Slender body, yellow skin, swollen face with thin eyebrows and hair, 24-year-old college student Wu Huayan in SW China’s Guizhou is 1.35 meters (4’4”) and weighs only 21.5 kg (48 lbs) from long-term malnutrition. She is supposed to enjoy her life on campus with rosy cheeks, worrying about school work and tests like any others. Instead, Wu shoulders a burden that a young woman in her 20s shouldn’t be undertaking: Living off supplementary welfare allowance, which is about 300 yuan (45 USD) monthly, she still has to save up for her younger brother for mental illness treatment as both of their parents have passed away years ago from illness.
Life is never fair, but it falls particularly hard on this young woman. She spends barely any money on herself, sometimes eating only one bun or some rice a day, suffers from extreme malnutrition. Her schoolwork lagged way behind and joggling at 2 jobs- earning only 600 yuan a month (85 USD) — while attending college makes her condition worse than ever. Hair loss, ringing ears, insomnia, and not being able to walk properly are nothing compared to her heart, which took the hardest hit from the long-term malnutrition. However, for her, getting treatment is not an option since she can never afford the “luxury” to see a doctor not to mention surgery. Her uncle’s family, where she and her brother are crashing at, aren’t able to help out since they are also on the government’s welfare system.
Sad stories like this are seen commonly in rural China. Wu might be considered the “lucky one” because her story got media attention. Society rushes to help. Within a few days, Chines netizens on social media were able to raise 470,000 yuan (over 60,000 USD) for her. A few days later, the local government states on their social media account that they will start emergency assistance to the young siblings with 20,000 yuan (around 3,000 USD), hoping to lift them out of despair.
China has the largest welfare program in the world. Ever since Shanghai initiated a minimum livelihood guarantee or dibao, an anti-poverty safety net, the program was expanded across China throughout the years. Today, it serves as the country’s primary social insurance program. However, Wu’s story only surfaces a small problem of the safety net system: Dibao is far from enough for the extremely poor family.
The road ahead is long.