BEIJING, Feb. 5, 2010 -- Why did this Chinese father chain his two-year-old son to a lamp post?
That was the question on the minds of Chinese readers who saw the picture in a Beijing newspaper this week. It showed the little boy tied with a chain to a lamp post outside a shopping mall in a suburban area of the Chinese capital.
The father explained to a Chinese reporter that he chained his son so he could pick up passengers. He made a living by driving customers on a rickshaw powered by a motorbike, earning about 50 yuan ($7.35) each day from his mini-taxi service.
When news Web sites displayed the photo, there was an outpouring of disgust mixed with pity from Chinese netizens.
"How can this father do this? It is so irresponsible," wrote one. "This is so hard to take but it shows the plight of people who live at the bottom of society," wrote another. "If not for the hardship in his life, how can a father do this to this boy, his own flesh and blood?" said another.
The father, Chen Chuanliu, explained to China Daily that he had a four-year-old daughter who went missing last month. He said he chained his son to keep him safe from getting lost or kidnapped.
"My mentally disabled wife is not able to take care of my children and I have to work to support my family," Chen said. "I don't even have a picture of her (my daughter) to use for a missing person ad. I cannot lose my son as well."
He added that he could not afford to put his son in a kindergarten or pay for child care.
The plight of the little boy and his family threw a spotlight on the hidden side of China's economic boom. In Beijing alone, there are more than 3 million "migrant workers," farmers who fled the countryside to try to make ends meet with assorted jobs in the city. Chen is one of them -- he came all the way from Sichuan province in southwest China.
But his family's tragic situation has elicited public sympathy. State media reported that a team of mine workers sent cartons of noodles and other foodstuff to his family. Others offered donations of money and clothing. Some even offered to adopt the little boy.
Father Says Adoption is not an Option
Chen refused to give up his son for adoption but the story of this little boy has now taken a turn for the better. The head of a local kindergarten agreed to take Chen's son and pay for his three years of nursery care amounting to $5,873.
This boy is free from his iron chain but it's unclear how many more remain hidden from the pubic who are still chained in poverty.