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Leukemia girl’s father slammed by netizens for taking donations on Wechat

Thanks to the online payment and reward function of WeChat, China’s most popular chatting and social networking app, organizing donation events are getting easier for ordinary individuals in this space. A Chinese father recently received more than 2 million yuan from WeChat users after the father wrote an article about his sick daughter on WeChat. However, when the charitable activity was running smoothly, rumors about the father actually owning three properties began to spread on WeChat on Wednesday, and people started to question whether the father truly needed help and whether their kindness had been taken advantage by someone for personal gain. 

Luo Er's five-year-old daughter, Luo Yixiao who is suffering from leukemia and is now in an ICU. Photo: Weibo

A recent article written by a father to his five-year-old daughter who is suffering from leukemia went viral on China’s social media on Wednesday (Beijing time) and thousands of users donated money to the father through the reward and money transfer function of WeChat. The article, in which Luo Er, a former editor-in-chief of a magazine in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province, is praying for the daughter who is in an ICU, was published on Luo’s WeChat account on November 25 and had been forwarded for over 100,000 times as of Wednesday.

While the maximum sum for WeChat reward for each article per day is 50,000 yuan, Luo’s article titled “Luo Yixiao, stay where you are!” (link in Chinese) referring to his daughter’s name, received 2.07 million yuan worth of rewards as of November 30, according to a statement released by Luo Er and Liu Xiafeng, Luo’s friend, on WeChat Thursday.

Luo has written several pieces on his WeChat account about the family’s struggle with leukemia since Xiao Xiao, his daughter’s nickname, was diagnosed with the disease on September 8. While Luo didn’t ask for money and few people saw the article in the beginning, the article soon went viral on WeChat moment, the app’s social network, after Liu rewrote and reposted Luo’s article on another WeChat account affiliated with a financial marketing company.

While the financial marketing company Xiaotongren’s WeChat account (“P2P观察”) enabled its rewarding function, it also promised to donate 1 yuan to Xiao Xiao for every user who shared the article on his or her WeChat moment.

The article on Xiaotongren’s WeChat account soon received 50,000 yuan in tips in less than 24 hours, and WeChat eventually blocked the rewarding function for Xiaotongren’s WeChat account, which, however, motivated WeChat users to find Luo Er’s WeChat account and tip directly to his articles. Luo’s WeChat account also received 50,000 yuan in tips for two consecutive days, according to an article Luo wrote on his WeChat account on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Luo said he had received enough money to cover for his daughter’s medical fees and asked the public to stop donating and tipping.

Luo Er was wearing mask during an interview with the media on Wednesday. Photo: Weibo

However, as the charity movement was going on smoothly, posts claiming that Luo had three properties and his daughter’s medical bill was covered by insurance, and his actual expense, if any, would be less than 20,000 yuan spread on WeChat moment on Wednesday. This triggered discussions on Sina Weibo, a Twitter like microblogging service in China, with many users questioning whether Luo Er was someone who truly needed help, and whether the financial marketing company, Xiaotongren, was acting out of benevolence or a desire for publicity.

In response, the Shenzhen Children’s Hospital said on Wednesday afternoon through its Weibo account that Xiao Xiao’s medical expenses totaled 204,244.31 yuan, and while the insurance covered 168,050.98 yuan, Xiao’s family spent 36,193.33 yuan on their own, accounting for 17.72% of the total expenses. In comparison, Xiaotongren had said that Luo needed half a million yuan for the family’s medical fees.

Some of the netizens were enraged by the post and asked why didn’t he save his daughter by selling his house, as @孙浩文大朋友 said, “Since you have three houses, why not sell one of them, instead of raising money from netizens, to save your daughter. Charitable donations should be for the poor people.”

In an interview with The Paper on Wednesday, Luo Er acknowledged that he owned three houses and a car but that his monthly salary, the family’s only income source, was just 4,000 yuan. Besides, he claimed he could not raise money by selling his properties as he had bought them in 2015 and still did not possess the property ownership certificate, making any sales difficult.

But Luo’s response was not enough to calm the netizens who are concerned that those who truly need help may not be able to get it once the whole society becomes indifferent following such cases of cheating for personal gain.

“Leave aside the amount of money Luo has collected in this event, we should think about whether people will be willing to lend a helping hand to those who truly need help in the future after their benevolence has been taken advantage of,” noted @格了又格.

“Such behavior must be severely punished, otherwise those who really need help will hardly receive people’s help and trust,” said @zy如果我变成回忆.

A screenshot from Luo Er’s public WeChat account shows the different sums of money that users can choose to donate.

The Shenzhen Civil Affairs Bureau said yesterday it had established a working group to investigate the issue.

On Thursday, Luo and his friend Liu released an apology on Xiaotongren’s WeChat account saying that the dissemination of Luo Yixiao’s story was beyond their expectation and they are sorry for the bad social influence of their behavior.

While the donations they have been given through both Luo Er’s and Xiaotongren’s WeChat account amounted to about 2.67 million yuan, they said they will establish a fund for leukemia patients and will invite media and government to supervise it.

The issue also triggered discussions on the legal basis for grassroots donations in China and whether an individual “fund raising” movement on social media like this one is legal. According to China’s first charity law which took effect in September, while it is illegal for individuals to start public donation funds, publishing information online about a desperate situation is not illegal. And since Luo received donations that he didn’t himself ask for, he did not break the law, according to a legal expert quoted by Sixth Tone.

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