China’s “Ice Boy”, whose photograph went viral on the internet after his freezing trek to school in an impoverished area of western China, has been removed from his new private school after just over a week because the headmaster says it cannot cope with the intense extra scrutiny from the authorities and pressures from the media.
Wang Fuman, eight, started attending Xinhua School in Zhaotong in southwestern Yunnan province late last month.
He was enrolled at the school by the headmaster after he learned of the boy’s plight through the massive publicity generated by Fuman’s photograph in the media.
The boy used to walk more than an hour from his home in the remote mountain village of Zhuanshanbao to his state school every day.
He came under the media spotlight in January after a teacher shared a photo of him with his hair, eyebrows and eyelashes encrusted in ice after he arrived at school on a freezing winter’s day.
His enrolment at Xinhua School, although a distance from his home, meant he could skip the daily commute and board at the school.
But last Tuesday afternoon – just over a week after Fuman started lessons at the private school – his father Wang Gangkui was asked to pick him up and take him back to his state school instead.
“I’m illiterate and I don’t understand why this school has kicked us out,” a frustrated Wang told the South China Morning Post.
Fuman was also bewildered, telling the Post he liked his new school.
“The teachers taught better than those at Zhuanshanbao Primary School. Pupils don’t talk in class and everyone is focused on studying,” he said.
“I lived there and didn’t need to walk a long way to get to school. I only needed to join running exercises every morning.
“I ate better, too. Unlike at home, when my granny is busy, my sister and I need to find food for ourselves ... because we don’t know how to cook, we just boil potatoes, but at Xinhua school I ate so many different things.”
Xinhua School’s headmaster, who asked only to be identified by his surname Yang, told the Post that he offered to take the boy for free because he wanted to “do some good”.
But the media attention and authorities’ scrutiny that came with the boy’s enrolment put the school under immense pressure, bringing so much unwanted attention and inconvenience that he could no longer deal it, he said.
“At first, I didn’t know ... but later, I found out that Fuman had been identified by the Ministry of Education as a key figure to be helped in the government’s poverty alleviation efforts. There are very few such pupils in the whole Yunnan province,” Yang said.
“As a result, during these days of having him in my school, we received numerous requests from various levels of government departments to inspect us. Many media outlets also insisted on interviewing us. It was impossible for me to reject many of these requests.”
The school was simply unable to cope with the extra demands placed on it by Fuman’s attendance, he said. “This was not what I wanted, so I had to tell Fuman’s father to take the boy back to his original school.”
Wang Fuman pictured during a trip to Beijing, prompted by the publicity generated by his photograph.
“This is why we did not involve the media when we offered Fuman free education,” he said, adding that many of his teachers had advised him to use the opportunity to publicise the school but he had rejected the idea. “I just want our school to be an ordinary one. I don’t like the media spotlight.”
Yang said he gave Fuman’s father 15,000 yuan (US$2,340) before he left with his son and offered to help the family if they met with further problems in the future.
“When Fuman arrived at my school, I told him: ‘Although you may be poor now, you should still have aspirations. Others’ help is only temporary, but studying hard will help you change your fate’,” he said.
Fuman’s father confirmed he received the money from Yang, but was upset about the sudden change.
“We like Xinhua School. It’s a boarding school and there are teachers there who care for my boy and can instruct him in his studies,” he said.
Wang added that he was not currently working, despite having accepted a better-paying job at a state-owned construction engineering firm in Zhaotong, an offer prompted by the publicity surrounding his son.
He quit his previous job in the provincial capital, Kunming, to take on the new job that promised wages of 200 yuan a day and which was closer to home, but the company has now told him there is no work for him at the moment, he said. -- SCMP
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