Friday, September 07, 2007

Calabash Monk in Nanjing

In Chapter Four of the ancient Chinese classic "The Story of the Stone", a calabash monk in Nanjing presided a case made an absurd ruling to please powerful officials. A recent case in Nanjing presented us a living calabash monk, Judge Wang Hao of the Gulou District People's Court.

The case is about an incident happened in downtown Nanjing, near a bus station. The plaintiff, the accused, the witness and the police gave conflicting accounts of what happened on Nov 20, 2006. What has been recognized by all parties is that a young man, Mr. Peng Yu, helped an old lady, Ms. Xu Shoulan, who was found lying on the ground near at a bus station to the hospital. Their memory differs from this point:

Mr. Peng Yu, the accused: I saw an old lady lying on the ground with painful expression when I got off Bus route 83. I walked to the lady to check out her condition. With help from other people, I moved the old lady to a safe place, and notified her family. After arriving the scene, the old lady's son asked me help to escort the old lady to hospital, because he's afraid he couldn't handle by himself. He also said he didn't bring much cash with him, and borrowed $30 for doctor's fee and examine fees etc. Doctors examined the old lady's legs, and told her it's a serious and costly problem. All in a sudden, the old lady grabbed me and said, 'You bumped me young man, and you should pay'.

Ms. Xu Chuanlan, the old lady and the plaintiff: I was trying to catch a bus, when bumped by Mr. Peng as he rushed out from another bus.

Chief Lu, the Chengzhong police station: Mr. Peng admitted he bumped somebody when we investigate the dispute on the same the incident happened.

Mr. Peng: I never admitted I bumped into anybody. We can check the original deposition on record in the police station.

Chief Lu: The original document was lost, but we had an unsigned version, which I took a picture with my own cell phone.

Mr. Peng: That's not the original document that I signed, you forged the document! Wait a minute, the Exif data of the picture showed it could not be taken with your cell phone.

Chief Lu: ......
(laster it was revealed by reporters, the pictures were produced by the old lady's son, a police officer working for the No. 8 division of Nanjing Police Department)

Mr. Chen Erchuan, the witness: I was walking that direction when I saw an old lady rushing from bus No. 3 to bus No. 2. Then she collapsed to the ground at the tail of the bus. Then I saw Mr. Peng walked to the lady from the bus. I also approached to help. The old lady thanked Mr. Peng and me for the help. Also she acknowledged at the scene that none of us had anything to do with her collapse.

The old lady: I have never seen this man before in my life. He was not at scene that day.

The witness: Oh my God, I have no interest with either of you, why would I bother to lie? You thanked me for the help that day! Do you remember you asked me to call your son from the scene to tell him you had an accident?

The son, a police officer: I have never talked to this man. By the way, I don't even recognize the number he said he called.

The witness: this is my cell phone bill printed by the telephone company.
(The witness called the number, which is listed on the bill as being dialed at the time when the incident happened. Sure enough, the son's cell phone rang)

Mr. Wang Hao, the judge: I have made the verdict: Although I can't find enough useful evidents, but the case is clear to anyone with common sense. If Mr. Peng didn't bump the old lady, why would he help her in the first place? Common sense told us the best thing for anyone at an accident was to get away from the wounded person ASAP. Mr. Peng not only helped the old lady at the scene, he even assisted her son to get her to the hospital, and borrowed his son $30 to pay the examinations. What an absurd and ridiculer behavior if it was not him who had caused the accident? Therefore, Mr. Peng must be the one who caused the old lady's injury. Therefore, he should pay the old lady $6000 for medical bill, sufferings and mental distress.

This case is an example of how privileged few play the legal system to take advantage common people, even when this common people is a high profile good Samaritan with solid backup from independent witnesses. To fight against the malicious allegations, Mr. Peng's lawyers asked the local police station who took the initial depositions for copies of the depositions. At first, the police station said the depositions were lost. Given the obsessed enthusiasm in document collecting of Chinese police forces, this is one of the most bazaar excuse of loosing an official deposition. Innovative maybe, but less convincing then dog-eat-my-homework excuse used by grade school pupils. Then, before the final debate, the police chief presented a cell phone photo, which he alleged having taken with his own cell phone before the critical deposition vapored in his station. The Seagull lost his jaw on this behavioral art level perjury attempt. There are hundreds of ways to back up a Word document file, such as copying to another file, sending to another EMail account, writing to a USB thumb drive, burning a CD/DVD, uploading to a server, printing to a printer, etc, etc. The police chief took cell phone photos to back up his own file on his own computer! Did GEICO just open a new branch in Nanjing and sent in the Caveman? However, this is not the reason why people are angry on the verdict made by Judge Wang Hao.

It is certainly not expected, nor is it acceptable for one of the party involved in a civil case to lie. However, it's up to the judge to sort out truth and lies. Unfortunately, Judge Wang Hao bowed to the police officer son of the plaintiff, at the cost of punishing a high-profile good Samaritan.

According to Article 69 of the Civil Procedure Law of China, a piece of materials can not be admitted as an evident if it fails any of following tests:
1) Testify made by underage that does not match ones age and intelligence;
2) Testify made by a party has an interest in one party or its agent;
3) Doubtful video and audio materials;
4) Duplicates or duplications that can't be matched to originals;
5) Testify made by a witness who can't show up in the court with proper reasons;
The critical evident that the judge relied on to make the controversial ruling fits prohibited tests 2,3,4 and 5. Even after the media revealed that the police chief and the son of the old lady forged the document together, the judge admit this as evident while ignored testimonies made by the only witness.

Having had the police forged the deposition to connect Mr. Peng to the accident, the judge Wang Hao doctored the witness's deposition himself. The witness said on record that he saw the old lady on the ground, then he saw Mr. Peng getting off the bus, and approached the old lady to help. The judge changed it to "the witness saw the old lady on the ground and saw Mr. Peng was helping her."

People was shocked not only on the reality that the court and the police played the system to take advantage of a common people, but also the fact that this was done under the spotlight of media attention. Chinese people recognize senior officials historically enjoy favorable treatment by legal system. However, they can not be comforted by the fact that a normal police officer's connections in the legal system out weighted all the otherwise crystal clear evidents. Furthermore, people are scared on the thought that they would be left alone on the street someday should any misfortune happened.

It wouldn't be a total surprised when Nanjing residents read the story reported by a local newspaper, Nanjing Modern Express on Sept 7, 2007. An 80 years old plunged into a muddy pot near Hebei Street around 9 o'clock in the morning. Legs shaking in the mud, the old man couldn't get up by himself. Although many people observed in distance, nobody approached the old man. It was not until 10 minutes later, when a Mr. Chen passed by and helped the old man stand up. If you read the verdict of the aforementioned case, you would understand why people are hesitated to help. Even if you just made a phone call to the medical service or the police, Judge Wang Hao might hold you responsible for the suffering or mental distress of the old man, if he also happened to have a son being an police officer.

After the sentencing, besides an outraged online community, many newspapers joint the chanting of denouncing the judge and the sentence. Among the total of 21 newspapers carried the story (found through Google News links), not even one of them support the sentence, and every one of them proclaim the sentencing a justice failure and moral disaster:

河北日报:《 “影响性诉讼”要注意影响》
金陵晚报:《输了官司彭宇哭了 法院一审判决认定非见义勇为》
法制晚报:《彭宇撞老太太案 能依推理判案吗》
东方今报:《搀扶摔伤老人反被诬告索赔 法院判他赔偿45876元》
北京青年报:《彭宇一审败诉与可疑的自由心证 》
海峡都市报:《老妇摔倒 你还敢不敢扶?》
南方都市报 :《彭宇:以后还有谁敢做好事》


ninja said...

"The Store of the Stone"
→"The Story of the Stone"

Sir Joshua Hellsing said...

Wow. It's not that the common people lack a moral code. They indeed have one. It's that they are afraid of their moral code being taken advantage of. One Rotten can finish the sentence.