Wednesday, 29 March 2017



You see an injured, small child. Run over by a car. She lies bleeding on the road. Do you stop to help? No. You walk on. And so do several others.

Incredible? It happened in Shanghai, writes Calum MacLeod in The Times. Only one case amongst many. Chinese people do not like playing Good Samaritan, apparently. They fear being involved, accused and being sued for the accidents. The Bad Samaritan syndrome. To be fair, not peculiar only to China. It arose in the US years ago. Sue, grab it and run is the concept…

A personal anecdote. My Chinese friend Jian while staying in London borrowed a bicycle from his English landlady and went for a ride to Gypsy Hill. On the way, he fell off his bike. A bit shocked, he lay on the road. Two kind English ladies stopped and helped him. Looked after him. He was amazed: ‘It wouldn’t have happened in China’ he told me. ‘People would have been afraid.’

True, the Good Samaritan described in St Luke’s Gospel, chapter 10, operated in a very different culture. No fear of financial responsibility. (On the contrary, the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper to look after the wounded man.) Rather, it was religious and racial hatred he had to overcome. Samaritans and Jews abominated each other. Jews despised Samaritans as an alien, bastard and infidel bunch. Descendants of colonists imported by the Assyrians after the conquerors had deported ten Israelite tribes into remote places of their empire. (They never came back.) But Samaritans regarded themselves as true Jews and even desecrated the rival Jerusalem Temple. A wall of reciprocal, deep loathing divided the two races. Neither the Jewish priest nor the Levite stopped to assist the wounded man lying by the road. Although the victim was a fellow Jew they feared ritual pollution. Only the Samaritan ‘Other’ did. Overcoming xenophobia and ritualism, that charming, unforgettable figure

Is present fear of being sued the only reason for China’s Bad Samaritans? A Chinese writer observed the same selfish, inhuman behaviour 80 years ago, MacLeod writes. So, perhaps it goes deeper. Could it be linked to China’s Confucian heritage? Confucius’ fundamental text, The Analects, distinguishes between gentlemen and the common people. The gentleman was educated, the ordinary people, the ‘small men’ were not. They had no understanding or respect. They behaved differently and had to be treated accordingly.

Buddhism, the other key strand in Chinese culture, is not like that. Compassion is the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s supreme virtue. Unlikely to be approved of by an atheistic regime. Maybe China’s ruling Communist Party, despite its proletarian and peasant ideology, takes after Confucius. The ordinary people lack wisdom, ideological knowledge, therefore they must be dragged along the new path with a strong hand, promises and threats. If callousness and inhumanity are engendered along the way…too bad!

After the vile terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge last week, many ordinary people, passers-by rushed to help the wounded victims. They did not walk by on the other side. They didn’t fear having their clothes smeared with blood. They didn’t think of possibly being sued. Are British people fundamentally, essentially unlike the Chinese? Implausible. National characters differ but humanity is one. Here is a hypothesis: although Christianity is barely a hologram, a simulacrum in Britain today, without real influence or efficacy, a strain of subterraneous Christian virtue endures in society, buried in the people’s consciousness. Folks whose ancestors were at least not pagans but worshippers of the Crucified still retain a substratum of Christian ethics.

To be fair, the Duke of Wellington’s England – 200 years back – was Christian OK yet it partook a great deal of Confucian snobbery. To be a gentleman was to dress, behave and speak in a particular way – and to have money. The Iron Duke, who the priest much admires, was a strong Christian and also a great snob. But I don’t think Wellington would have hesitated to help a suffering, fellow human being in need. That would not have been ‘the decent thing to do’ – for a gentleman and a Christian.

‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ a scholar of the Jewish Law asked Jesus in Palestine long ago. The Messiah’s first reply was that the man had to love God with all his heart, mind and strength – and to love his neighbour as himself. Still, the scholar was a hair-splitter – or maybe he had an agenda and wished to lure Jesus into a trap. So he asked: ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus’ reply was not a philosophical definition but a vivid story. A parable whose meaning and power will last till humanity is not totally de-Christianised and de-humanised.

When I was chaplain in Turkey a member of my international congregation was a Japanese girl called Masako. A Christian. She told me that when her fellow Japanese found out she was a Christian they would say things like: ‘Oh! A Christian! So you must be a very good person!’ My own experience of parish life and people – indeed my own self-analysis – has not always led me to feel sanguine in believing that much but…I hope it might  be true.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


** follow on Twitter (Twitter Account not yet Authorized)
| ** friend on Facebook (#)
| ** forward to a friend (

Copyright © Fr Frank Gelli
Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp
** unsubscribe from this list (
| ** update subscription preferences (

No comments: