The #1 reason I don’t ride the bus (actually #1 is over-crowding – but fuck). Warning: Probably not best to watch this if you are sensitive to rather terrifying images and people screaming.

Update June 7, 2009
Here are a few links putting the video in context.

The short version is – 25 people killed, 76 injury and it all could have been prevented.


  1. Jesus fucking Christ! Was this a case of spontaneous combustion due to overheating? I’ve heard of that happening to vehicles here but… Holy shit!

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  3. That is truly horrible. Did the bus doors fail to open? I know all too well how idiotically packed the buses get but I would like to think if the doors had opened a lot more people would have been able to escape.

  4. @Kellen: Sorry m8. I thought the “crazy bus fire” and the “warning” category was enough – but you’re right – I should have mentioned it’s not safe for sensitive viewers.

    @Stephen & Nathan: I really have absolutely no idea about the story behind it. I was cruising Youku last night to find something to watch with the wife and it was on the front page. Shocking and terrible. I’ve seen a number of vehicles on fire on the roads here in China, and imagine that the prevalence of it has to do with poor maintenance. You would hope that a public trust like public transit would take the maintenance and safety of their fleet a little more seriously.

  5. I’m moved by the number of people who acted to break windows and get people out and SHOCKED at the number of people who just kind of went about their business after stopping to watch, even stepping around some poor woman, clearly in distress, who had fallen in the middle of the road.

    Why do I have the feeling that if I’m ever in a horrific accident leading to my imminent demise, the last thing I will ever see is a circle of faces “kan-ing the renao,” staring down at my mangled soon-to-be corpse, debating whether “foreigner blood is really the same color as Our Chinese blood”…thank god at least my last words “Call an ambulance you rubbernecking morons” will be preserved for ever courtesy of Youku.

  6. @Jeremiah: The apathy is equal parts angering and saddening. Numerous times, on this blog and others, we foreigners have academically discussed the reluctance of most Chinese onlookers to get involved and help, but seeing it while people are dying is just horrific. There are certainly examples of the opposite, I just wish they weren’t the exception.

    Reading on ESWN that the bus driver bolted as soon as he saw flames (but long after he was warned of smoke, and continued driving) just further solidifies my lack of trust in this country. I hate it, I hate that I’m continually given proof against what I’d prefer to believe and hope.

    @Neddy: You’re absolutely right. That line between clusterfuck and accident is a squiggly and blurry one to begin with, but strikingly so when it comes to this country.

  7. Saw a bus just blow up like this in Shanghai whilst visiting a friend of mine. We both thought that a bomb had gone off, but soon realised that it must have been the fuel tank as there was no damage to the surroundings. It was at a distance so I couldn’t see whether anyone was injured or not, but at least the emergency services arrived fairly quickly.

    These buses (and I’ve only seen it happen with the new ones) have a less than stellar safety record. The incident in Shanghai did not make the news, not even the local stuff. When I saw (or rather, didn’t see) that I remembered a friend of mine who made a payment to a local paper to keep a fire that happened in his factory’s dormitories out of the news. Poor maintenance? Well, maybe, or maybe the machine itself is defective – come one, it wouldn’t surprise you if the manufacturers had skimped on a few safety features now would it?

  8. @Jeremiah, @Ryan: It’s called the “Bystander Effect”, and is not particular to any race.

    It’s basically when people stand around while something terrible (generally with involving death) is happening, and do nothing: “When there is an emergency, the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that any of them will actually help.”

    Perhaps some cultures place greater positive empahisis on “kind strangers”, which may have an influence of this effect. In any case, the effect is still seen. The fact is that if there are lots of people observing a disaster, very few will give aid unless a large number of people are seen to be _already_ doing so. It is not unique to China or its people.

    It may even be worse in some western countries: “In more modern situations in the United States, the fear of a liability lawsuit may factor into the bystander effect. With lawsuits so prominent in modern U.S. society, a person who may have helped a victim may not, under fear of making the situation worse and consequently being sued.”

    People, in groups, are fuckwits.

    Read:, in particular:

  9. “Not being unique” is not the same as “not a problem.” I think we are talking a bit about degrees, and it should be noted that quite a few of the comments on Tianya, etc. remarked on the same phenomena, with language even more specific to “China” and “culture” than I was.

    In the end though, it’s like saying that because it rains in Beijing, flooding isn’t a problem in New Orleans.

  10. @Mike: “People, in groups, are fuckwits.” Too entirely true, and you’re absolutely right that this has nothing at all to do with race.

    “In more modern situations in the United States, the fear of a liability lawsuit may factor into the bystander effect. With lawsuits so prominent in modern U.S. society, a person who may have helped a victim may not, under fear of making the situation worse and consequently being sued.”

    I think there is definitely a prevalence of this in China over other countries exactly for the reason above, and for it being drilled into most Chinese from a young age — by parents and their education system — that they need only look out for themselves.

    But I admit I may be biased in this for the simple fact that there aren’t as many opportunities in my home country to witness horrible people-killing situations. Unlike China where I’ve seen a number of grisly accidents (a couple of which I’m fairly certain resulted in death/s), such experience (thankfully) eluded me in my life prior to coming to China.

  11. No! NO! NO! let’s not use the bystander effect to excuse this. Yes, the Bystander effect is real and exists in all nations, but China is different.
    If you help a victim in China then you are to blame. Simple!
    You can research this foul cultural practice in any media form. The Chinese themselves know they have it.
    If you are in an accident in China few will help you, most will look on.
    In fact if you help someone in an accident you will more often than not get arrested. Once again, to help is to admit you caused the accident.
    Let’s not start a false idea about the “Bystander effect”.

  12. Nedzer, you’re kidding me, right? You want to replace the “false idea” about the “Bystander effect” with the “false idea” that helping someone in an accident in China will “more often than not” get you “arrested?”

    I think you’ve been reading too much tabloidy stuff, maybe a bit heavy on the chinaSMACK and ESWN. I know these stories get lots of play in the media (obviously, given how outrageous they are), but really, people help each other in China every day without getting arrested. Believe it or not and “more often than not”, the vast majority of people in China do not automatically assume the person helping them is the one to blame or try to pin the blame on them. Your sentiments are understandable, but your choice of words are blowing them out of proportion.

  13. I can’t remember for the life of me an excellent blog written by two Canadians in China. After they returned to Cananda (and only after the returned to cananda) dit they write a list of complaints thet they found difficult to forgive. I can’t remember the blog. Anyone out there have a link to it?
    He talked about the good samaritan problem in China and it’s cultural history.

  14. “…drilled into most Chinese from a young age — by parents and their education system — that they need only look out for themselves.”

    I remember a [Chinese] friend telling me something her parent’s repeatedly said to her while she was growing up: “Don’t stick your neck out or it’ll be cut off!”

    “…aren’t as many opportunities in my home country to witness horrible people-killing situations. Unlike China where I’ve seen a number of grisly accidents…”

    I totally agree – the exact thought occurred to me just before sleep last night. If comparable events do not happen in one country, but are quite common in another, though we’d be far more likely to observe this behaviour in the first country, we couldn’t draw any conclusions on a cultural differences (in terms of the bystander effect) between two countries.

    Interesting to learn about the sabotage – Hopefully we get to learn why!

  15. My theory is it comes form the warped teachings of Confucius . Sacrifice everything for your family – strangers are nothing – sort of thing.
    @Kai no I’m not kidding you. You know as well as I, this exists in China and nowhere (as far as I know) else. I’ve seen it and experienced it. Ever see a guy slap his wife around and no one stops him? It’s a damn fact! We, who have been here all have seen it too often to blame the bystander effect.How it got into Chinese culture is anyones guess – I’ve stated my guess. Give me yours.

  16. @kai I’m pretty sure Nedzer is right on this one. In China there is no “good Samaritan” law.

    While helping someone at the scene is not admitting guilt by any means, you can be held legally liable for injuries sustained by that person i.e. someone in a car accident is moved by a well intentioned person and the victim’s neck injury gets further traumatized …. it is the 3rd party’s fault. In N. America the “good Samaritan” is protected by law, in China you arent.

  17. Interestingly enough, the very next day I rode all around town, and every bus I stuck my nose into had emergency hammers on display (some visibly newer than others). I’m not a frequent bus-traveler, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been on some in the past without these safety hammers. Sigh, I so often feel I live in a reactionary climate here…
    Hopefully this incident, as terribly sad as it might be, will at least fuel a local debate and throw public safety into the national spotlight… and hopefully prevent something similar from happening in the future.

  18. No, Nedzer is not right on this one. It may be that certain aspects of modern Chinese society or of long-standing Chinese culture amplify the bystander effect, but the bystander effect is still real and probably the largest part of why so many stood and watched (and videoed) the fire. Remember, many bystanders did go to help, and China is by no means the only country where the bystander effect happens. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen something (hopefully relatively minor) happen and done nothing because other people were there helping. Also, I have been helped numerous times by random Chinese strangers and have on a few occasions helped random Chinese strangers all without anybody being arrested, sued, or in any way getting in trouble. Sorry, Nedzer, but you’re wrong.

    I believe the blog Nedzer refers to is this one:

  19. This is from the drivers license test, verbatim… When discovering the persons injured in a traffic accident need rescue while driving, the driver should _________.
    A. Send the injured persons to hospital in a timely manner or make emergency calls
    B. Dodge as much as possible
    C. Go ahead by bypassing the scene
    D. Find an excuse to dodge the scene

    Yes, the correct answer is A, it is just a shame you see D more in practice.


    I know the bystander effect is real – it’s in all countries. I’m saying due to cultural conditioning in China people don’t tend to help, after the bystander effect wears off. Sure there are cases when people help here in China but the opposite is more common due to the culture. (I’m commenting on incidents in China in general)
    Wish I was wrong.

    @Chriswaugh – thanks for the link

  21. Nedzer your beating a dead specious horse buddy. Just let it go before you start backtracking into complete contradiction. There is nothing inherent in Chinese culture which drives people to stand by while others suffer. And your “theory” that this alleged behavior stems from the teachings of Confucius is silly, and proves that it is your limited understanding of his philosophy that is warped.

    The bystander effect is a psychological condition that can potentially effect all people regardless of ethnicity. I would guess that if it seems more prominent in China it is because of its population. There are just more people around to be caught up in and thereby perpetuate a bystander effect.

  22. Stephen said,”There is nothing inherent in Chinese culture which drives people to stand by while others suffer.”

    Yeah, sorry I was wrong on that one. Don’t know where I got that idea. Thanks again for setting me straight on Confucius and Chinese culture.
    Dead horse no longer flogged.

  23. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often with the massive amounts of buses bussing around in the summer heat. And I honestly can’t remember ever seeing a safety hammer in a bus in China. Seen them on the trains though.

  24. i used to see this thing all the time in taiwan…well, to an extent at least (being neither completely “chinese” neither completely to the massive, destructive scale such as this). bottom line is that similiar incidents happened all the time in taiwan, which shares at least a bit of culture (if anything) with the mainland. i’ll blame it again on the lack of a “good samaritan law” as i did in taiwan….

  25. @ Stephen: ”There is nothing inherent in Chinese culture which drives people to stand by while others suffer.”

    Crap. It’s one thing to point out that bystander apathy is common to all peoples of the world, it’s quite another to dismiss cultural influences that clearly facilitate inaction in the face of accidents, beatings, robbery etc. This IS a more prevalent phenomenon in China, not on racial grounds, but through its psychological interaction with social factors specific to Chinese cultural teachings and values.

  26. @stuart and @nedzer If either of you, or anyone else for that matter, can supply, instead of conjecture, some sort of factual information to back up this claim that the Chinese culture influences people as such that they are capable of a higher level of behavioral response than any other people are capable of, I would in all honestly love to hear it.
    If it isn’t a higher level of behavioral response, and all people are capable of this action (or inaction), then it isn’t something endemic to the Chinese culture but simply a universal human reaction to an external stimulus. Furthermore, if this human reaction to external stimulus has, in China, more manifestations per capita it is more likely due to contemporary psycho-social influences, such as fear of a corrupt and impotent legal system, rather than the sum total of over 5000 years of life.

    • when i see an injured person or accident in china and wish to stop to help my wife gets terrified. she fears that we will be implicated in the causation as i am white and will be a target for reparation.

      non interference of “nature’ is entrenched in Buddhist thinking,

  27. @ Kai, Stephen, and everyone who’s giving Nedzer a hard time:

    There is plenty in Chinese culture which drives people to stand by while others suffer.

    The Chinese themselves blame Chinese culture (and the Confucian heritage specifically) for the conspicuous relative lack of “Good Samaritan” behaviour and expectations in China. Cultural scholars/critics, both Chinese and Western, have identified this as a long-standing aspect of Chinese culture, and the one’s I’ve read all trace it back to deficiencies in the Confucian heritage. You can see some quotes here: The Good Samaritan with Chinese characteristics (Pt.2): explanations, excuses, & scapegoats

    Sure, there’s rubbernecking everywhere. But when it comes to people’s willingness to (more or less) altruistically intervene on behalf of a stranger in crisis, Chinese society distinguishes itself – in a bad way. In other words, bystanders in China are much less likely to constructively intervene than bystanders in, say, Canada; expectations are vastly different. It’s not racial; it’s cultural. And it’s obvious. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which are explored in the link above.

  28. @Stephen

    Your statement here doesn’t make sense to me:

    If it isn’t a higher level of behavioral response, and all people are capable of this action (or inaction), then it isn’t something endemic to the Chinese culture but simply a universal human reaction to an external stimulus.

    What you’re calling “external stimulus” is the culture (technically I wouldn’t describe culture this way, but it’s good enough for now to make my point). Also, I think you’re the only one here seeing some sort of racial aspect in others’ comments.

    Side note — something I often see among foreigners discussing Chinese and Western culture: we assume too much similarity in areas where we’re actually very different, and we assume too much difference in areas where we actually have a lot of common ground and solidarity. I don’t know why.

  29. @Joel The external stimulus is the event influencing the reaction; in this case a the burning bus.

    The limitations of Confucianism are not a sufficient basis for your argument as China isnt the only country that has been influenced by its philosophy. In fact I would argue that contemporary Chinese society is less influenced by Confucianism than the more developed and westernized societies of S.Korea and Japan.

    So, if a Canadian rushes to help a stranger in crisis where a Chinese wont, it is again not because Chinese culture dictates it, but because the Chinese is under the influence of the sociological constraints adherent to contemporary Chinese society.
    For example lets say the Canadian Good Samaritan in this instance is a Chinese born and raised in Canada. Is his cultural heritage erased because he is Canadian? No, but because of the sociological constraints and expectations of the society he was raised in he reacts accordingly.

    @joel said: “Also, I think you’re the only one here seeing some sort of racial aspect in others’ comments.” …huh??
    When did I mention anything about a racial aspect in anyones comments? Also, since you seem to so wrongly interpret them yourself, you may want to refrain from guessing as to how everyone else is interpereting these comments.

  30. @ Stephen:

    ”There is nothing inherent in Chinese culture which drives people to stand by while others suffer.”

    And later…

    “…but because of the sociological constraints and expectations of the society he was raised in he reacts accordingly.”

    Seems like you want it both ways. Btw, how do you so readily separate ‘sociological constraints and expectations of society’ from culture?

  31. @stuart I’m not sure what your getting at. The first quote is pretty self explanatory. The second one was about a Canadian. Try reading it again within the context it was written it will probably make more sense. Basically what I was saying was a Chinese Canadian will react the same way any other Canadian would in such a situation.

  32. China has a long tradition of 看热闹 – being a looker on – that i just havent experienced in quite as strong a way back home.

    I’d suggest that ‘看-ing the 热闹’ really is part of the culture here.

  33. @Stephen

    1. Looks like i confused you with someone else on a totally different thread with my comment about bringing race into it. Sorry! Somewhere someone was insinuating that the commenters were borderline racist for saying that Chinese are less like to help in Good Samaritan-type situations (lots of blogs have stuff on the bus fires right now), but not here (I scanned through again and couldn’t find it). My apologies.

    2. Re-reading your “external stimulus” quote I now see how I read it wrong at first. However, my point is still that Mainlanders and Canadians (for example) will typically respond differently to the same “external stimulus” when it involves a Good Samaritan situation. And cultural differences are the major factor at play. Specifically, culture scholars blame China’s Confucian heritage for discouraging Good Samaritan behaviour.

    3. I think stuart’s got your cornered, or at least he’s identified where some of us are having trouble understanding you. “The sociological constraints and expectations of the society” are part of the culture. Therefore: “because of the [culture in which he was raised] he reacts accordingly.” (Perhaps our problem here is that you’re using an odd definition of culture?)

    4. The idea that China’s Confucian heritage is a major underlying factor in the obvious relative lack of Good Samaritans in China is not “my” argument. As you’ll see at the link Nedzer and I’ve posted, I’m just relaying what some of my Chinese culture books tell me. I don’t personally have the expertise to make up stuff like that on my own.

  34. @ Stephen – I’m waiting for an answer from the i-was-in-an-accident-and-no-one-helped-rubbernecking-department-of-China.

    It’s a sister department to the i-died-in-an-accident-because-no-one-helped-rubbernecking-department-of-China but they don’t get much statistics.

    I’ll mail them on to your address. Where is your bubble located?

    Last thing, I’d argue that the stupid influences of Confucius and Mencius are but a part of a system that has held this country back in every walk of life, for those principles restrict the true ability of a Chinese to develop him or herself freely and emotionaly. Look at the education system here. Did Confucius teach students to be independent and think independently, yet still observe the principles of filial piety? NOPE
    Confcukdup himself did’nt pursue lines of questioning, and so (the usual) teacher centered learning in China has resulted in students rarely answering questions. The Confcukian system is accredited with the principles of rote learning and an extreme avoidance of helping strangers from a simple politeness of holding a door open to helping a stranger in an accident.

  35. @Nedzer you’re a moron. After all your belligerence you still failed to perceive my point. I am not disagreeing with the fact that there are people who stand around and watch at the scene of an accident or that people here can be discourteous. No, what I disagree with is in the cause of these behaviors.

    @Joel ‘Culture’ can be an ambiguous term but its meaning here was contextualized by nedzer as an adherent and integrated behavior within a specific society. The reason I say culture doesn’t fit here is because if you took the current Chinese population and deposited them into a more just and fair and developed society they would after a generation or two become as responsible as the Canadian Good Samaritan in your example.

    The fact of the matter is, the Canadian comes from a more advanced society. 400 years ago that same Canadian Samaritan’s ancestors wouldn’t have been as altruistic as he. But does that mean that the Canadians of todays are prone to raping and pillaging aboriginal peoples? Certainly not.
    Not every Canadian’s ancestor participated in such atrocities and neither do all of todays Chinese participate in rubbernecking/inaction in the face of human suffering. We are not dealing with an integrated behavioral pattern, but a learned reaction to contemporary China’s unique sociological conditions.

    Lets take another example. Lets take the United States. When the US was 30 years into its development, Americans during that time certainly weren’t as (ahem) considerate and civil as they are today. Does that mean that its part of every Americans intrinsic behavioral pattern to be racist? No.

    How about Japan. The Japanese some 50 years ago were ruthlessly raping and murdering people from nearly every culture around them. Does that mean that Japanese today maintain the idea that raping and murdering civilians is an acceptable practice while at war? No.

    What about Germany?

    The list goes on and on until finally you realize this is a “human” issues pertaining to psycho-social development, and not specific to any one culture.

    China is in the midst of development. If things are still rough around the edges, it should be understandable given what has transpired here over the past 50 years.

  36. Gawd! the China-is-a-developing-country argument. Ha, ha. I never imagined it would be used for this.

    Stephen gibbered,”psycho-social development”.

    Is that not culture?

    I am a moron. My wife mentions it daily.

  37. First time here… How did a discussion of a tragedy turn into a Nuremberg trial on the Chinese people and Confucian teachings? If you automatically blames the Chinese people as a whole whenever a tradegy occurs, you have some serious issues.

  38. It is a criminal case.Reported by china govermant:A 60 old man who hate the world bring some oil on the bus and made a suicide.

    • that would explain the intensity of the fire.
      most buses have a 20 litre pail of oil near the back seat.

      also the cushions burn, smoking is not allowed but like all ignorant chinese, they smoke on the bus.

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