Xie Sanxiu, a poor migrant textile worker, was showered with money and sympathy after internet users heard how she had been forced to withdraw her daughter from Guangzhou Children’s Hospital because of a lack of funds.
The case became an online cause célèbre after a chat room user calling himself “Rich Son of Guangzhou” taunted the desperate mother, offering to pay her money for her daughter’s treatment for retinoblastoma, a form of eye-cancer, if she would humiliate herself…
“If you can kneel and crawl on the road for a thousand metres, I will immediately give you 20,000 yuan.”
Mrs Xie performed the shaming walk, with her sick child wrapped in a blanket in her arms, telling local journalists: “Regardless of wind or rain, I must go. As long as I can save my baby, I’m willing to do anything. I hope ‘Rich Son of Guangzhou’ you will honour your promise…”
Sympathy turned to anger, however, after investigations showed that “Rich Son of Guangzhou” didn’t really exist, but was an alias of Shi Jinquan, a content moderator for Tianya.cn, one of China’s best-known discussion forums that had hosted the original plea for help from Mrs Xie.
Mr Shi was fired from his job for the subterfuge, after it emerged that he had coached Mrs Xie in how to reply to questions from media and public, and even advised her to start her ‘walk’ from outside the offices of the leading local newspaper.
The story has sparked an ethical debate in China about whether the online moderator’s noble ends justified his duplicitous means, but Mr Shi remained unrepentant. “You can say the means were not noble and people are angry, but I’m only trying to help,” he told state broadcaster China Central Television.
Mrs Xie said that she had gone along with the plan out of desperation after managing to raise just 400 yuan (£38) after months of begging for online donations…”I’m not a great mother, as the media reported. I’m just a poor mother, a mother who told lies. I was just trying to save my daughter.
The public reaction veered from anger at the deception, to equal anger that a mother should be driven to such lengths to get treatment for her child.
Most recent reports from China describe continued and growing support for Mrs. Xie – and contempt for Shi.
I think he should come to the West and get a job on Fleet Street or Madison Avenue. Lying, misleading is an honorable profession among the dishonorable.