A primary school student whose snow-encrusted photograph went viral after he struggled to school in sub-zero temperatures in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan has received only a small fraction of the 50,000 yuan (U.S. $7,800) donated by well-wishers, RFA has learned.
Wang Fuman, 8, was dubbed "Snowflake Boy" after a photograph of him with frozen hair after his daily 2.8-mile walk to school was posted to social media in China, prompting a flood of donations from well-meaning strangers.
But local officials have given him just a small proportion of the money, saying they will share out the rest among other children like him, local sources told RFA.
"There are a lot of media reports about this right now, saying he only got 500 yuan," an official who answered the phone at the Ludian county government propaganda department said on Friday. "If the money is labeled for Wang Fuman, then the youth development foundation will definitely give it all to him."
"But the rest of the money certainly won't all be given to one person; they will ... make arrangements for it to be given to children like Wang Fuman in Ludian county who need it even more," he said.
Some reports said Wang only received 8,000 yuan, while others said the amount he received was as low as 500 yuan.
The official said the foundation would publish a detailed account of where the money was sent.
"They will definitely be making this public, exactly how much went where, and what it was used for, where and for whom," he said.
Wang's photo has once more focused media attention on the plight of China's army of "left-behind" children, whose parents travel far afield in search of work in bigger cities.
Migrant worker father
Wang's father Wang Gangkui said he had no choice but to seek work as a migrant to a far-off city, leaving his son behind in Yunnan.
"Our family has no means, no other options," Wang Gangkui said. "If we were to stay home and take care of our kid, that would mean we had no income at all."
"Our son is back home, staying with his grandmother, so I can work elsewhere to get the money for him to get an education," he said. "I am very very grateful to everyone who donated."
Wang's hometown of Zhaotong city is home to more than a million people living in extreme poverty, nearly 47 percent of the school-age population, government figures indicate.
The confusion over the ultimate destination for the flood of donations has sparked allegations of "abuse of power" by officials in Yunnan's Zhaotong municipal education bureau.
"The head of the local education bureau said that there are other children like [Wang] who also need the money," a volunteer who helped gather the money told RFA on Thursday. "This is a classic example of the abuse of official power."
He said many rural families struggle to find the money for their children to attend all nine compulsory years of schooling mandated by Chinese law, even though the funding should be provided by the local government.
"There are all sorts of expenses, including lunch, and then overnight boarding fees if the child lives too far away," he said. "But implementation has been rolled back in a lot of places. The governments have the money, but they don't want to spend it on that."
Yunnan-based rights activist Yu Yunfeng said Wang should be the main beneficiary of the money, adding that some donors had collected money privately and given it straight to him.
"All the money we raised we intended to go straight to the kid, because he is in such dire straits, and we felt sorry for him," Yu said. "We don't feel sorry for the government."
"It is shameless that the government is now taking that money away from him," Yu said. "If other people also need this money, then it should be him who hands it out to them; total strangers shouldn't do it on his behalf."
Funds often go missing
Yu said other types of funding have a habit of going 'missing,' too.
"They also did this with social welfare payments," he said. "There is no good governance under a dictatorship ... as soon as there is money, they will do everything they can to get their hands on it."
An official who answered the phone at the Ludian county education bureau denied the allegations, saying that the collection of the funds had been delegated to a government-backed "foundation," and had never been through the bureau.
The principal of Wang's Xinjie Township Zhongxin Primary School, Chen Kui, said he had no idea how much money the boy had eventually received.
"We can't really try to find out, because it is a private matter for him," Chen said. "The foundation didn't go through the school, so we had nothing to do with it."
"We have about 2,000 students here in the township, and physical conditions are very challenging," he said. "We are 2,870 meters above sea-level. I'm not sure of the exact number of poverty-stricken, left-behind children - you'll have to ask a different department."
Calls to the government-backed Yunnan Youth Development Foundation and the Zhaotong Youth Development Foundation rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.