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The unexpected hazards of charity in China

I met James during my first week in China.  He grew up with a British, Jordanian, Turkish and Russian heritage.  Well-rounded and well cultured than most, and was fluent Chinese.  James had more of an advantage than most who visit foreign countries and I listened inquisitively as he told me his story.

One day, while cruising on his bike, James saw a man lying on the road while spectators did nothing to help him.  Being a medical student, he couldn’t just stand by and do nothing, so stopped, put his bike down, and went to help the man.

The old man looked as though he’d been hit by a motor vehicle and was in very bad shape.  James asked the spectators what happened, but no one would say anything.  James tried to speak to the man but couldn’t understand his local language.  James yelled to the spectators to call the Police and an ambulance because the man needed emergency medical care, but no one would help him.  Assuming no one wanted to get involved, he made the call himself.

When the ambulance arrived, James told them what happened and the man was put into the ambulance and taken to the nearest hospital.  When James attempted to get on his bike and leave, two guys grabbed it and said, “You hit that man,” they insisted. 

”Give us money and we will not tell anyone.”

“What? Are you crazy?” James retorted, taking his bike from their hands.

A few hours later the Police called James asking him to go to the Police station.  They questioned him, asking him if he struck down the man with his bike.  James told them no, that he was just passing through and saw the man lying in the middle of the road not moving, and none of the spectators were helping him.  He told the officer he was a medical student studying at the University and couldn’t just ignore the guy, so got off his bike to try and help the man.  James told the police that upon discovering the man’s condition was very serious, requiring emergency medical treatment, he called for an Ambulance when no one else would.

The officers advised him he had interfered with Police business and should have left the man alone.  As a medical doctor, James told them, he had taken an oath to help people in trouble.  He didn’t care whose fault it was, or who did it, knowing the man’s health was more important, but more so, once the man was in safe hands there was nothing more he could do there.

“Look,” James said, “if you don’t believe me, check my story out with some of these people watching, they all saw what happened.”

The officers asked him to wait while they checked out his story.  When they returned, the officers informed him witnesses said James hit the guy with his bike then they called the Ambulance to take him to the hospital.   He asked to see the witnesses and they were the two men he met at the scene.

“What!  You can’t be serious!” James bellowed, “I did not hit the man!  They are all lying!  He was already on the road when I arrived and I tried to help him.”

“I’m sorry sir you will have to come to the Police Station with us.”

James could not believe what was happening.  He knew as well as all the witnesses that he was innocent, but his bike was confiscated and he was taken to the Police station for questioning.  At the Police station, he told the same story over and over trying to convince the officers he was not guilty and was now getting worried.

He asked the officers if there was any way he could prove he was innocent and they told him two ways.  To find a Chinese witness that could confirm his story, but also, if he did indeed had hit the man, his bike would be off balance and would fall over when ridden.

“Please, be my guest,” James said, adding, “The doctor’s in the hospital will confirm what really happened to the man.”

The Officers took James outside to test ride the bike.  An officer was motioned to get on the bike and drive it.  James, along with several other officers, all watched as the unqualified officer got on his bike, squeezed the throttle, crashing it.  James was stunned.

“He does not know how to ride a bike!” James yelled, “He just smashed my bike up!  What the hell is this?” he screamed.

“Sir, your bike was unbalanced because you hit the man.  That’s why it fell over,” one officer replied.

“No, this guy is inexperienced and cannot ride a bike!  He crashed it; you know it and you just watched him do it!  How am I going to prove I’m innocent now?  Let me drive it and you will see.”

“You will have to get a lawyer and find a witness,” they replied.

“Fine, I will do that,” he said and the Police let him go.

After leaving the Police station, James called a lawyer then went to see him.  The lawyer told him to put an ad in the local paper to see if anyone had witnessed what really happened.  Then he was to visit the man in the hospital who he allegedly hit and talk to him about what happened.

At first, when he called the newspapers, no one would write the ad – no one wanted to get involved because he was a foreigner.  Finally, after talking to a woman from one of the local papers, she agreed to run the ad.

In the meantime, James decided to pay the man in the hospital a little visit.  The man told him he was suing James for hitting him with his bike.

“You are crazy!  I didn’t hit you and you know it.  You’re lying!”

The man replied, “If you pay me five thousand Yuan, I will drop the lawsuit.”

“You set me up!  I will pay you nothing!” he shouted before leaving.

James had many Chinese friends, calling all of them to see if they would help him, but after several days they all called apologizing, saying it was very difficult to help him because he was a foreigner.

A few weeks went by and he still had to prove his innocence, or he would undoubtedly go to jail.  With no bike and no witnesses, he was running out of ideas.  He hadn’t heard anything from the newspaper, so went to see the woman who ran the ad.

The woman told James there was one call from a witness, but she had received two calls from the Police and the University to pull the ad and not to publish anything further.

“Pull the ad?  Why?”

“They didn’t want the ad in the newspaper, so asked me to pull it,” she replied.

James couldn’t believe what he was hearing, concluding that everyone was covering for each other.  He asked the woman if she could at least give him the name and number of the one witness she did receive.

The witness was a foreigner who was passing by and saw the whole thing.  He told James, while he was helping the man on the road two guys picked the bike up and dropped the bike in such a way it would look like he struck the man.

Once again, James went back to visit the injured man in hospital to inform him he now had a witness who could verify his story.

The man still insisted James pay him, only this time asked for two thousand Yuan then he would drop the charges.”

“I will give you nothing, ok!  You are a liar and this is finished!” James bellowed.

James returned to the Police with new information and one witness who could make things right.  For his efforts, he was told that a foreign witness was not credible and he now needed two local witnesses.

“Come on,” James pleaded, “I was set up and you know it, yet you refuse to acknowledge anything.  You trash my bike and make it look like I’m guilty.  Give me a break!  You know as well as I do I am innocent.  Please just give me back my bike and let me go.”

The Police offered him his bike back after one hundred and forty days, for an additional cost of two thousand Yuan.

“I will not pay you that much to get my bike back,” James bellowed, “A brand new bike costs three thousand Yuan, so why would I pay you two thousand Yuan after your officer smashed it up?”

“Pay two thousand and you get your bike back,” they offered.

“No,” James argued, “You keep it.  This is my present to you.  I will buy another one.”

James walked out with no bike and no more hassles, then a policeman called him and asked him to speak with the owner of the garage where the bike was.

“How much you will give us?” they asked.  It was a nice question, James thought.  This time James answered, “Only three hundred Yuan.”

In the end James did get his bike back for five hundred Yuan.

Sometimes however, no matter how careful we are there will always be that unexpected element of surprise that can happen when we least expect it. This particular set up involved at least three people, all for the sake of making a few bucks. Set ups of this nature do happen in China and other countries all over the world.

If James had been any other foreigner with little or no Chinese background, this situation would have turned out quite different, in fact, very badly.  However, because he put enough pieces together to prove himself and he spoke Chinese, he got off.

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