In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 18, 2011, journalists surround the unidentified parents of a two-year-old girl identified as Wang Yue in a hospital in Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong province. (AP Photo) (AP/AP)

— A 2-year-old girl who was run over by two vehicles and left lying in the street ignored by bystanders died early Friday morning in a Guangdong hospital, Chinese media reported. She had been in a coma since the incident one week ago.

The plight of the little girl, identified as Xiao Yueyue, ignited an intense round of public soul-searching here on why so many people — 18, according to surveillance video of the scene — could pass by an injured, bleeding toddler in the road without offering to help. Some of the passersby had to steer their motorcycles around her body.

The girl was finally pulled to the side of the road by a old woman who was scavenging through garbage.

In Internet chat rooms and newspaper opinion pages, many Chinese — from academics to ordinary citizens — began questions whether in the quest to get rich, China had lost its moral compass.

Some blamed a past series of incidents in which people who stopped to help elderly strangers who had fallen found themselves accused of wrongdoing and ordered to pay compensation. Others pointed to a pattern of corruption and sense of impunity by top Communist Party and government officials that has made the general population more uncaring and self-centered.

A nurse took care of a 2-year-old Yueyue in a hospital in Guangzhou, China, before she died. The incident, in which she was struck twice by vehicles and then ignored by passersby, is sparking outrage in China and prompting soul-searching over why people didn’t help the child. (AP)

The case of the 2-year-old girl prompted local government authorities in Guangdong province to consider whether a law is needed to protect “Good Samaritans” who offer assistance to those in need. The China Daily newspaper reported the Guangdong Communist Party’s legislative affairs committee this week posted a notice on its “weibo” microblogging site asking for public advice on shaping a new law.

“Please stop the coldness,” the posting said. “Guangdong province is going to hold a discussion to criticize the behavior of leaving people in mortal danger out of indifference, and to advocate the spirit of lending a hand to those in need of help.” One newspaper said the province was considering establishing a reward, the equivalent of $78,000, for people who risk their lives to save others.

On Friday, the government-controlled media began a counter-offensive against the bad publicity from the story of Yueyue, with major papers running stories about kind-hearted bystanders who have helped save people from traffic accidents. One case involved a 20-month-old boy named Xiaojie who was hit by a car but quickly pulled to safety by “kind-hearted” bystanders — coincidentally, perhaps, in Foshan, the same city where Yueyue was hit and left to die. Xiaojie suffered only a broken leg, media reported.

“Rescues show caring nature of passers-by,” was the headline on the story in Friday’s China Daily newspaper. The Global Times headline on the same story was: “Foshan has another near miss with child.”