Chinese boy with frozen hair reignites poverty debate

By BBC

Pictures of eight-year-old Little Wang were shared tens of thousands of times. * People’s Daily photo

(BBC) – An eight-year-old Chinese pupil, dubbed “Ice Boy” by social media users after images emerged of him arriving at school with swollen hands and frost on his hair and eyebrows, has sparked renewed discussion online about child poverty.

Many users say the pictures of “Little Wang”, who went viral on Monday, highlight that not enough is being done to help children from poor, rural families in China.

They sympathise with the harsh journeys that Little Wang endures in order to get to his school in Ludian County in the south-western province of Yunnan.

State-run China News Service agency says the boy walks 4.5 km (2.8 miles) to get to school, a journey that takes him an hour. On the day the picture was taken, the temperature was -9C, the agency says.

Trending on social media

One picture that circulated thousands of times shows Wang received 99 out of 100 on a test, despite his swollen hands. * The Paper photo

One photo of the boy, which has been shared by tens of thousands of people, shows him with swollen red cheeks and dressed in a thin jacket, being laughed at by classmates.

Another image shows the boy’s dirty and swollen hands, which are next to the near-perfect work in his school exercise book.

Wang’s teacher took the pictures on 8 January and sent them to the headmaster and a few other individuals, according to reports in state media.

But they soon came to the attention of local and then national media, and the images went viral online.

Thousands of users of the popular Sina Weibo microblog shared the pictures, using the hashtag #IceBoy. One post by People’s Daily received more than 277,000 likes.

Many Weibo users posted messages praising Wang’s fortitude and perseverance. “This child knows that knowledge can change his fate,” says one.

But others voiced their concern, saying that their hearts ached for him, especially seeing his swollen hands and threadbare clothes.

“His frozen little red face and he’s wearing so little, he really looks pitiful,” another user commented.

Some responded by posting angry comments targeted at the government. “What is the local Yunnan government doing about this?” one asked. Others urged fellow users for their help in contacting the boy so they could donate money and clothes.

‘His home is made of mud and brick’

Journalists from the popular Pear Video website visited Little Wang to see how he lives.

“His home is made of mud and brick and is very dilapidated,” Pear Video said.

The site found that the boy is a “left-behind child” – one of tens of millions of Chinese children who rarely see their parents, who have moved to the cities to find work to support them.

Little Wang lives with his grandmother and sister. He rarely sees his father, a migrant worker who is able to return home only every four or five months. The boy tells Pear Video that his mother left him when he was very young.

Wang’s story has prompted an outcry in Chinese media for more to be done to help left-behind children.

Some local companies have already responded. State-run CCTV says the provincial Communist Youth League has donated 100,000 yuan (about $15,350: £11,350) so that each child at the school can have better clothing, and for the school to improve its heating system.

Influential news website The Paper shares the contact details of the Zhaotong City Youth Development Foundation, a charity that supports children in north-east Yunnan.

Many social media users say they hope Wang’s story helps raise social awareness of the poverty facing other children in poorer, rural regions.

But some note poignantly that Little Wang’s case is synonymous with many other children’s. ‘SurblueDu’, received 2,000 likes for their comment: “No-one knows how many poor children there are, helping one is only helping one.”

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