A child who walked for an hour in below-freezing temperatures to get to his school is re-igniting the debate on poverty in China.
The boy, who is called “Little Wang,” showed up to class with swollen hands, deep red cheeks, and frost in his hair and eyebrows. The image of his physical appearance, transformed by his trek through sub-zero temperatures, quickly went viral.
“Little Wang,” whose real name is Wang Manfu, is just 8 years old and walks to school every day from his rural home in the Yunnan province to the city of Xinjie. The journey is almost three miles from his home and takes him about an hour to make.
The trip can be especially daunting when temperatures get low — on the day that his picture was taken, it had been 9 degrees below zero Celsius, and Wang was only wearing a thin jacket, according to reports. Exposure to cold environments for that long a period of time can be hazardous, especially to children.
Some people were critical of the Chinese government’s inability to ensure children have safe journeys to school.
“What is the local Yunnan government doing about this,” one unidentified commenter asked, according to the BBC.
Indeed, China seems to be ignoring many communities in rural areas, giving more attention to its city centers at the expense of smaller communities that are struggling.
Wang’s home life isn’t much better. According to Pear Video, a news site in China, the boy and his family are living in impoverished conditions.
“His home is made of mud and brick and is very dilapidated,” the agency said.
A fundraiser for the millions of impoverished citizens in the area began shortly after the image was made public. The Yunnan China Youth Development Foundation started the campaign, promising to give every child living in poverty 500 yuan (about $77) to help them stay warm in the winter.
But much more can be done, and the Chinese government should step in to help in situations like these, especially when it comes to harm to children. This story exposes one narrative of the conditions of China’s poor. How many more stories are going unreported? How many more are suffering, or worse yet, dying because of the government’s inaction?
Wang Manfu’s story needs to result in the government doing more to help those in need. China is a prosperous nation — but for millions of its citizens, the benefits of that prosperity are rarely seen, if ever at all.