Knee-walk mother offers to return cash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am

The mother who shuffled on her knees down a busy road in Guangzhou last week to raise money for her sick child has offered to return more than 280,000 yuan (HK$332,000) she received in donations after it was revealed the stunt was planned to tap people's sympathy and anger.

Xie Sanxiu, a migrant worker from Hubei, said she was sorry for 'hurting the media and society', but insisted she only agreed to take part for the sake of her seven-month-old daughter, who has eye cancer.

Xie walked for a kilometre on her knees after supposedly being offered 20,000 yuan to do so by an internet user calling himself 'Son of the Guangzhou rich'. But when she completed the task the Net user failed to keep his vow, causing outrage and leading to a flood of donations.

The man who put Xie up to it, Shi Jinquan, a website content manager, also apologised, but said it was the only way to raise the money and in his view it was worth it because a baby would be saved.

'I am not educated and know nothing about publicity stunts,' Xie told the Guangzhou Daily. 'I'm not a great mother, as the media reported. I'm just a poor mother, a mother who told lies. I was just trying to save my daughter.'

Shi, in an interview with China Central Television, apologised to the people who made donations but said that despite all the attacks on his morals, he was only trying to help Xie.

'You can say the means were not noble and people are angry, but I'm only trying to help,' he said. 'Society is so cold and cruel. If she could have got help immediately when she asked for it, I would not have helped her in this way.

'In my personal research of internet communications, anger can easily attract attention, and opinions spread on a very large scale. This was a last resort.'

Xie, who was working in a garment factory with her husband and also has a 12-year-old son, gave birth to Shanshan in August. Two months later, she learned her daughter had retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer.

The family had asked for help from the Civil Affairs Department in their home province, Hubei, but received only a paper that acknowledged they were below the poverty line. Xie had tried to beg in front of hospitals and got nothing. Her months of asking for donations online got her only 400 yuan, according to The Southern Metropolis News.

She then published her plea on the popular website, asking for donations to help her baby, whose treatment at the Guangzhou Children's Hospital the family had had to stop. 'Son of the Guangzhou rich' then left a message saying that if Xie walked on her knees for one kilometre, he would be there to give her 20,000 yuan.

He wrote in a post: 'There are so many people in the world that need help, why must I help you? You say you are willing to exchange your life for your child's health. Who believes you?

'If you can kneel and crawl on the road for 1,000 metres, I will immediately give you 20,000 yuan.'

So Xie walked on her knees, holding her baby in her arms, on a busy Guangzhou road near the office of an influential newspaper group on Tuesday afternoon. 'Son of the Guangzhou rich' did not show up or keep his promise to donate, but some reporters received tip-offs and the photograph of the desperate Xie spread quickly in the media and on the internet.

Soon, internet users, angry over Xie's humiliation, started to make donations, while several Hong Kong residents also expressed their willingness to help.

It was only after the walk that Tianya announced the IP address of 'Son of the Guangdong rich' was the same as the content manager of the forum where Xie published her post.

Shi was fired by the website. He said he was bombarded by calls from angry internet users and could not leave home.

The conversation between Shi and Xie on an instant messaging tool provided to the media showed Shi told Xie to start the knee-walk from the office of the Nanfang Daily group and coached her in how to answer all sorts of questions.

Shi said he noticed Xie's post when he was managing the forum and decided to help. The idea came after one night's deliberation, and he met Xie for the first time on the day of the knee-walk.

He said he was there during the whole process and wanted to help Xie stand up several times but was not brave enough because the media was there.

The saga generated a wide array of opinions, some critical of Shi's behaviour.

'We feel cheated even though it was well meant. Please do not challenge kind people's moral bottom line,' one internet user from Hebei wrote on

Another, from Guangzhou, criticised Shi for 'boosting his own publicity and damaging the social code by exploiting people's kindness'.

But some users said people donated to help, and how they donated did not matter, as long as they helped the needy.

People were more charitable towards Xie, saying she was a poor mother who had crawled the street to save her child and people should forgive her.