Chinese law test examines 'crime' of choosing to save girlfriend over mother

The question appeared in the National Judicial Exam, which must be taken by anyone hoping to become a lawyer or judge

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Hundreds of thousands of trainee lawyers and judges in China have been asked whether they would save their girlfriend or mother from a deadly fire in a compulsory test.

The question appeared in the National Judicial Exam, which anyone wanting to enter the judiciary or legal profession must pass.

Paper two gave multiple choice options for sections on drug laws, roads, pollution, fraud, bribery, murder and other serious offences.

But Question 52 asked students about “crimes of omission”, posing scenarios including lifeguards failing to save a drowning child, a husband deciding not to rescue his wife during divorce proceedings, and someone letting friends drink poisoned coffee.

Hundreds of thousands of candidates sit the exam every year

Option C told the story of a man who chose to save his girlfriend from a burning building over his mother, saying his actions amounted to a criminal failure to act.

China’s Ministry of Justice confirmed it was the correct option four days after the exam, saying that a son is legally obligated to save his parents over other relatives and loved ones, the Global Times reported.

The question sparked lively online debate, with many people announcing what their own choice would be.

“I would definitely save my mother first. Apart from legal reasons, my mother raised me. Plus my girlfriend is younger, which means she has a better chance of escaping the fire on her own,” one man reasoned, according to a translation by the Global Times. 

But others felt the law was unjust or “ridiculous”, especially in emergency situations where many lives may be at stake.

“People's lives are equal, they should be treated equally by the law,” one person wrote.

“I have no idea why giving up your mum is a crime, while giving up your girlfriend is not.” 

Writing on the BBC’s China blog, Celia Hatton said motherly love appeared to win out overall, with one man writing: “Girls are everywhere, but I only have one mum.”

The National Judicial Exam is taken once a year over two days, with 436,000 people sitting it simultaneously at more than 14,000 centres in 2013.

State media describes it as “one of the most exacting national tests in China”, examining candidates on law, theory, legal practice and ethics.