East and West: Mistaken Judgments

A man is taken suddenly ill when walking alone along a busy city street. He staggers and falls near the door of an evidently prosperous shop. What happens? Passers-by glance at him curiously and go on; a few stand and look at him, but no one touches him or meddles in any way; the shopkeeper keeps studiously out of sight. He is unconscious and a stranger, so no one can inform his friends, but after a time the shopkeeper gives notice to the yamen which has the charge of city affairs, and he is removed. All this time no one has so much as brought a cup of water, or tried to make him more comfortable.

“Callousness!” exclaims the foreigner. “Hard-hearted, selfish indifference!”

But what is the standpoint, what are the customs of centuries, the laws of the land, which lie behind this action or rather inaction? The law is that those who house, or feed, or attend to a man who dies, thereby must accept responsibility for him.

-From Thirty Years in Moukden, 1883-1913. Here you will find many more interesting accounts, like the tale of a Pole stranded in Manchuria, accounts of the Sino-Japanese War, Boxer Rebellion (strangely reminiscent of Hotel Rwanda), and Russo-Japanese war, the state of pre-Western medicine in China (nonexistent) and a description of how the 1911 revolution affected Manchuria in its first couple years. I guess, then, that stories of Chinese drivers running down the people they hit to make sure they’re dead aren’t that implausible.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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