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The video that shocked and shamed China

Two-year-old Yue Yue was hit by a van – and 18 people ignored her. Now CCTV has sparked a public debate

A two-year-old girl wanders into the middle of a busy road, failing to notice an approaching van. She is hit. The driver stops for a moment, then drives away, running the toddler over again with his back wheels. Six minutes and eighteen people go by as she lies prone in the road. The girl is hit again by another van. And only then does a passerby come to her aid.

Now Yue Yue, the child whose wellbeing seemed a matter of such indifference to those who swerved past her tiny body, is on a life support machine, described as "brain dead" by a doctor who spoke to the China Daily newspaper. And her appalling fate, which was captured on film, has shocked China into a debate about whether the country has lost its moral compass, reviving fears in China that rampant materialism and runaway economic growth is producing an unfeeling and indifferent society.

"Even pigs and dogs are better than they are!" one internet commentator wrote of the motorists, pedestrians and cyclists who passed by but did nothing to help the little girl as she lay bleeding heavily in the street.

"Money has the biggest say in this society. What's the use of law and morality," wrote Xinxin Jiayuan, while Zhujie0124 said society as a whole was growing colder." There are more people like this, more incidents. This country, Chinese people, need to learn more moral responsibility," the commentator said.

Yue Yue's mother, a migrant worker in the city, had picked her up from kindergarten last Thursday and left the toddler at home in the family hardware shop in Foshan. It is in a narrow street typical of those in the city in booming Guangdong province. When she returned from picking up laundry, the child had wandered off and her mother could not find her anywhere. Then she heard a 57-year-old rubbish collector shouting that a child had been injured, the Guangzhou Daily reported.

The harrowing clip, which was broadcast on Southern Television Guangdong (TVS), shows how nearly 20 pedestrians and passing vehicles kept going without coming to the little girl's aid.

One young man walks past apparently without seeing her, but most of the others pass and look down, doing nothing. A mother hurries her daughter along, away from the terrible scene.

The doctor who described Yue Yue as brain dead said that she was unlikely to survive the incident. Her parents were with her in hospital.

The drivers of both vans have since been arrested. According to some media reports, one of the drivers was talking on his mobile phone when the accident took place, and had complained about how much compensation he would have to pay if the girl survived the crash.

As the media and the public sought an explanation, the China Daily highlighted the case of an 88-year-old man who collapsed in central China and choked to death after no one came to help him. It added that social changes had made it harder to be a good Samaritan, citing another case in which a man who tried to help an elderly woman who had fallen had been accused of harming her.

Yue Yue's father was shown on news bulletins holding his wife and weeping. "What's up with people these days?" he asked. "They make so many excuses to turn a blind eye. Society is so indifferent, so heartless...I don't have any thoughts now, I just hope my child will wake up and call me dad again."