The “Wu Huayan Case”, the latest scandal affecting a charity to cause controversy on Chinese social media, appears to have reached a conclusion. The China Charities Aid Foundation for Children (CCAFC) officially announced on the 20th of January that it would return all of the money raised to the donors within 15 days.
This latest controversy centres around a girl named Wu Huayuan (吴花燕), who tragically died on the 13th of January at the age of 24. Coming from a rural area of Guizhou province, Wu was affected by a rare premature-ageing syndrome, the Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, which usually leads to death before the age of 20. What’s more Wu came from an impoverished household, and both of her parents died when she was very young. Before her death she was reportedly living with and caring for her brother, who suffers from a mental health condition, and had been eating very little to allow her brother to afford his medical bills. This had caused her to become severely undernourished by the time of her hospitalization.
Once Wu was hospitalized in October, a fundraising campaign was launched to help pay for Wu’s heart surgery, spurred partly by the support of the vocational school that she was attending. The money was collected by the 9958 Rescue Center, a charitable project managed by the CCAFC. The campaign was very successful, and by the end of November 1.1 million Yuan had been raised. Wu Huayan attracted some public attention due to her state of indigence and her undernourishment. After Wu’s death, however, it transpired that only 20,000 Yuan out of the money raised had actually been used to pay for her hospital bills, at least according to what the charity’s records suggest.
On the 14th of January, an article in the media outlet “the Cover” (封面) openly accused the CCAFC of misusing the funds. This was followed by an uproar on social media, with netizens demanding to know what had happened to the rest of the money. The charity then delivered a response, in which it claimed that the money had not been disbursed because the girl’s family and the local government had requested that the donations only be delivered after the surgery. Wu however never gained sufficient weight to undergo the operation, and died before it could take place. On the same day however, an official from the local government promptly denied that the authorities would interfere with how charitable funds are distributed.
On the 16th of January, the Ministry of Civil Affairs announced that it would conduct an investigation into the affair. A few days later, the CCAFC vowed to return all of the funds raised for Wu’s surgery. At the same time, the charity claimed to have discovered a serious issue with the 9958 Rescue Center’s fundraising for Wu Huayan: the beneficiaries of the Center’s projects are supposed to be children under 18, but Wu Huayan was already 24, and this contravenes the charity’s regulations (the CCAFC mainly deals with aiding children).
After the controversy over the Spring Bud Project last month, this is the second case in quick succession of a project run by a large charity coming under suspicion. In this case, it is possible that confusing and partial reporting may have exacerbated the problem. For example, much of the media coverage only talked about the girl’s severe undernourishment and poverty, but failed to mention her serious pre-existing medical condition.