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A baby, a hero, a lesson

A falling toddler, a self-sacrificing passer-by and a fairly happy ending. A real-life drama in a Chinese city sends the world an intriguing message about how we care for others.

Amid the tragedies and catastrophes which fill the world's newspapers every day, sometimes a ray of hope shines through. A story about a toddler, a 10th-floor balcony and an inattentive grandmother does not seem to offer much promise of a happy ending. But what actually happened in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou on Saturday was as thought-provoking as it was amazing.

Two-year-old Zhang Fangyu was about to fall. A passerby, Wu Juping, 31 and the mother of a seven-month-old, saw the risk. "It was so urgent. I saw her when she was about to fall and rushed there, and after tens of seconds she fell off," local media reported the woman as saying.

The child did fall, and Ms Wu stretched out her arms, breaking the fall and probably saving the child's life, at the cost of a broken arm for herself.

Stories like this one, while not exactly common, do arise frequently enough to send an intriguing signal: in times of crisis, some aspect of the human spirit brings out this kind of behaviour in all but the most base of us. Before self-interest, before reason even, we are capable of true selflessness. We are all, to some degree, our brothers' keepers.

Sadly, however, mankind has found no way to translate this basic sensibility into its public affairs. The world would be a different and better place if only we could do so.

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