The 2-year-old girl, identified as Wang Yue, is in a coma in critical condition in the Guangzhou Military District General Hospital following Thursday's accident, state media reported Tuesday. The Guangzhou Daily quoted the hospital's head of neurosurgery as saying the girl is likely to remain in a vegetative state if she survives.
A closed-circuit television video obtained by state media shows the toddler wandering along a narrow market street in the city of Foshan when she is struck by a van. As several people walk or cycle by, the child lies in a pool of blood and is then hit by another van. All told local media count 18 people passing by before a trash collector finally picks up the child and gives her to a woman identified as her mother.
The case is the latest heavily publicized example of Chinese in distress being ignored by fellow citizens in a phenomenon seen as illustrating the corrosive effect China's headlong pursuit of economic growth has had on public ethics.
"This brings a blow to our morality," news reader Yan Yanzi from Southern Television Guangdong said in a report that has been uploaded to video-sharing sites. "Where was your conscience? It is really disappointing news to watch, really disappointing," she said at the end of the report.
The TV report has been viewed more than 2 million times on the Internet television site of Youku.com Inc. China's version of Twitter, Sina Corp.'s Sina Weibo, has drawn 4.4 million comments and organized them under the hash tag "Please end the cold-heartedness."
Police arrested the driver of the second van the night of the accident and the driver of the first van, whose license plate was obscured in the surveillance video, on Sunday. Some online comments have demanded harsh punishment for the drivers.
"The drivers should be shot. No to any cooling down," Zeng Ziming said in a posting on his Sina Weibo feed.
The bitterest outrage, however, has been directed at those who ignored the injured child and at society's indifference. "Society is progressing, but human nature is regressing. These 18 passers-by are afraid of getting themselves into trouble," said a Weibo posting under the name She De.
While decrying the decay in social morality, many commentators have also pointed to China's lack of legal protections, such as a "Good Samaritan" law that would protect people from lawsuits if they try to help others in distress.
In another case that touched off public debate, an 81-year-old woman who had fallen to the ground unconscious accused a bus driver who tried to help her of knocking her over and causing her injury in the first place. Last week, state media reported that an American woman saved a Chinese woman from drowning in West Lake, a famous scenic spot in the eastern city of Hangzhou; commentators noted that only a foreigner would dare such a rescue.
"Although saving people constantly brings 'trouble,' nonetheless, ignoring the dying or even helping with evil acts by negligence is ripping apart society's ethical baseline and dissolving any sense of conscience deep in the souls of the public," commentator Li Hongbing wrote in Tuesday's People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.