Good Samaritans will be protected from liability in China’s new civil code, the general provisions for which were passed on Wednesday.

After deliberation on Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers changed the Good Samaritan article in the draft provisions, removing a caveat that allows those who accidentally cause injury while helping strangers in an emergency to be held liable for damages, according to Communist Youth League paper China Youth Daily.

“Those who willingly take action in an emergency to save or help others, causing harm to the victim, will not bear civil liability,” the provision now says.

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
The Great Hall of the People. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

The change was reportedly made after some lawmakers suggested the clause be struck out to provide more comprehensive protection to rescuers.

The Good Samaritan provision is one of a set of principles that forms the opening chapter for China’s first unified code of civil law expected to be passed in 2020. The preamble was passed on Wednesday at the closing meeting of the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and will take effect on October 1.

Lawmakers say the new civil code, which will be used to settle private disputes, will improve protections for citizens’ personal and other rights.

The clause was added to the draft of the general provisions when it was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee in December, according to China Daily.

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A bystander walks by as Wang Yue lies on the ground after being hit by a vehicle. Photo: Screenshot.

‘Bystander effect’

There has been a long-running debate over the need for a Good Samaritan law in China. In a notable 2011 case that horrified the world, a two-year old child, Wang Yue, was run over by two separate trucks as more than a dozen people passed by without helping. She was finally rescued by an elderly garbage collector but died a few days later.

Onlookers are often reluctant to help, partially as a result of the lack of legal protection and cases of extortion by injured parties or some pretending to be injured.

In an effort to change attitudes, one Chinese insurance company launched policies in 2015 for those who help elderly people in need. Shanghai enacted a law in 2015 that protects those who call emergency services and follow instructions, and Beijing is drafting a law to ensure those who help will not need to cover medical costs. However, there has been no national legislation until now.

Li Jinglin, a lawyer in Beijing, told US-backed Radio Free Asia that the amendment was good. “This is correct, because Good Samaritan acts result in benefits to society, if there is an error that results in loss, society should bear the responsibility, and not the person [who tried to help].”

But he added that legislation is not enough, and the practice needs to become part of social attitudes.

“Legislation is only one level – more important is how people can cultivate the values and ideas of the Good Samaritan, actually the millennia-old religious tradition is a good channel to cultivate these values.”

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.