An incident in which a foreigner driving an unlicensed motorcycle knocked down a woman at a Beijing street crossing has sparked an angry flurry of finger-pointing and online debate invoking racism, morality, and even the history of China’s interactions with other countries.
The accident occurred at 10.40am on Monday morning, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau, and was captured by a surveillance camera over the Chaoyang intersection. After a lengthy argument following the collision, the woman was taken to hospital and released without serious injury. The male driver paid the woman 1,800 yuan (HK$2,276) to cover her medical costs.
The argument was filmed by onlookers and has been widely shared and commented on online.
In one video circulating online, the man was seen swearing at the middle-aged woman in Chinese and English as she squatted by the side of the motorcycle, clinging to the seat. The man was then seen yelling at her repeatedly to get up and go away. He tried briefly to remove her himself but an onlooker immediately intervened.
The video shows the man using impeccable Mandarin to insult the woman in crude terms.
Reports appeared immediately in the media and online forums accusing the woman of trying to scam the man to extort money, but it was soon confirmed by the police that the man was at fault.
In an interview with the Beijing News the woman, surnamed Li, said “People from my home town have called me to ask if I went to Beijing to become ‘hit porcelain’ (碰瓷),” using a colloquial term to refer to people who engineer minor accidents for financial gain. Li says she had also heard the accusation being made on television.
The incident has reignited soul searching about the morals of Chinese people, their attitude to foreigners, and the behaviour of the media. The Beijing News has since printed several lengthy articles analysing the incident.
“Amid the clamour in cyberspace, the media ought to hold strong media ethics, keep a cool head and respect the facts. In this way they can supply the truth to the public and put out false fires of scatterbrained superficiality”, wrote one Beijing Times commentator.
Many were angry at the false accusations levelled at Li. “To the People’s Daily, why don’t you continue licking the a******* of foreigners?” wrote one.
Others expressed strong anti-foreign sentiment, “Not every foreigner who comes to China is a good person. Don’t forget the Eight-Nation Alliance invasion that killed and injured so many of us! Don’t forget the national humiliation by Japan!” a weibo user wrote.