.

December 15, 2006 @ 8:33 am | Comment

I think one aspect in China–which you don’t really see in the US–is the curbside jury. In any collision, all immediate bystanders become involved in an impromptu al fresco courtroom drama. Those involved argue and cajole as the crowd whispers back and forth over who was most at fault. If (when?) the authorities arrive, it’s the crowd that does the talking, rendering a verdict.

It’s actually quite funny to watch, so long as you’re not the one on the dock!

December 15, 2006 @ 9:09 am | Comment


Can you check the IP address for Catnapping? I clicked on the link and was taken to a blog with lovely art maintained by a registered nurse living in Montana. I’m curious as to why an artsy RN in the Great Plains would write such a post, so I just emailed her with a copy of the message and a link, asking her to confirm whether she wrote it.

December 15, 2006 @ 9:42 am | Comment

Sonagi, I too was startled when i clicked the catnapping link – something doesn’t jive here. His/her (and at the risk of souding sexist, the comment definitely sounds like it’s written by a he) IP address shows he’s in Sacramento, CA.

Jeremiah, I’ve seen those “curbside courts” several times and the way they suddenly come to life is extraordinary. Within seconds, it seems they have an established hierarchy, with one person taking the lead (or so it seemed to me). I saw one on my last trip to Beijing. One of the drivers was so enraged, his fists were swinging and the crowd was holding him down.

December 15, 2006 @ 9:58 am | Comment

Plus, the link does not take you to the homepage, but a specific entry from March 2006. I am sure that whoever posted that message ripped off a blogger’s ID.

BTW, been over to Sinocidal lately. Some angry Dude has been spewing cuss words on several recent threads and getting verbally sodomized by the Sinocidal guys in turn.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:11 am | Comment

Just like the TTC days. They make this site’s threads look like a tea party.

Agree about catnapping. No idea what the commenter’s motivation is.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:19 am | Comment

I had an interesting chat with someone involved with logistics last year. It was alleged that some trucking companies advise drivers not to stop if they hit a body on the road when driving through some rural areas. Apparently its relatively common for people to dump the already-dead bodies of relatives on the road, or throw them in front of oncoming trucks, in order to get compensation.

I have no proof of this, but it sounded believable.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:21 am | Comment

This idea is sometimes taken to its logical, but most grotesque end. At accidents that occur at places and times where there are no witnesses, but one of the drivers is injured, the other driver sometimes intentionally hits the other person again to kill him. Why? Because if he stayed alive the other driver would be responsible for his medical bills, but if he’s dead then he doesn’t have an impact on the other driver’s life or pocketbook.

Actually, this is exactly what happens in Taiwan (rumoured to be widespread, but probably exaggerated). Truck drivers, who are mostly jacked up on Binlang (beetlenut), who hit pedistrians, or scooters, often would back up over them to make sure they were dead.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

It sounds like an urban myth to me. Unless the local cop is bribed by the villagers, no way is he dumb enough to think some stiff, discolored corpse is a fresh hit-n-run victim.

On one of the blogs I read, I heard a similar story about people throwing their dogs in front of trucks near tollgates.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:31 am | Comment

One of the differences I noticed between Taiwan and China was the low number of accidents (both vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to auto), in China compared to Taipei. I have seen only two serious accidents in SHanghai (one jsut like the example, on freeway to pudong where elderly waidi ren woman was killed when she tried to cross the meridian). But in Taipei, it was a regular occurance. I have seen many, many awful accidents, with blood and guts ; buses running over scooters and dragging them 100 m, old ladies on bikes at 4 am killed by hit and run; child killed by a trucker – these images still chill me today. Shanghai, on other hand, given the hi level of jay walking, getting stranded in the middle of road and lack of fear and healthy respect for cars, the incident of pedestrians being mowed down is very low. I contribute it to the general low speeds and less agressive driving of the Shanghai compared to the Taiwanese, as well as laws such as the one discussed.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:40 am | Comment

Richard said:

Well, I’m not so sure about the last paragraph; should you really have to spend government money to educate pedestrians not to walk across highways that are forbidden to pedestrians?

I’m sure this is just an oversight, but I’d like to point out that governments do not have money of their own; they “acquire” it from their citizens.

Anyway, given that Drivers Education is not a part of the public education in China, perhaps there is an incentive here for the government to rethink such matters. At the very least, they could utilize their propaganda printing presses to publish the basic rules for being a responsible pedestrian and teach it to the youngsters.

I remember being required to learn such rules when I attended primary school.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:48 am | Comment

I suggest you guys try Googling “common law wrongful death”.

One thing we learned in law school was that under common law (the law that the U.S. and Commonwealth countries “inherited” from England), it could be cheaper to kill someone than to injure them!

If you injured someone because of your negligence but he survived, you could be subject to a personal injury suit. But if you killed him, his spouse or children could not sue you on his behalf for his “wrongful death”.

In the U.S., individual states eventually passed laws in the 20th Century changing this. I don’t know what the situation is in the various Commonwealth countries, or in China for that matter.

I have also read rumours that drivers used to always be liable in China, but not from any actual lawyers. For that matter, I’ve also heard rumours that the law has been changed.

IF it is really true that the driver always pays, I don’t think the reasoning is that hard to fathom. In Western legal systems, the law is sometimes the result of a conscious decision as to who should bear the cost when both parties have not been negligent, such as the doctrine of “strict liability.” For example, with wild animals like lions, the owner is usually strictly liable for any injuries the animal causes. If a kid gets mauled by a lion, it doesn’t matter if he was suddenly attacked at the circus, or if the kid stupidly threw rocks at it to provoke it. Regardless of what the victim does, the policy is that someone who owns a wild animal with the inherent risks involved is going to be held responsible, period.l

It sounds like whoever made the Chinese law in this area simply decided that a car driver was far more likely to be financially able to pay medical bills than a pedestrian or cyclist, so the driver is stuck — period, end of discussion; taking care of whoever you hit becomes part of the standard responsibility of driving, regardless of fault.

I’d still like to hear from someone who has researched the actual Chinese laws…

BTW, while I personally can’t believe the recklessness of some Chinese pedestrians, I also am pretty angry at a lot of Chinese city planners who don’t give a damn about non-motorists. In Beijing, there are LONG stretches of road (e.g., along the 4th Ring Road) where a pedestrian will literally have to walk hundreds of metres just to cross the bloody thing.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:51 am | Comment

I would say the reasoning for the “driver is responsible in pedistrian deaths” rule lies in the grey area that would inevitably arise in cases regarding fault. The cab company would often have resources to refute fault, and well, things are rarely black and white. As far as I know, the law is fairly new in Shanghai (past 3 or 4 years), and is still in effect.

Also, in China, it often doesnt matter who is at fault, just who got the worst. I have friends who have been in fights started by Chinese men, and when defended themselves and kicked the sh*t out of the Chinese guy eventually are forced to pay money by the local police (esp if draw blood). The police dont seem to care who started the fight, only who got the worst.

Same sort of logic for the cars – pedistrians as the pedistrians or cyclists always get the worst.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:52 am | Comment

Snowdog, I’ve lived here (Taipei) a year and 4 months and never saw a single accident. I saw two the last time I was in Beijing. That could just be a matter of random chance. I don’t think one can draw conclusions on which countries have a greater percentage of auto accidents based on the number of accidents they themselves personally witnessed in those countries.

December 15, 2006 @ 10:53 am | Comment

Oh, really, snowdog? That’s not what the China Daily says:

Oh yeah, I forgot. Taiwan is a province of China. Must be all those crazy Taipei drivers ratcheting up the death toll.

And there’s this from the WHO:

December 15, 2006 @ 10:55 am | Comment

“Shanghai, on other hand, given the hi level of jay walking, getting stranded in the middle of road and lack of fear and healthy respect for cars, the incident of pedestrians being mowed down is very low. I contribute it to the general low speeds and less agressive driving of the Shanghai”

As much as I hate the city’s traffic, I have only seen a handful of serious accidents in my two years here. Driving skills are lacking and fender-benders are pretty regular… but given the narrow streets and relatively poor infrastructure it’s almost impossible to build up enough velocity for serious accidents (the only places where speed is possible is — occasionally — the elevated roadways (no jaywalkers) or Pudong (few people)).

In both in South Korea and Kuwait, I saw serious and often fatal accidents on an almost-daily basis. Of course, like Taiwan, these were two developing/newly-developed countries that had pretty good infrastructure and expressways. I’m sure after a few more years of investment in roads, Shanghai’s traffic fatality rate will catch up.

December 15, 2006 @ 11:04 am | Comment

I’m looking over snowdogs comments, and he certainly seems to have a chip on his shoulder about Taiwan… I would take his comments on Taiwan with a big grain of sea salt.

December 15, 2006 @ 11:10 am | Comment

Sometimes nothing beats a good example.

Warning: Graphic content.

December 15, 2006 @ 11:20 am | Comment

That’s nothing, THM – we see that kind of thing in Taiwan every day! (Not.)

December 15, 2006 @ 11:46 am | Comment

In the post, Guy asked:

“Why is no money spent on educating the drivers of mopeds and bikes as well as normal pedestrians in China?”

Actually, in 2006 Shanghai spent 900 million yuan on an anti-jaywalking campaign, with visible results (visible to me, anyway). Now lots of intersections have security cameras, not just to watch for speeders, but also to monitor jay walkers.

According to the Shanghai Daily, in the first two months of the program, 112,000 jaywalkers and 347,000 cyclists were punished (usually fines).

Some traffic accident stats, from a June 2006 article in the Shanghai Daily, citing figures provided by the Shanghai Academy of Traffic Engineering:

– In 2005, there were 9,238 traffic accidents in Shanghai, of which 1,393 were fatal.

– 44% of accidents were caused by someone with less than 3 years driving experience. Drivers have less than 3 years experience represent 30% of total drivers in Shanghai.

– 42% of accidents were caused by out-of-towners.

– 57% of accidents were caused by someone improperly changing lanes.

December 15, 2006 @ 12:06 pm | Comment

From Richard, who just zapped snowdog’s last comment:

Snowdog, I’ve noticed you seem hostile to Taiwan. Here’s what you wrote just the other day:

As I recall from my 8 years in Taipei, Taiwan “democratic” elections are significantly influenced by the systematic vote buying (door to door cash in return for promise of support), so maybe not so unusual?

Going through all your past comments, they are like this – damning Taiwan and praising the CCP. You defended the execution of a prisoner in China who was tried in secret with no attorney present. So I have a good idea about you, and I am tempted to ask you to leave the site. I don’t believe a word you say about anything.

December 15, 2006 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

Replying back to Flotsam on the issues in the UK where I have witnessed some pretty nasty collisions, I think your facts there are a little eschewed. Britain has some of the safest roads anywhere in the world, and there are plenty of statistics out there about it, however you are correct in that due to the speeds involved in some of the accidents, especially on B’roads these can normally be fatal. This can be very bad for pedestrians and cyclists as normally in many places there are inadequate cycle lanes. Certainly one incident I saw involved a bike being broadsided by a car on an A’road. The cyclist was badly injured with serious head and leg wounds, the driver disappeared. However the police where able to identify the car based on parts of his damaged front light which was left behind and they caught him two ours later at home. He was prosecuted for dangerous driving and also leaving the scene of the accident.

With response to snowdog, certainly in Shanghai there is more regards now for the law as it is a more international city. They are even enforcing people crossing the roads now at designated places with dedicated road wardens to manage this. But this is only in a few cities. I work in Changshu, which has a population of over 1 million people, this is located 100 km NW of Shanghai, and I also travel frequently to Wuhu and other cities. I have lost count of how many accidents I have seen in Changshu alone, just involving bikes and pedestrians, very few involve car to car, they tend to happen more on the motorways with.

I think I need to clarify the last paragraph of my original post though. I don?t think this is just a government issue with regards to education, but it should be something that is certainly raised at primary school, but it needs to also be reinforced by parents and other responsible people. Unfortunately many of these responsible people have no experience themselves of how to cross a road safely.

December 15, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

snowdog, I am under a lot of pressure moving all my belongings this week, and i really don’t have time for this. I looked over your other comments and I am very suspicious of your motives and your sincerity.

There are many, many, many commenters here with whom I violently disagree, but wouldn’t even think of deleting their posts, like Jing and Bingfeng and even Pigsun, because I believe they mean what they say. So let me just say, I am suspicious of you and am watching you. If I am wrong, if you are sincere and you didn’t mean to insult and belittle me earlier, my sincere apologies. You now have a chance to prove your sincerity. Comment as you will, but don’t insult your host or play games. Thanks a lot.


December 15, 2006 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

I think that the problem is located in the educational system, not only the formal system, but how parents educate their children. I’m American. It is a car culture. From being at a small age, we are always taught about the dangers of cars. Look left, then right, then left, and then if it is safe, cross the road. This is incubated in us at a really young age. It is part of our world view. In addition, we get driver’s ed when we are 15/16. Defensive driving and all that. This, in addition with the huge insurance industry, who want to ascertain negligence in relevance to laws that have or have not been obeyed, make Americans much more cognizant of what happens. The funny thing is that while China is thought of educating their students very well, many people don’t understand the F=M*A, and if you get in an accident with a car, you are a bag of guts and are going to lose.

December 15, 2006 @ 7:16 pm | Comment

To add to Pat’s comment,

Not only do most Americans learn to drive at 15/16, but many Americans also grew up in the backseats of cars. By the time we start driving, we have at least some idea of how good driving should “feel” (braking times, turning speed, acceleration, etc.) Nevertheless, most US teens are still bad drivers because they need experience behind the wheel.

Consider China: With the number of new car sales and new driver licenses issued each year, you have to figure that a high percentage of drivers on the road are “xinshou” relatively inexperienced, akin to American 17-year-olds…but without the added advantage (for most) of having gained experience and a “feel for the road” watching their parents drive for years. Many urban Chinese of driving age grew up on the back of a bicycle, it’s a tough transition to make.

It’s a dangerous mix of poorly enforced traffic laws and inexperience that is, in part, to blame for the craziness of Chinese urban traffic.

December 15, 2006 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

In law school, one of the first cases we studied was where a kid (of around 15) dove off the side of a hotel pool into the shallow end and ended up paralyzed. The court found against the hotel, saying the sign saying no diving in the shallow end was too small. Our law professor asked us students if we really believed the sign was or should have been necessary to convince a 15 year old boy and his parents not to dive in shallow water and we said no. He then asked if the sign had been bigger whether the boy would have dived anyway and we said yes. He then said that the reason for the decision was that the hotel had insurance. Making the driver pay is essentially China’s way of instituting no-fault insurance. Also drivers are presumed to have the money.

December 16, 2006 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

Not in any way to justify backing over a pedestrian to make sure they are dead, but in China victims of accidents and fights will often use their guanxi with friends at the hospital to get doctors to sign off on fake tests that were never performed on the injured patient in order to extract more money from the driver/winner of the fight. I know this because I did it when I was involved in a fight…

Many years ago my Chinese friends told me to run away if I hit an old woman with my bike or car because it would be extremely expensive if I “did the right thing” and stopped to see if she was all right. At the time, this struck me as insane. After living in China for four years, this makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, it appears the thinking has swung to the other extreme if people are finishing the accident victims off before going on their way.

December 20, 2006 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.