Malnourished Chinese Student Death Sparked Uproar Over Misuse of Charity Funds

Jan 15, 2020 | AFP, China, NEWS

by AFP
Angry Chinese social media users are demanding answers after news circulated that a university student who spent less than a dollar a day on food had died despite raising thousands of dollars in donations.

Wu Huayan, who suffered from severe malnutrition and had lost both her parents, died on Monday, according to Chinese media reports.

The 24-year-old reportedly spent just two yuan ($0.29) per day on food — such as rice mixed with chili peppers — in order to pay for her younger brother’s medical treatment.

The university student’s death has sparked furious viral discussion on Chinese social media amid mounting suspiion that donated funds had been misappropriated.

Last year over one million yuan ($145,000) was raised after a report on Wu’s malnutrition caught the attention of online users.

At the time she weighed just 21 kilograms (47 pounds).

But she received just 20,000 yuan ($3,000) for her own medical treatment last November, according to the charity that organized Wu’s crowdfunding campaign.

She and her family “wanted to save the remaining money for surgery and rehabilitation treatment”, explained the China Charities Aid Foundation for Children (CCAFC) in an online statement on Wu’s death.

“The future use of the donations will be explained to the public in a timely matter,” they added.

But Chinese online users were not convinced.

“Those who embezzled the money should die,” said one angry user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“Never trust those garbage charity organisations,” wrote another.

CCAFC did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

By Wednesday, a video about Wu’s malnutrition and death had garnered more than five million views.

In the video, Wu — thin and shrunken from malnourishment — is lying in a hospital bed.

The incident highlights how angry ordinary Chinese get when faced with any hint of misappropriation of funds, as the rich-poor divide widens in a country where corruption is pervasive at every level of society.

Past scandals have also fueled deep-seated suspicion of charities.

In 2011, the Red Cross Society of China found itself embroiled in corruption allegations, after a young Chinese woman with links to the organization flaunted her wealth online.

The anger around Wu’s case also comes as Chinese people donate an increasing amount of money to philanthropic organizations in the country.

In 2018, Chinese people donated over 3.17 billion Chinese yuan to online charity platforms, a 27 percent jump from the year prior, according to official news agency Xinhua.