Lighter Side: Moral quandary in Chinese bar exam

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Choosing between saving your girlfriend or mother from a burning building is a moral quandary most would not expect to encounter in their day-to-day lives.

But, if you’re a Chinese judge, you’re expected to know the correct answer.

According to Above the Law, that questions was on this year’s National Judicial Examination - essentially the bar exam for Chinese judges. 

So what is the correct answer? The Chinese Ministry of Justice posted it recently. From BBC: 

“[E]xam writers are duty-bound to save their mothers. It would be a “crime of non-action” to choose romantic love over filial duty.”

That is in contrast to our common law system, where we generally don’t criminally punish people for a failure to act or omission.
  • Louise Steer on 17/10/2015 3:01:23 PM

    The Chinese government is pushing Confucianism as the moral principle to guide the masses. That's why the emphasis on filial duty. Family is all. Girlfriend not part of the family yet.

  • ET on 14/10/2015 1:37:29 PM

    I understand where you are coming from Lindsay, but perhaps it is because of the differences in our culture and mentality which prevented us from achieving a consensus in this issue. I am no Christian, but I would like to think that my relationship with my parents is equivalent to a Christian's relationship with his God. It is not controlling if we are not forced to obey our parents, but we are more than willing to do whatever we can to fulfill their wishes and see that they are happy.

  • Lindsay on 13/10/2015 11:51:17 AM

    Sorry ET, I see "filial piety" in that sense as control.

    It is one thing to have respect for an elder if they earn and deserve respect, but for them to demand it usually amounts to controlling behaviour.

    A parent chooses to brings a child into the world and has an OBLIGATION to prepare that child for the world and upon the child becoming an adult, that child has no obligations to the parent and correspondingly cannot EXPECT to receive pecuniary benefits.

    If in the eyes of the parent the child deserves to inherit, so be it.

    Accordingly, the question should never have been asked and if asked, the answer is "none of your business".

    It is a terrible thing for a child to die before a parent and the girlfriend is presumably of similar age to the child of the mother, so for that mother to feel that it is appropriate for the child (the child of another mother) to die before her and for her to be saved is, I believe, selfish and controlling by the mother of her own child's life!

  • David Coleman on 10/10/2015 12:14:08 PM

    What about put out the fire and save both?

  • ET on 9/10/2015 3:26:26 PM

    In Chinese culture, we place great emphasis on the virtue of "filial piety" (孝) which dictates that we must show love to our elders by ultimately respecting their wishes and well-being.

    If your parent insists that you save your wife or children over them, and if you choose to disobey and save them instead, your action may cause severe suffering and grief to their state of mind.

    In that case, you have both regarded and disregarded the virtue of "filial piety" as well, for you have cared for and saved their lives, but at the same time you have inflicted great suffering upon their lives.

  • Brett on 9/10/2015 12:38:38 PM

    GT - Yes, logic suggests you are right. I still wonder whether a judge in the Chinese judicial system would be allowed or even expected to ask further questions in this context?

    Anyway, I am pretty sure my wife may have a strong opinion on this matter if she was consulted...

  • GT on 9/10/2015 11:47:46 AM

    Brett, I think there is a salient ceteris paribus assumption.

  • Brett on 9/10/2015 11:42:11 AM

    Out of curiosity, would other circumstances factor in the decision? For example, if your mother was at death's door owing to an incurable medical condition, and was already expected to die within a week anyway, would it be acceptable to instead save the person who might have many years of healthy life ahead of them?

  • GT on 9/10/2015 11:39:17 AM

    I actually think it a failure of the Western judicial system and morality that we do not see a failure to save one's own parents (within reason) as something abhorrent and deserving of punishment.

    In agreement with Wayne. Nothing light about this article...

  • Wayne on 9/10/2015 11:29:36 AM

    Quick question: how is this "the lighter side"?

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