A Beijing man who pleaded guilty last week to forging a hospital stamp so his sick wife could receive free medical treatment has received overwhelming public sympathy amid hope he may be given a lenient sentence.
Liao Dan, 41, made national headlines when it was revealed that for four years he had used a fake stamp to show he had paid for his wife, Du Jinling, 39, to receive kidney dialysis.
The case moved many internet users, with one calling it a 'sad and beautiful love story'.
After receiving a donation from a businessman in Guangdong, Liao returned the 172,000 yuan (HK$211,000) in unpaid bills on Monday, handing the money to the Dongcheng District People's Court. His lawyer, Wang Xu, said a judge had said Liao might have his sentence cut by 30 per cent.
Liao faces between three and 10 years in jail and could hear his fate in a month.
Many internet users said they would like to see Liao receive a three-year suspended sentence, but Wang said that was probably too optimistic.
Liao lost his factory job 15 years ago and took up part-time work so he could care for his wife. He spent the family's savings on treatment for his wife.
When he ran out of money four years ago he started forging hospital stamps so she could continue receiving treatment free of charge.
It wasn't until the hospital upgraded its computer system that the fraud was discovered. He was arrested in April but released on bail to care for his wife and son.
Before his arrest, Liao was earning about 1,000 yuan a month driving an illegal motorcycle taxi and received a small low-income allowance.
'I need to take my son to and from school. I need to take my wife to and from her dialysis treatment twice a week. I don't have a regular job because I need to take care of them. What kind of job would allow me such flexibility?' Liao said yesterday.
The outpouring of sympathy began last week after media reports quote Liao as saying: 'If I had a little money I would not have forged the chop. I wasn't thinking much - all I wanted was for her not to die.'
Some internet users called Liao 'a true man'. Many said the story made them believe in love again, and a brief summary of the incident, written by a journalist on his microblog account, had been reposted more than 125,000 times by yesterday.
Other people were irate that Liao had been forced to choose between breaking the law and saving his wife.
His wife is from a rural area of Hebei and was not insured by the basic medical scheme in the province. Although she could have been insured in Beijing, none of her employers signed her up for basic medical insurance, which would be paid for by her and the employer.
Chen Lihao, chairman of the Yuanguang Software Industrial Co in Zhuhai, Guangdong, read about Liao online and decided to wire him 172,000 yuan last week to pay off the hospital bills.
'Liao Dan risked everything to save his wife and he didn't leave her. That type of love is much needed in this day and age,' Chen said. 'Since paying off the debt will have a big impact on the sentence and might even increase his chances of receiving probation, I would like to do it.'
Chen also said he hoped Liao's case would help cast light on the need to remove barriers within the medical insurance system, which is closely tied to a patient's permanent residency - barriers that can result in serious diseases going untreated.
Internet users also started pooling donations to help pay for the dialysis treatment that Liao's wife requires, and more than 420,000 yuan had been raised by Monday.
'There's no point in saying whether I regret what I did - it's too late,' Liao said. 'Even if I must go to jail, I can't complain.'