Five runaway boys have been found dead in a garbage bin in China, prompting a rare outbreak of national hand-wringing.
The boys – all brothers or cousins aged nine to 13 – lit a fire in the bin to stay warm and died from carbon-monoxide poisoning.
The boys, surnamed Tao, had been missing for more than a week when they were found in a five-foot-by-four-foot bin in the city of Bijie.
They were the sons of three brothers – two of whom are migrant workers with jobs far from home – and most of them lived in the care of their blind grandmother.
The tragedy in Guizhou, China's poorest province, has prompted national soul-searching about social responsibility and renewed concern over the "left-behind" rural children who are often left with grandparents while parents seek work in thriving coastal cities.
"Though you departed from us in a garbage bin, you are not garbage," children's author Zheng Yuanjie wrote, adding the fault lies with "adults who failed their responsibilities."
Questions have been raised about how they could have gone missing for 10 days without more of an effort launched to find them. Six local officials, including two school principals, have been sacked.
Writing in the ' Global Times', the commentator Lin Xi said the deaths had saddened the nation and underlined how China's poorest were increasingly marginalised.
"These kinds of grim accidents are only supposed to happen in fairy tales," wrote the commentator who, like many, drew a parallel with Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Match Girl', in which "a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet" freezes to death on New Year's Eve.
As word spread, Chinese journalists descended on Bijie, where the boys had lived and died, their reports painting a shocking portrait of how neglect and poverty persist even after decades of economic boom.
Of the five dead boys, only one, 12-year-old Tao Zhongjing, had been in school.
The deaths came days after leaders trumpeted "the Great Chinese renaissance" at the Communist Party's 18th Congress.
In his opening address Hu Jintao, the outgoing president, celebrated the country's transformation from a "poor and backward" place into "an increasingly prosperous and powerful new China".
But thousands of online commentators said the deaths were a reminder of how far there was still to go. "One country, two systems," wrote one user of Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. (© Daily Telegraph, London)