Wu Huayan (from Twitter)

This picture tells a story. It does not show a child, but a 24-year-old young woman. She weighed less than 50 pounds (23kg). Her height was 4 feet, 5 inches (135cm). When the photograph was taken, she was about to die.

Her name was Wu Huayan, and she died on January 12, 2020 at the Affiliated Hospital of Guizhou Medical University in the city of Guiyang in eastern Guizhou province.

Wu did not always look like this. She was a normal young girl and a student at Guizhou Forerunner College. Then both her parents died and Wu had to care for herself, her studies, and psychiatric treatment for her mentally ill brother. She had to survive with a social security allowance of a mere 300 yuan (US$43.50) per month.

She did not want to stop studying and did everything she could to support her brother. So she started skipping breakfast, then dinner, and in the end tried to survive on a single daily meal of rice, chili peppers, and plain steamed buns.

By October 2018, malnutrition had caused a severe heart condition. She had also lost half of her hair. She was hospitalized, but cures were also expensive, and the cost of the surgery she needed was prohibitive.

She launched an appeal on Shuidichou, an online crowdfunding site, asking for help to cover her medical bills. Chinese Communist Party charities intervened and about $140,000 was collected.

Wu, however, died last week and, before CCP censorship made most news and messages about her disappear from the Internet, it came out that most of this money never reached her, generating a public outcry about the corruption of CCP-run charities.

This, however, is only part of the problem. On December 2019, CCP propaganda was still telling the world that President Xi Jinping’s plan to end poverty in 2020 was about to be accomplished.

The death of Wu Huayan is a sad yet timely reminder that propaganda should not be confused with reality.

The horrific story of Wu Huayan would remind many Western readers of the tales of miserable children in Victorian England by Charles Dickens (1812–1870). And for a good reason. China is, in some respects, similar to England during the Industrial Revolution, where the rich lived a luxurious life, commerce flourished, the country was a global power, yet the orphans and the poor died of hunger in the streets and the hospitals. Industrial development came without relief for the poor.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) lived in London and saw the same situation Dickens described. Marx was able to criticize it, but didn’t really do anything to solve the problem. In fact, poverty was eventually alleviated in England, not through Marxist revolution but through the efforts of social reformers, most of them motivated by religion and Christianity.

By cracking down on religion, Xi Jinping deprives the poor of their best friend and help. His fake news is not solving the social tragedies of China, and people like Wu Huayan continue starving and dying.

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, established by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale. This article has been republished, with permission, from Bitter Winter.

Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new...