Chinese internet giant Alibaba has rolled out a new insurance plan to protect people who lend support to fallen elders in the street. The product aims to hedge against risks of being accused of causing the fall.

The plan, called “lift up old people insurance”, is available on Alipay at only three yuan (HK$3.65 or US$0.47) per year.

The plan is recommended on Alipay. Photo: Alipay.

The insurance beneficiary can claim up to RMB20,000 (HK$24,387 or US$3,144) for litigation costs if they get into legal trouble for helping old people who fall down in public. The plan also includes a full year of legal advice.

Alipay’s new product came after a string of incidents in recent years where young people were subjected to blackmail after helping elderly people who fell in the street.

The three-yuan “lift up old people insurance” plan. Photo: Alipay.

‘Bystander effect’

In 2013, a man in Guangdong committed suicide after being accused of causing an old man to fall and asked to pay hundreds of thousands of yuan in hospital fees. He had seen the old man lying on the street and carried him to the hospital. The old man later confessed that he fell down by himself.

Similar incidents in Guangdong and other parts of China were also widely reported, with some victims taking their cases to court.

A cartoon in which an old woman said: “You knocked me down” to a boy who tried to help her get up. Photo: tiantianyj.com.

These incidents added to China’s “bystander problem,” with many using the possibility of being framed as a reason to avoid helping those in need. In 2011, when a two-year-old in Guangdong was run over by a truck,  18 people passed by without helping her. She later died in hospital.

The cold-hearted response of the bystanders caused outrage home and abroad.

Alipay’s “lift up old people insurance” was an instant hit online. Some hailed Alibaba for making an effort to solve a social problem which the government should be solving. “What a great company!”, a comment read on news portal Sina. It was “liked” almost 600 times.

Others marvelled at Alibaba’s ability to find business opportunities “everywhere.” However, some said RMB20,000 is hardly enough if good samaritans do get into legal trouble.

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Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.