'Ice boy' stirs poverty debate in China as donations pour in for needy students

'Ice boy' stirs poverty debate in China as donations pour in for needy students

Chinese ice boy
The 8-year-old arrived in class covered in frost, causing his classmates to burst into laughter, his principal said. (Photo: Weibo)

BEIJING: A viral photo of a Chinese boy whose hair is encrusted with ice after his hour-long walk to school in freezing temperatures has stirred debate about the impact of poverty on children in rural regions.

Wang Fuman, a primary school student in southwest Yunnan province, gained the moniker "Frost Boy" after his principal shared a photo online of his rosy cheeks and icy hair, Chinese media reported this week.

According to the state-owned China News Service agency, the teacher who took the photo said it generally takes Wang more than an hour to make the 4.5km journey from his home to the school.

The temperature was -9 degrees Celsius the day the photo was taken, China News Service reported.

Other photos online appeared to show Wang's chapped and swollen hands atop a near-perfect exam sheet.

Wang Fuman calloused hands
The child's hands are calloused and rough from helping his grandmother with farming. (Photo: Weibo)

Following news of his plight, donations have flooded in to help the school, which reportedly does not have heating due to the lack of funding. The provincial foundation had collected about 300,000 yuan (US$46,300) as of Wednesday afternoon.

Each student will individually receive 500 yuan (US$77) to help them stay warm in winter. 

According to China Daily, donations have now reached more than 17 million yuan (US$2.61 million). The report added that the boy's father has also received a job offer in his hometown in Yunnan province from a construction company. 

The plight of "left-behind children" like Wang, whose parents work in cities while their children stay behind in the village with siblings and grandparents, has been hotly discussed in recent years.

"We still haven't done enough work to help the poor," one commenter on the Twitter-like Weibo platform said. Another user noted: "China has a lot of kids like this."

Poverty alleviation has been one of Chinese President Xi Jinping's banner initiatives since taking office in 2012.

Calling for the establishment of a "moderately prosperous society," Xi has vowed to wipe out rural poverty by 2020.

Official statistics found in 2016 that around 43.3 million rural residents still lived below the country's official poverty line of 2,300 yuan (US$346) a year in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Then there were some social media users who accused the media of exploiting "Frost Boy" and causing him to "overexert himself" by having him appear in a slew of video reports.

"I want to be a police officer to fight the bad guys," Wang told The Paper, a Shanghai-based publication.

"The journey to school is cold, but it's not hard!"

Source: AFP/aa