Desperate mother's 'walk of shame' revealed as publicity stunt
A Chinese woman who shuffled on her knees for a mile through one of China's busiest cities to highlight the plight of her cancer-stricken daughter, has offered to return more than €28,000 in online donations after her 'walk of shame' was exposed as an internet publicity stunt.
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.
"There are so many people in the world that need help, why must I help you?
"You say you are willing to exchange your life for your child's health. Who believes you?", he wrote.
"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."
Within hours Mrs Xie, who also has a 12-year-old son, was being inundated with donations from online users in China and Hong Kong who wanted to pay for the child's cancer treatment.
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 (CCTV)
"Society is so cold and cruel. If she could have got help immediately when she asked for it, I would not have helped her in this way. This was a last resort."
Mrs Xie said that she had gone along with the plan out of desperation after managing to raise just 400 yuan (€43) after months of begging for online donations. The only government support she received was a document certifying that she was living below the poverty line.
"I am not educated and know nothing about publicity stunts," she tearfully told the Guangzhou Daily.
"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.
"I apologise to the media and society; apologise for the harm I have done to society," she said.
"If the donors refuse to accept my apology, I am willing to return all donations. I would rather post online and go around begging for help as before, than take the donations."
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.
"He had the right intentions, it's just that the method was extreme," said one user on Sina.com, China largest chat portal, while another accused the company, Tianya.cn, of hiring "scum" for its moderators.
Others were more sympathetic, however, applauding the moderator for risking his job to help the woman and attacking the shortcomings of China's social security net.
"Toward this promoter, I pay my highest tribute," said another commenter, "to have sacrificed his own reputation to get society's concern, you are truly worthy of being an expert promoter."