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From The Straits Times, Monday, September 30, 1996

"No money, no rescue"

A 6-YEAR-OLD boy drowned in a river in southern China after bystanders refused to rescue him unless his penniless sister paid to save her brother’s life, a newspaper reported.

Hongkong’s South China Morning Post said that Huang Tao and his 8-year-old sister were standing on a bridge overlooking Yangchuan River in Guizhou province watching soldiers in a drill when he slipped and fell into the water. Huang Yan cried out for help, but no one responded to her plea.

"There were many people fishing, walking or playing on either side of the river… but no one would help the little boy," the newspaper quoted a stinging commentary published in the Women’s Daily in China. A group of young men playing cards told the girl to stop bothering them. A vendor folded up his stand and left without a word.

"If I rescue him, what good will it does me?" asked a young man. The commentary said that “the boy was not killed by the merciless waters, but by the merciless hearts of those people.”

Tao’s struggles kept his head above water for several minutes before he succumbed to exhaustion. Only when the boy’s parents, alerted by his sister’s screams, arrived and offered 100yuan (S$17) did the bystanders indicate an interest.

"The young men even tried to bargain for a higher price," the newspaper said. As soon as the soldiers heard the commotion, several rushed over to save the child but it was too late.

A fisherman who retrieved Tao’s body refused to turn it over to his sobbing parents until they paid him 200yuan.

"Money itself is not cruel, but when people are obsessed by it, the world becomes a terrible place," the newspaper said.

Earlier this month, Guangzhou issued rules stipulating punishments for people who did not try to save others "in mortal danger". Beijing officials are also drafting similar legislation.

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