The Girl Who Sold Herself To Save Her Mother: The Dilemma of Internet Charity in China
[Southern Metropolis Daily] By Tan Renwei. November 2, 2005.
[in translation] A pretty female university student offered to "sell herself" on the Internet in order to save her seriously ill mother -- this incident had an eye-catching start, a series of climaxes in between, and an ending that nobody wanted to see.
Chen Yi, who is a third-year university in Chongqing, posted a call-for-help message on the Internet in order to raise money to pay for her mother's medical expenses. Concern and money both began to rush in, together with plenty of doubts and suspicions. This call-for-help incident that began on September 15 triggered off a storm on the Internet.
Her classmates appeared on the scene, her mother appeared, her mother's hospital wardmates appeared, her mother's co-workers appeared and the Internet hackers appeared too.
Some of her "personal luxury" items were exposed, her relatively well-off family situation which she did not reveal was exposed, her gender preference was exposed, her private emails were exposed and her private chat session logs were exposed. Her refusal to disclose the details of the finances infuriated netizens. Some netizens even paid their own wayt to go Chongqing to investigate her situation in order to discover the truth. The exposed facts drove Chen Yi into even more hardship.
Amidst the sounds of condemnation, Chen Yi's mother passed away on October 22 in a hospital.
But the matter did not end here, as the discussion went into an even deeper level. The Internet is a platform of exchange of information, and there are numerous pleas for assistance. Just how to formalize the process so that those who are truly in need of assistance can receive the help through the Internet becomes a practical problem that requires an immediate solution. In the face of the tremendous civic ability and willingness to donate, the relevant government departments should quickly set up a complete system to develop and supervise non-government organizations as quickly as possible.
On October 23, 2005, the funeral home in Luzhou City, Sichuan province was filled with the sound of mourning on behalf of 51-year-old Yi Liangwei, an ordinary public servant who worked as an prosecutor. Her death, along with the plea for help to the Internet, turned into a tragedy. The Internet might have saved her; instead it became the final source of hardship in her life.
Her daughter, the 20-year-old Chen Yi who is a third-year student of Theatrical and Visual Arts at the School of Literature in Chongqing's Southwestern University, tumbled down to her knees not long after the funeral rite began and cried with her head lowered. Through her sobs, she recalled her mother's love and frugality. It is not clear if she was intentionally trying to refute the doubts raised in the Internet storm.
The narration of this story begins a month and a half ago.
On the afternoon of September 15, on the Chongqing section of Tianya Club (the largest forum in China), Chen Yi posted a message under the ID "selling my body to save mom" under the title: "I'm selling myself to save mom."
The essay was quite moving: her father had passed away from hepatitis when she was 11 years old. Last June, her mother developed a case of abnormal liver hardening and so they had to sell the house last year for a liver transplant. After the operation, the side-effects caused her mother severe pains to the point where she wanted on several occasions to kill herself. The experts recommended a second transplant at an estimated cost of several hundred thousands yuan. She concluded her essay as follows: "I would rather sell myself! I would work of him/her unconditionally. I guarantee with my personal character and dignity that this call came from the bottom of the heart of an in-school university student who wants to save her mother!"
Later on, upon request by the netizens, she posted a photograph of her and her mother as well as her account number at the Industrial and Commercial bank.
The response gradually heated up. Faced with such a pious girl, the netizens expressed their sympathy. Her mobile phone kept ringing, to the point where service was cut off twice. On the next day, the first sum of 200 yuan was transferred into her account. By September 17, more than 16,000 yuan in donations had gone into her account.
When the "female university student" linked the keywords "selling her body" with "saving her mother", it was undoubtedly an eye-catching news item. On September 17, almost all of the Chongqing newspapers reported on this incident. After the reports appeared in the newspaper, the School of Literature in which Chen Yi was attending, quickly posted a solicitation of donations on the school's BBS and the university-wide campaign brought in more than 20,000 yuan from the teachers and the staff. The Luzhou City Prosecutorial Office where Chen Yi's mother Yi Liangwei worked, also organized the entire prosecutorial system in the city to make donations.
Three days after the post first appeared, the normally open and happy Chen Yi began to look depressed. On this day, a mysterious person by the ID of Lanlian'er made a post that asserted that Chen Yi "wore new Adidas and Nike brand fashion wear, she uses a mobile phone as well as a Personal Access System, she also bought a pair of colorized contact lens at more than 500 yuan" ... "At that time, her mother called her endless number of times, but she was not to be found. Instead, she hung around with a bunch of loose characters and she skipped her classes" ... "she cheated countless number of kind-hearted people" ...
Bafenzhai's photograph of Chen Yi's Nike shoes
All of a sudden, the matter took a quick turn. Those netizens who had given Chen Yi and her mother unlimited sympathy began to have doubts. More information was revealed on the Internet by those around her, and the Tianya Club forum was dominated by discussions related to Chen Yi.
Every detail of information about Chen Yi was scrutinized and analyzed in great depth.
The artistic photograph of Chen Yi wearing blue contact lens was posted. Someone compared Chen Yi's hairstyle on the two different photographs and concluded that it must have cost her a few hundred yuan to get a new hairstyle. The photograph of her and her mother had EXIF information that showed that it was taken not long ago and Yi Liangwei did not look very ill. The photograph of Chen Yi kissing a friend of the same sex was published. Her posts inside the school looking for homosexual love were dug up. Her relatively good family situation was exposed. The details of the donations that her family received last year were revealed. Her exchanges with her classmates were treated as evidence of planning for this incident.
Chen Yi was stripped stark naked on the Internet because she was not as pitiful as she claimed.
Chen Yi counterattacked. She said that she knows that Lanlian'er is a classmate of hers who is lacking in both character and decency. She explained that the luxury brands that she owns were all purchased before her mother got ill. At the request of Chen Yi, some classmates and relatives went on Tianya Club to show their support of Chen Yi. Instead the netizens got more irate: "Her classmates elevated the doubts of everyone to the level of libel" ... "This is biting us back, so that Tianya Club becomes the haven of libelers." The worst thing was that in the face of the loud demand, Chen Yi refused to disclose the details of the donation amounts until October 9.
Unexpectedly, on September 27, Chen Yi made a declaration through the media that she would cease accepting donations.
Facing these problems that raises grave doubts, our reporter went to Chongqing and Luzhou to conduct an investigation.
Concerning Yi Liangwei's position and income, Chen Yi did not mention at first that her mother was a public servant covered by medical insurance. When the public servant status was exposed, she said that her mother only got 900 yuan per month in basic wages. According to information from the Luzhou City Prosecutorial Office propaganda and education director Kuang Bing, the mother Yi Liangwei was a prosecutor. After she fell ill, she left her post while still enjoying the employee privileges. Her basic wages were 900 yuan plus bonuses, so that the actual income was more than 2,000 yuan per month.
As for the first liver transplant last year, Chen Yi said "last year, the unit did not pay one cent in medical expenses, nor was that possible at all." But according to the information from the Luzhou City Prosecutorial Office political director Li Huaxue, the Luzhou Prosecutorial Office received donations of more than 40,000 yuan, including even donations from temporarily hired drivers. The first operation cost more than 200,000 yuan; the medical insurance and the social security insurance covered more than 150,000 yuan and the additional 40,000 yuan in donations basically covered the first operation.
As for the house, Chen Yi said that in order to raise money to treat her mother, they sold the house given to her father by the National Land Bureau and they are now living in the dormitory of the Prosecutorial Office at 90 yuan per month in rent. Chen Yi's uncle Yi Lianggan explained that the National Land Bureau's house was a welfare gift; it was old and not worth much. Later on, Yi Liangwei obtained a mortgage for a 220 square meter home that was built by the city Prosecutorial Office. She had to let that go when she needed to treat her disease. Later, her condition improved and she bought a 120 square meter home also belonging to the city Prosecutorial Office. But Yi Liangwei bid for two units so that Yi Lianggan could also purchase one unit. However, Yi Lianggan quickly sold his unit. Therefore it was a misunderstanding for Yi Liangwei's co-workers to state that she owned two apartment units.
This year, Yi Liangwei's condition worsened and that 120 square meter unit was sold before they even moved in. The buyer is a woman named Xie, and the price should be less than 100,000 yuan.
On October 23, Yi Lianggan took the reporter to visit the home of Chen Yi and her mother. He pointed to a set of solid wood furniture and said that they were presents from him. Those were the only decent looking furniture in the home. The apartment really did not look good. It was dark even in broad daylight. Apart from a 29" television set, there was basically no good consumer electronic items. The clothes were washed with a made-in-Taiwan double-vat machine. Chen Yi's room had an old carpet which was given to her after a relative's work unit was eliminated.
Based upon these investigations, Chen Yi's mother was genuinely ill and her family cannot bear the costs of all the medical expenses. But she also selectively concealed certain information not conducive to generating donations. After those details were disclosed, Chen Yi did not seriously respond to the doubts.
On October 8, Chen Yi finally broke out of a long period of silence and posted an item titled "I can't stand the burden; I hope someone will come to investigate." She claimed: "I did not ask for donations last year and I received nothing." She also guaranteed that she will publish all donation accounts as well as their uses. She swore: "If I misused even one cent as people believe, I will be struck dead by lightning." At the same time, she hoped that someone would investigate her case.
But she did not expect that when the virtual identity became a real person, something completely different happens. For the first time in Chinese history, someone traveled from one city to another to investigate an Internet controversy.
This person goes by the name of Bafenzhai. He is a small and honest man, and he has participated in more than twenty different Internet donation campaigns. All along, he had helped to raise 5,000 yuan for Chen Yi and her mother. In reviewing at the various doubts, Bafenzhai found it difficult to discern truth from lies in a way that he had never encountered on the Internet before. On September 30, Bafenzhai posted "An enumeration of the deadly flaws in the Chen Yi case" to express his own doubts. On October 4, he posted "Advice and hope with respect to Ms. Chen Yi" to recommend that Chen Yi disclose the financial details and to ask a charity organization to manage the money. Chen Yi did not respond.
So the self-described activist Bafenzhai decided to go to Chongqing personally to investigate. He said that his thinking was very simple: if Chen Yi had no problems, then she will be clean; if there were problems, they will be exposed. This incident should not destroy the basic value -- trust -- in all Internet-driven donation campaigns.
Prior to leaving, he had received the emails in Chen Yi's personal email account as obtained by hackers. Among the emails were the detailed medical case history that Chen Yi refused to disclose, as well as many emails from netizens who had sent her money -- some had wired the money through the post office while others wrote checks. Chen Yi had never mentioned those.
On October 9, Bafenzhai arrived from Shenzhen to Chongqing. Meanwhile, Shanghai netizen Jinguanren also arrived and he had his doubts about this case. The two met with Chongqing netizens Zhang Shuzhou and Yiranhuanle and they launched the investigation.
On October 10, Bafenzhai met Chen Yi at Southwestern University. According to the investigative report published by Bafenzhai afterwards, "Chen Yi was simply dressed. She wore a leisure jacket on top, gray Nike pants (which she said were counterfeited), a pair of well-worn Nike shoes and her hairstyle was just as shown in the newspapers but dyed, curled on top and straight downwards. By appearance, she was an ordinary university student and not living in luxury as the rumors go."
During the investigation, Bafenzhai confirmed the basic situation and the mother-daughter team were cooperative. Chen Yi let Bafenzhai and others verify the account information at the Industrial and Commercial Bank. Up to the day when donations were cut off, the total amount was about 104,000 yuan. Bafenzhai told a Chongqing netizen Huaideguang who was generally more sympathetic to Chen Yi that the bank accounts looked alright. Bafenzhai also visited the Luzhou Prosecutorial Office to learn about the donations and expenditures from last year. Chen Yi also brought Bafenzhai and others to visit their home in Luzhou.
But Chen Yi was still dishonest about certain matters, and that left Bafenzhai quite disappointed. The most touchy point was the remittances that did not go through the bank. At first, Chen Yi told Bafenzhai that she only received 2,200 yuan from such remittances. But the CCTV reporter at the scene interjected: "Didn't you say more than 7,000 yuan?" Chen Yi began to cry: "I trust CCTV. I don't trust the netizens and I don't trust you people!" Finally, she admitted that there was one remittance of 6,000 yuan and the total was more than 10,000 yuan. There were also foreign currency remittances.
After returning to Shenzhen, Bafenzhai published his investigative report in serial form. The report was immediately placed at the top of the Tianya Club home page and caused quite a stir. By the second day, there were more than 20,000 hits with more than 2,000 comments. People praised what he did: "The Internet is a virtual world, but there are still people who have their feet on the ground and taken concrete actions in order to bring the truth to the netizens. This is truly admirable!"
But there were also netizens who believed that Yi Liangwei was genuinely ill and that all else can wait until after she gets her medical treatment.
While the opposing camps continued with their arguments, on October 22 and 23, hackers posted on Tianya Club information pried from Chen Yi's private email box as well as the QQ chat sessions between Chen Yi and her mother, her mother's brother and her father's younger brother.
The person who disclosed the QQ sessions wrote: "This was a scripted kidnap. The kidnapper is Chen Yi and the accomplices are her relatives and other associates. The kidnap victim is Chen Yi's mother, a person who needed donations to treat her disease. The ransom is the kindness of the entire Internet world!" The two sets of personal correspondences formed a super-sized bomb and turned the Chen Yi affair into blazing heat. Although the netizens understand that it was illegal for the hacker to obtain personal correspondence, many of them still supported it. According to the record, the netizens called Chen Yi out as "Swindler!"
In reality, the chat sessions do not reveal any pre-planning. Chen Yi sought advice from her father's younger brother often. This is because Chen Yi lacked any experience facing the public, so she followed the advice of this uncle who worked in Kunshan, Jiangsu and had the Internet ID of Tianshengwocai. But even the uncle was worried at one point that he would be accused of being the mastermind.
Chen Yi understood her obligations: "I am now a public figure. Everything that I do and say will be monitored. If I say anything wrong, it may be irrecoverable." "My future is ruined." But Yi Liangwei did not care: "They want us to publish our unit telephone number, the hospital telephone number, the name of the doctor and the details in the medical case history. We will refuse. Let them contact law enforcement and the investigation will find us to be innocent."
Also, when the accounts were published, a netizen discovered a discrepancy of around 10,000 yuan. According to the chat session records, Chen Yi and her father's younger brother were both mystified and afraid. They thought that the bank computer made an error, and they got quickly responded on the Internet.
Perhaps everything can be summarized by what the hacker wrote: "It is true that the mother is ill, it is true that the daughter is inexperienced and it is true that netizens are kind-hearted. Everything is true, but it has not been properly brought out."
Amidst all the discussion of Baifenzhai's investigative report and the analysis of the chat session records about conspiracy, the funds were supposed to be transferred to a third-party for safe-keeping. And then something unexpected happened -- Yi Liangwei passed away on October 22.
At 7:17pm on the evening of October 20, Handouxiansheng who is the forum master of the Transplant City received an SMS from Yi Liangwei: "I entered the operation room at 2pm this afternoon to take care of my aneurysm. By 6pm, they told me that they were not able to stop the aneurysm. However, they have inserted the steel ring inside already. They are now readying to bring me back into the operating room in order to extract the steel ring. I am about to go in." At around 7pm, Yi Liangwei called all her relatives in Luzhou and then she went into the operating room in tears.
The operation went on for more than 11 hours and finished after 6am the next morning. In the intensive care unit, Yi Liangwei's condition turned for the worse on the afternoon of October 21. At 7pm, another emergency surgical operation was done. When she exited the operating room at 9pm, she was in a coma.
During that time, Chen Yi used her mobile phone to communicate with the friends at Transplant City, Bafenzhai, Huaideguang and other people about the latest developments. On the evening of October 21, Huaideguang and another Chongqing netizen Langxiang came by the hospital. Chen Yi and her aunt Yi Liangqiong voluntarily showed them the medical bills and said that the hospital is willing to issue a note to prove there was the need for emergency medical expenditures. Chen Yi asked them whether they would approved the use of the donated money for this purpose.
The two felt that they were not authorized to make that decision. They called Bafenzhai, who recommended that they followed the order of spending the money from the Luzhou Prosecutorial Office first, the Southwestern University next and the Internet donations last. Huaideguang told Chen Yi that the decision was really in her hands. Huaideguang and other netizens had gone to the Chongqing City Notary's Office to discuss the monitoring of the donated funds and had been advised that the money is Chen Yi's private property which she can use as she sees fit.
At 7:58am on October 22, Huaideguang received an SMS from Chen Yi: "My mother is critically ill. I have decided to transfer all the money. Please understand."
In the afternoon, a netizen posted on Sina.com: "Chen Yi's mother Yi Liangwei has just passed away at Southwestern Hospital!" This news was confirmed. At 3pm that afternoon, the hospital declared that Yi Liangwei's heart had stopped and there was no more breathing.
It is still a mystery as to whether this operation was a medical necessity or a decision made under the tremendous pressure of Internet opinion. On October 18, Yi Liangwei had no plans to treat her aneurysm. She was still talking to the Tianjin expert about her second liver transplant. But on the afternoon of October 20, she was lying on the operating table "readying to take care of the aneurysm." As Yi Liangqiong said, "It occurred too 'suddenly'."
With the incomplete information, some doctors among the netizens reasoned based upon the known information: "Ms. Yi was seriously ill and the cause of death may be due to the operation itself. First, they could not remove the blockage by the tumor on the artery. Then a second operation had to be performed in order to remove the steel ring and there was massive bleeding afterwards. This caused the already weakened body to fail." "... it was an accident." According to the media reports, two liver specialists from Guangzhou diagnosed that Yi Liangwei was already serious ill, and there are tremendous risks and low probability of success with a second liver transplant. "Under normal circumstances, we would have recommended the removal of the aneurysm."
Handouxiansheng analyzed the SMS that Chen Yi and her mother sent him: "She was ultimately indecisive about using the donations that did not come from Transplant city. She did not dare to touch that money, but she did not have enough to go to Tianjin. So she took a chance and hoped that a miracle would occur to show that it was not an aneurysm but just weakened arteries. Then she can get a more conservative treatment instead of a second liver transplant." "The problem of money is what drove her to take this path." But this was inconsistent with the news on Xinhua Net. According to Xinhua Net, Yi Liangwei had undergone the essential steps before any liver transplant -- the operation on the portal vein thrombus -- but then she experienced multiple organ failures arising from her liver problems. That is to say, this operation was essential if she was going to have a second liver transplant.
From the chat session records, Chen Yi had said: "Those reporters are pressing in closely." "If public opinion forced mother to do something, she may lose her life." "Mom will listen to me" about whether to have an operation or not. She had told Zhang Shuzhou that there had been three cases of such an operation in Southeast Asia and all three patients died. These were treated by netizens as proof that Chen Yi did not value the life of her mother. But the chat session records also showed that Chen Yi wanted to get help from the Internet and towards the end, she only wanted to collect money for her mother's surgery.
Finally, the first netizen to post the news of the death of Yi Liangwei at Sina.com also said: "Ms. Yi's surgery had not been planned beforehand. It occurred only at her insistence." Southwestern Hospital has declined to be interviewed to explain what happened. Yi Liangqiong who had been at the hospital all this time gave an answer that sounded like it came from a diplomat: "I don't understand medicine. It is inappropriate for me to comment." Yi Lianggan said: "The surgery was decided after both sides discussed it."
Once Yi Liangwei passed away, Bafenzhai became the target of criticism. Some netizens labeled him an "executioner." "For their conspiracy theories," "they don't care if others live or die. For them, the 'truth' is even more important than someone else's life." "Bafenzhai once again showed that the pen can kill people without seeing blood."
The recommendation made by Bafenzhai to use the money in the order also caused him to become a target. Someone even threatened to hire gangsters to kill Bafenzhai. Soon afterwards, personal facts about Bafenzhai were also published. Some netizens investigated his published biography and title, and discovered some falsehoods.
Faced with these attacks, Bafenzhai was indifferent. He said, "My personal identity is unrelated to the Chen Yi incident. There is not much point in investigating me." He smiled, "I don't care if you dig up my ancestors' graves on the Internet. I am like a brass bead. You can scold me, and I won't get angry."
Bafenzhai's real name is Sun Guoyu. He was born in 1975 in Tongwei county, Kansu province. He is not tall, but he is solidly built. He first paid attention to Internet donations when a story appeared on September 25 last year in the Southern Metropolis Daily. At that time, a working girl named Wang Li (note: a pseudonym) was raped in Songgang, Shenzhen to the point where her vagina was ripped in multiple places and she lost her left nipple. When Bafenzhai saw the news, he became very angry as well as sympathetic. On that day, he posted the news on a forum in Shenzhen Hotline.
Bafenzhai decided that he was going to provide Wang Li with some solid assistance. At Shenzhen Hotline, he published a special bank account dedicated to Wang Li and solicited donations. On September 28, he had received 7,131 yuan in donations. He also posted all the details of the funds received.
Bafenzhai's thinking was that he was just an individual, and he could help Wang Li only by convincing the public to trust him. Therefore, the entire process must be thoroughly transparent. From the start, he designed the entire donation activity even though he had no established example to follow.
First, he investigated whether the person asking for help was telling the truth. This included checking the original source of information, their connection to the principal, the true identity and background of the principal, the accuracy of the information (such as hospital room number, the name of the doctor in charge) and so on. Prior to helping Wang Li, Bafenzhai visited the police station, Wang Li's uncle and others who were in the know. Then he decided if the case can be disclosed in order to solicit donations. Then and only then he posted onto the Internet.
Once he received donations, he published a password for the account (with read-only privileges). Then he provided the details of the donation campaign, including funds received and expenditures, on a daily basis. He scanned receipts from the principal and posted them on the Internet. He also updated people on the latest developments. Before the campaign wass completed, he insisted on meeting the principal and checked on progress.
Bafenzhai had used this set of procedures from Wang Li on the way through more than twenty other donation campaigns. A comparison shows that the Chen Yi case caused a crisis in confidence because there was not a transparent process for disclosure of information. Although one cannot say that Chen Yi misused the money, the way that she dealt with the public caused some people to think so.
With the assistance of Bafenzhai and other netizens, Wang Li has basically recovered. More importantly, she is psychologically whole again. "She has learned to help other people." When they organized the campaign to assist the worker Zhang Yucheng who was severely burned while helping to put out a fire, Wang Li also donated 800 yuan. In January this year, Wang Li sought out Bafenzhai and asked for a photograph to be taken of them both. Previously, when Wang Li's photograph was mistakenly published in a certain newspaper, she almost wanted to kill herself. So Bafenzhai was perplexed as to why she asked for a photograph. Wang Li: "I want the people who have helped me to know who I am!" The most touching moment was when Bafenzhai was having his New Year's Eve dinner, he received a SMS from Wang Li: "I wish you were here!" Bafenzhai said, "This was a lot happier than having a couple of yuan in my wallet."
Previously, Bafenzhai conducted business in the inland and he was not very successful. He came to Shenzhen to look for opportunities. "This incident changed my viewpoints about happiness. Previously, I thought that the more money I have, the happier I will be. Now, I feel that happiness is about helping others. This kind of happiness cannot be bought by money alone."
Therefore, he has turned from being an ordinary Shenzhen Hotline netizen to become a worker at Shenzhen Hotline. "My main objective is to use the Internet platform to help those who are helpless." A short while ago, he began work at the Shenzhen Basic Community Network.
As for the complaint of forcing Yi Liangwei to die, the best counterargument is also provided in Chongqing. The Chongqing University masters student Zhou Anhua and his father also sought help by posting on Tianya Club. Bafenzhai also came to Chongqing to investigate them, and their medical treatments are now progressing in an orderly manner.
The reporter went to the Xinqiao Hospital, which is not faraway from the Southwestern Hospital, to visit the Zhou family. The Zhou Anhua is slightly introverted and the father Zhou Dajiang had rough and dark skin, and somewhat inarticulate. Zhou Dajiang has colon cancer and coronary heart disease. While the father was being treated, Zhou Anhua was also diagnosed with a malignant lymphoid tumor. Considering that the family only has about 700 yuan in income, Zhou Dajiang forsook his own treatment (although he still spend 100 or 200 yuan a month on medication) and spent everything else on Zhou Anhua. He did not spent a single donated cent on himself. Although Zhou Anhua tried to insist that his father get treated, he has always declined.
Zhou Anhua's younger fellow student Nie Xuan has been trying to tell people about Zhou Anhua through the Internet. Everyday, he updates any new donations that have been received. When money is spent, he publishes the details. He also responds to inquiries from netizens. Nie Xuan said that he had thought that it would be quite simple and never imagined that this was the proper way to handle things. But he realizes that honesty is the way to deal with kind-hearted people.
The Chen Yi incident had some direct impact on the call for assistance from the Zhous. Many netizens personally come to the hospital to visit them, and to confirm the conditions. Their honesty gained the trust of the netizens. According to Nie Xuan, when people began to challenge Chen Yi's account after September 20, the donations to Zhou Anhua actually increased as everyone who visited him gave money.
"The netizens have really low requirements. All they want is an honest stance," said Bafenzhai.
Mutual assistance is an excellent Chinese tradition. The Chinese live by "if someone is in trouble, everybody else helps out." From the Chen Yi incident, we can see how the traditional Chinese spirit of mutual assistance sparkled. For the two occasions when Yi Liangwei needed treatment for her liver problem, the unit, the school, the relatives and friends offered donations. But this was only a circle of acquaintances and insufficient to solve everything. Then the Internet showed its unique function of soliciting help from the general public. But on the Internet, faced with strangers asking for donations and trust, the traditional Chinese spirit of mutual assistance could not provide an answer on how to protect that trust.
After the Chen Yi incident, Yi Lianggan had some reflections. He said that he wished that there was organization that would monitor civilian donations and publish the accounts regularly. If everything were transparently made public, the principals would be hurt in this manner.
The reality is the civilian charitable organizations are weak. At the end of 2004, the Chinese charitable organizations received 5 billion yuan, which is equivalent to 0.05% of the 2004 GDP. The comparable figure is 2.17% in the United States, 0.88% in the United Kingdom and 0.77% in Canada.
When Bafenzhai participated in Internet assistance campaigns, he found out that many detailed problems could not be solved. For example, what happened if the recipient got more in donations than actually spent even as others did not get enough. Between the donors and recipients, there is no intermediary organization that served as a reservoir to direct the donations to the most needy persons. Thus, he wanted to establish a nationally recognized charitable organization to help many more people.
He consulted the law and found out that charitable acts are governed legally by the "The Public Interest Business Donations Laws," which refers solely to "public interest society groups" receiving donations. It is impossible for private citizens to establish such an organization. Bafenzhai believes that the absence of charitable organizations caused the Chen Yi tragedy, and Yi Liangwei was a victim because of the lack of a system of charitable organizations.
Also, Bafenzhai mentioned that even the quasi-official charitable organizations are not being adequately monitored. The most typical case is the Youth Foundation transferring the Project Hope donations to make investments. Apart from setting up laws and tax exemptions to nurture charitable organizations in China, there ought to be a system to monitor charitable organizations.
The United States has a regulated system for overseeing charitable organizations. The non-government organization National Charity Information Bureau set the standards for charitable organizations. They will evaluate every two to four years and the results are disclosed to the public through the media. The charitable organizations are therefore very transparent and every citizen can check the accounts. This type of monitoring system has proven to be highly effective. In the United States, charity has become a part of popular culture.
Bafenzhai said that the netizens are very pure and kind-hearted. In order to encourage this kind-heartedness and protect the fragile trust, there has to be mature civilian charitable organizations with effective monitoring. Everything that he is doing is intended to direct Chinese civilian charity towards regularization. "As long as you disclose the information truthfully and you face the public honestly, the enthusiasm of the netizens will continue to rise higher," said Bafenzhai.
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