Where are the Heroes? McDonald's Beating Death Prompts Soul-Searching in China

Image: McDonald's restaurant in China.
People walk past a McDonald's restaurant Thursday April 5, 2007 in Shanghai, China. U.S. fast-food giants McDonald's and KFC said Thursday they are working with Chinese authorities to resolve allegations that the companies underpay their part-time workers, as a labor probe expands to other cities.Eugene Hoshiko / AP, file

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BEIJING – The grisly public beating death of a Chinese woman at a McDonalds has sparked a national debate in China about citizens’ responsibility to help their fellow human beings.

Wu Shuoyan, a shop-worker in a neighboring mall, was waiting for her husband and son in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan last Wednesday when members of a religious group asked for her telephone number, according to local media reports.

When the 35-year-old refused, they beat her to death with fists, chairs and the metal handle of a mop. All the while, crowds watched and filmed, but nobody stepped in to help.

In the days since the incident, the government has been quick to focus on the fact that the attackers -– who are now in police custody –- are followers of a group or cult known as the Almighty God.

But on social media, where Wu’s death has prompted hundreds of thousands of comments and reports, the focus was less on the cult’s itself than on the failure of anyone to come to Wu’s aid as she was being bludgeoned to death.

“In order to stop tragedy like this, we should try to be a little more brave first,” one user on China’s Twitter-like micro blogging site Weibo. “We should tell our children there is a human characteristic called ‘being brave’ and that human beings must also respect other lives rather than just protecting ourselves.”

"This world needs more white knights. Every person with the sense of righteousness should be our heroes," according to another post.

There were those who questioned whether to get involved, howewever.

“Everyone has the right to be weak. Love yourself before loving others, protect yourself before protecting others.”

Ed Flanagan

NBC News’Chaojie Zhou contributed to this report.