China Shocked by Death of Boys Who Lived in a Bin

 In China

Article featured in 2013 GCM March

The deaths of five children, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in the garbage bin they used as a shelter, have provoked an outpouring of online grief and reinforced a national debate about China’s growing wealth gap.

The five boys, all cousins or brothers aged between 9 and 13, died in Guizhou, China’s poorest province, after lighting a charcoal fire to fend off the cold. Their bodies were found the next day.

The Chinese Global Times commented that the deaths had saddened the nation and underlined how China’s poorest were increasingly marginalized. “These kinds of grim accidents are only supposed to happen in fairy tales,” it said, drawing a parallel with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl in which a poor little girl with naked feet freezes to death on New Year’s Eve.

As word spread on social media, journalists descended on Bijie where the boys had lived and died, their reports painting a shocking picture of how neglect and poverty persist even after decades of economic boom.

The boys, who all were surnamed Tao, were the sons of three brothers, two of whom were migrant workers who scraped out a living collecting garbage in Guangdong Province. The Beijing News retraced the 15-mile route between the trash bin where the boys were found dead and the impoverished village where they were raised. Of the five, only one boy had been in school. Four education and civil affairs officials and two school principals in Bijie have been fired over the incident.

One week before they died they were seen wandering around the neighborhood begging for money. They bought one bowl of noodles and asked for five pairs of chopsticks to share it. Others claimed the boys would sleep beneath a television tower or in abandoned buildings.

The deaths came days after senior leaders in Beijing trumpeted the
“great Chinese renaissance” at the Party Congress, but thousands of online commentators said the deaths were a reminder of how far there was still to go. “One country, two systems” satirized one user of Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. Another blogger quoted the words of the famous Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu:

 “Behind red-painted gates the rich wine and dine,

While the bones of those frozen to death by the roadside lie.” 

Source: Daily Telegraph, November 22, 2012

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