The sudden cancellation on Friday of the second hearing in China’s biggest #MeToo case shows just how arduous the legal journey is for women who have been subjected to sexual harassment and exploitation. While Xianzi defies the trolls and continues her fight for legal action against her harasser, many other Chinese women have been sucked into the vortex of an indifferent legal system and a hateful public.
On June 20, 2018, a teenager in Gansu Province jumped from an eighth-story window, to the cheers of the crowd below and on the livestreaming app Kuaishou. Nineteen-year-old Li Yiyi had struggled to go on living after her teacher sexually assaulted her in September 2016. Plagued by depression and PTSD, she spent the years after the attack out of school, criss-crossing the country with her father seeking treatment. When the court dismissed her case, Li’s father tried to shield her from the news. But his daughter found out, and days later was sitting on the ledge of a department store in Qingyang City with onlookers egging her on and posting comments on social media asking her to hurry up and jump. Four hours later, Li declined a firefighter’s outstretched hand and leapt.
Despite the outrage immediately following her death, Li’s family today feels forgotten. The criminal case against her assaulter, Wu Yonghou, was reopened thanks largely to Li’s father, but the court ultimately ruled that the teacher’s “obscene behavior” had not been the sole cause of Li’s suicide. The family did win compensation from Wu and the school in a civil case, concluded in January 2021, but not even enough to pay off the debt accumulated over two years of their daughter’s medical treatment. Wu’s assault devastated not only Li, but her entire family, now financially and emotionally drained by their struggles to save their daughter and bring her teacher to justice.
In this longform report for Sohu News WeChat account @media-fox (极昼工作室), translated in full by CDT below, Cai Jiaxin conducts extensive interviews with Li Yiyi’s family, focusing on her father, and brings this tragedy back out of the shadows:
His Daughter Jumped to Her Death. How One Man Goes on Living
Li Wenjun’s daughter had come back. The grape vines in the courtyard had all withered for the season. She was sweeping up the sawdust on the ground. His daughter looked as she did at 14 or 15—youthful, cute, clever. The weather had already cooled off. Wenjun squatted in front of the furnace room, tidying up the kindling.
These last two years, Li Wenjun often has vivid dreams like this one. At night, when he closes his eyes, scene after scene of his daughter floats to the surface of his mind: sometimes, he’s up on a windowsill wiping down the glass, his daughter by his side wringing out the rags; other times, he’s preparing vegetables with his daughter busily cooking beside him.
More often than not, he’s haunted by nightmares: he’s walking along a wide, flat road, with no one else around, when suddenly the road begins to collapse in front of him. He wakes up in a panic, yet he dares not make any sudden movements, for fear of waking up his 14-year-old son, who sleeps head-to-head with him on an L-shaped sofa. The boy has nightmares, too. He sometimes jumps up out of sleep or starts screaming. Wenjun springs up and soothes him, gently calming his confused son.
In the next room, Xiao Xuemei hears these midnight disturbances as clear as day. It’s cold at night; her hands and feet ache. She tosses and turns. Sometimes she picks up her phone and scrolls through pictures of her daughter from when she was 1, 5, 10… up until the year she left.
In 2016, Li Wenjun and Xiao Xuemei’s daughter, Li Yiyi, a student at Qingyang No. 6 Secondary School, was molested by her homeroom teacher, Wu Yonghou. She was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. On June 20, 2018, after two excruciating years, 19-year-old Yiyi jumped from the eighth floor of a commercial building in Qingyang City, Gansu Province. Even since that day, restful nights have been hard to come by.
By day, they seem like an ordinary family. Freshly-made meals appear on the table like clockwork. They eat together, listening to their son fill them in on his schoolwork and day-to-day life. Xiao Xuemei keeps an aloe plant to help treat their son’s acne. Next to it she has a lucky bamboo plant growing out of a glass of water. Li Wenjun’s 80-year-old father sits with them, eating quietly. No one has told him the real reason why Yiyi passed away. “Maybe he knows,” Wenjun says. “We probably won’t say.”
The days pass uneventfully in their less-than-80-square-meter apartment. This is the life Li Wenjun has rebuilt for himself. After his daughter’s death, he reunited with his former wife. He rented a two-bedroom apartment in the city so they could live with their son while he attended secondary school. He fell in love with the apartment as soon as he laid eyes on it—the huge window in the living room, the snow-white walls and floor tiles. He made sure to bring the white sofa, coffee table, and television stand from his old place. Rent is 830 yuan a month—not a trivial expense. But “the light is really good. My son and the old man will be happier here,” Wenjun explains.
When their son goes off to school, the cheerful facade disintegrates. Xiao Xuemei hides in her room, painstakingly recalling every detail of her daughter’s life. When Li Yiyi was 10 she learned to make steamed bread. One time, she snuck into the kitchen and rolled out a batch of dough while her mother was busy washing clothes. The pair loved buying matching mother-daughter outfits. But no matter how much she agonizes over these memories, her daughter remains forever out of reach. In moments like these, all she can do is open up the dresser drawer with her daughter’s old clothes and pinch the fabric between her fingers, just to feel it. The outfits she used to wear, her old khaki jacket—“I miss her so much.”
When Li Wenjun needs to clear his mind, he goes out alone. It’s springtime now. Green buds sprout from the willows lining the streets of Qingyang. But under the willows, he looks like a withered old tree. Though only 49, his posture is slightly stooped, he moves slowly, and frosty white hair covers his temples. He’s lost over 15 kilograms over the past two years. His eyes appear sunken and filled with sorrow, unable to focus.
In April 2020, Wu Yonghou was sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of forcing another person into an obscene act. The court took into account the time he had already served, and Wu was released in August. Li Wenjun heard nothing more about him for over half a year. The ruling in the civil case came out in January 2021: Wu and Qingyang No. 6 were to pay 67,000 RMB and 16,000 RMB, respectively, in compensation to the Li family.
It seemed the case would end there. The tower Yiyi jumped from stands less than a kilometer away from the family apartment. That strip of road had been under construction over the last two years, and it looks almost completely different now. There is an underground shopping center and a large department store. The shops lining the street bustle as before. It feels as if the city has moved on—the fate of that 19-year-old-girl has faded into the past.
Only the Li family is stuck. Whenever Wenjun drives by that building, he turns his head away so that he doesn’t see it. The evening sunlight gleams across his face. The mole below his right eye makes him look even more bereaved, this father who has lost his daughter.
Wenjun still wants to fight for justice for his daughter and his family, but “I don’t know what I should do next.” They’re still tens of thousands of yuan in debt for their daughter’s medical treatment. The settlement money, less than 85,000 yuan, fell far short of paying it off. Now their daughter is gone, their son is still young, and both Wenjun and Xiao Xuemei are plagued by illness. He wants to file a lawsuit, but he can’t find a lawyer willing to take the case.
Just like Xiao Xuemei facing the cliffs in her nightmares, “There’s nowhere to go,” Li says.
“There’s Nothing Daddy Can Do”
When he is alone, Li Wenjun often takes out the court documents—looking them over, circling things, taking notes—before carefully placing them back into their see-through plastic folder. His hands shaking, he makes sure all the pages lay flat, so as to not ruffle the corners. Like his despair, the legal documents keep piling up.
He feels he’s already done everything a father could possibly do. The first time he noticed something amiss with his daughter was September 6, 2016. That day, Yiyi’s face was all red when she got home from school. She sweated profusely the whole night, soaking her hair. Wenjun assumed she was feeling pressured by her studies. Still, he went down to the school to talk with her teacher, Wu Yonghou, whom he found at the teachers’ residence on campus. “What happened to my daughter?” he asked him,. Wu turned his back to Wenjun and faced the wall. “Nothing at all. She’s fine,” Wu said sullenly.
Over a month later, his daughter finally told him what had happened. On the evening of September 5, during study hall, Yiyi’s stomach began to hurt, so she went to rest alone at the teachers’ residence. Wu Yonghou seized the opportunity: he grabbed her and held her down. He touched her back, then tore her clothing, kissing her forehead, cheeks, ears, lips and other areas.
Wenjun’s first reaction was to rush to take revenge. But his daughter stopped him. “Don’t be angry, don’t be impulsive, don’t leave me.”
Xiao Xuemei was working in Shanghai at the time. They didn’t immediately tell her about the situation because Yiyi was concerned over Xuemei’s health. Everything fell on Wenjun’s shoulders. He had no idea what was happening, but he promised his daughter, “You just focus on getting better. Everything else, you leave up to Dad.”
Thanks to Wenjun’s persistence, the police finally opened a case. The Xifeng Branch of the Qingyang Public Security Bureau placed Wu Yonghou in administrative detention for ten days in May 2017. Yiyi did not approve. “They’re basically just giving him a ten-day vacation,” she said coldly to her father.
Wenjun then went to the juvenile division of the public prosecutor’s office. A few months later, he received formal notice they had decided against prosecution. He didn’t know how he could face his daughter with this news. He hid the notice. But Yiyi eventually came across it. “Dad, just drop it,” she told him, disheartened.
Those words remain knotted in Wenjun’s heart. This was the first time he felt so helpless as a father.
He worried that his daughter would commit suicide. She attempted many times. She took sleeping pills, jumped from buildings, turned on the gas, hid pesticides… From Qingyang to Xi’an, Shanghai, and Beijing, Wenjun ran all over working on the case and taking his daughter to different hospitals.
The doctors insisted that someone had to monitor her 24 hours a day. At night, while Yiyi was in her room, Wenjun sat on the living room sofa, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee to stay awake. Worried he’d fall asleep, he didn’t dare lay down. He stayed sitting upright until morning broke.
The doctors also recommended that he try to give his daughter everything she needed, even if it meant spending a little more money. He did as they asked. Because of the medication she had been taking, Yiyi was quickly gaining weight. He kept buying her new clothes, only to have to throw them away soon after. The stuffed animals and dolls he brought home would soon be cast aside.
Wenjun tried to understand this illness—one he had never heard of before. He always said: She can’t control herself. She doesn’t drop things on purpose. She has double vision. She just doesn’t get a good grip on things, and they drop to the floor.
The most gratifying moments came when his daughter asked him for something. Normally, she didn’t express interest in anything in particular. On trips to Beijing, all she wanted to do was lay down in the hotel room. Wenjun encouraged her to get out and have a look around: Shichahai, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven… Once, she said she wanted to go to Sanlitun to see Black Swan Cake. The father-daughter duo stood outside the display window, shocked at the price tag—over 300,000 yuan for a multi-layered cake! He cherished these moments taking his daughter out shopping. He spent 120 yuan on a white short-sleeved shirt for her that day.
Wenjun ran himself ragged. His body was aging rapidly. Waiting to see his daughter in a crowded hospital hallway one day, he suddenly began experiencing heart palpitations. His chest tightened up and he broke out in a cold sweat. He was sent to the emergency room.
Two tough years went by. Treatment, shopping, normal household expenses—hundreds of thousands of yuan in savings quickly evaporated. Wenjun began asking people to lend him money. Despite it all, he still had hope. “I always thought, as long as I put in the work, my daughter will get better.”
After learning about the debt her family was in, Yiyi told her father that she wanted to get a job. She was spending her days at home, having suspended her studies. Her head physician agreed. But Wenjun was worried. He followed behind her as she walked to her job and brought her food and medicine at set times and locations each day.
In May 2018, Wenjun took his daughter to Beijing for treatment, and made plans with the doctors for her to spend time at the hospital in July. Around that time, Yiyi started reposting information about the college entrance exams. She also started having severe mood swings. On June 19, out of the blue, she told her father that she wanted to go to college, that it was her dream to study media in Shanghai—her previous dream. The next day, she jumped from the eighth floor of a commercial building in downtown Qingyang.
“All I wanted, with my whole heart, was to protect my daughter. In the end, I couldn’t. All these years of effort—all for nothing,” Wenjun said.
A few spells of springtime rain passed over Qingyang. Some moisture still remained in the March air as Wenjun went back to his ancestral village, Tielichuancun. The family home there still retained some traces of his daughter—her clothes and books sat untouched. “If nothing had happened, my daughter would’ve been graduating and looking for a job this year,” Wenjun remarked softly as we walked through the village. He paused, then let out a sigh.
Tielichuancun lies 30 kilometers outside of central Qingyang. His daughter was born there in 1999. They named her Yiyi, “meaning beautiful and graceful,” Wenjun explained.
Wenjun still talks about “my daughter” out of habit. Signs of his daughter’s presence abound throughout the village. “My daughter used to take her easel and musical instruments down to the river to play with her friends.” In spring wildflowers covered the hillside, and “my daughter used to always bring a bouquet back to the house and arrange them in a bottle with water.” Passing by Malian Bridge, he pointed to a tree growing out of a gap in one of the supports. “My daughter said you have to be strong, like this tree.”
Now that they are separated by death, these scenes sting.
Wenjun stood atop a 20-meter-high cliff. The spring wind blew all around. Dust and grass swept up in the wind made him squint, blurring his vision. He didn’t seem to notice the wind as he pointed to a mud-brick hut in the distance. “That’s where my daughter grew up.” The topic of conversation changed once again. One time, his daughter was sitting on the cliff, yelling, “Don’t come over! Don’t come over!” The dried grass and mud under his feet were loose and soft. Worried and afraid, he cried, “Yiyi, you come over here first, alright?”
“Dad, don’t save me. It hurts too much,” Yiyi cried during those two years of illness. It takes Wenjun’s breath away every time he recalls those words.
He misses how she was before she was sick. The first time she made sushi, Wenjun bought her a bamboo mat and seaweed sheets. His son barred the door while his daughter messed around in the kitchen, shouting, “I want to surprise you, Dad!” Another time, they were at a restaurant and his daughter discovered the secret ingredient for delicious red-braised pork—honey, instead of white sugar. She whipped up a batch for her Dad as soon as they got home. Her Grandpa has dentures, so Yiyi used to carefully pick out all the bones from fish for him.
Wenjun pampered her, too. He called his chef friend when Yiyi needed help with confusing recipes. When he was working in Shanghai, before 2010, he bought her gifts every time he had a day off. If he couldn’t fit all the gifts in his bag, he’d take his clean change of clothes out to make room.
In 2014, they built a new two-story house back in the village. Wenjun decided to get a crystal chandelier that Yiyi liked for the living room, even though he knew it would be difficult to keep clean. It took four workers an entire day to install the huge fixture, which had over ten thousand little parts. After Wenjun and Xiao Xuemei divorced in 2013, Xiao Xuemei moved to Shanghai to find work, and Wenjun volunteered to take custody of the two children. “The kids need a hot meal when they get home,” he says.
Yiyi’s classmate Liu Chen will never forget the figure of Li Wenjun, the man who always appeared in the doorway to their classroom with hot water or hot food for Yiyi whenever she was having abdominal pain, a common occurrence. “He was a really responsible guy. He took really good care of her,” Liu says.
Yiyi’s homeroom was the next door down from Liu’s. He remembers her as hard-working and quiet, the first to arrive at school virtually every day. She didn’t wander around much between classes. Together, there were over 100 students in the two homerooms. They had physics together. One day, Liu was having difficulty understanding the lecture. Yiyi, sitting next to him, saw him furrowing his brow. “I’ll explain it to you,” she offered. After that, they often worked on physics together. Yiyi was a scrupulous student, always able to recognize key points. Sometimes Liu wasn’t willing to admit that she caught things faster than he did: “That’s what I thought, too, just now,” he would say. She would just smile. “She never called me out on it.”
Liu later heard that Yiyi was going through mental health issues. He occasionally saw her around school with an absent-minded look about her. He didn’t think much about it; it was right before college entrance exams. He was in a university chemistry class when he heard about Yiyi’s fall. Liu’s chemistry grades were poor in high school. Wu Yonghou used to call him up to solve problems at the blackboard. If he got it wrong, Wu would pat him on the head. What Wu did to Yiyi, Liu found “inconceivable.”
After her passing, visions of Yiyi flashed before Liu’s eyes every time physics came up. He’s already a college freshman, waking up at 6:00 a.m. to prepare for the CET-4 and graduate school exams. He has even become the top playmaker on the school basketball team.
It was the kind of future Yiyi had wanted for herself. She had served on the class art committee at Qingyang No. 6. Her English and physics grades were top-notch. At home on the weekends, she was always pushing her brother to do his homework—the two of them would race to see who could finish the fastest.
In 2017, struggling with mental illness, she dropped out of school. “I just had never considered not going to college,” she told her father in tears.
It became a needle in her heart. She once invited an old classmate on break from college to dinner at the Li household in Tielichuancun. Wenjun prepared a table full of dishes. But right before they were supposed to meet, Yiyi’s mood suddenly became unstable and she got on a bus straight back to Qingyang. Wenjun rushed after her. When he returned to Tielichuancun days later, all the food on the table had grown fuzzy with mold.
Li Wenjun never gave up appealing the case. More than two months after his daughter’s passing, the Gansu Province Prosecutor reopened an investigation.
Was Yiyi suffering from depression or in a depressed state before she was molested? This was the focus of the trial, the question that would determine how much responsibility Wu Yonghou bore for Yiyi’s death.
Beijing Anding Hospital issued its final diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. Wenjun looked it up online: suicidal behavior may be exhibited in the month following a trauma. She was molested on September 5 and first attempted suicide at home on October 7. “The timing checks out,” Wenjun said. This made him even more sure that Wu had directly caused his daughter’s illness.
Wenjun began searching all over for Yiyi’s high school classmates to help prove that his daughter had not been depressed before the incident.
But he failed to connect with even a single person. He called every number on his list. Only one answered the phone, but after listening to Wenjun, the person on the other line simply told him they didn’t know. Wenjun and his lawyer once even drove to a university 100 kilometers away to meet with a group of Yiyi’s former classmates. The students were accompanied by school advisors, who all sat to one side of the room. None of the students said a word. Wenjun had no choice but to give up. The mother of one of Yiyi’s classmates even blocked Wenjun outside their door, begging him to stop bothering her kid.
Unbeknownst to Wenjun for a long time after the incident, Yiyi’s physics teacher, Mr. Luo, was a key witness. Luo’s daughter and Yiyi had been classmates. On the day of the incident, Luo had his daughter take Yiyi back to the teachers’ residence to rest. At about 9:00 p.m., Luo returned and saw “Li Yiyi laying on the bed. Wu Yonghou was sitting at an angle, facing Yiyi. The electricity was out at the time; the room was really dark.” He noticed that “Yiyi’s hair was a little messy, and she sounded a bit as if she was sobbing when she responded to me.”
Luo has always been an upfront guy. His wife, Chen Qingyang, complains, “Whatever he knows, he just says it—low EQ.” When Luo got home that night, he asked his wife, “Did Yiyi have her hair in a braid today?” He felt something was wrong. “Yes,” his wife replied. Luo told her what he saw, pointing out that Yiyi’s hair was loose. Chen shook her hands, dismissing his suspicions. “No way. Mr. Wu is such an introvert. And he’s so old, too.”
Chen remembers Yiyi as “really good-looking. Her teeth weren’t straight, but it was very cute.” Yiyi used to come to their home to get help on physics from Luo. She would hop down the stairs, stick her head in the door, and ask, “Is Teacher Luo home?” She spoke bashfully but cheerfully. Later, some time after the incident, Chen saw Yiyi on a public bus, sitting next to the window in the back row. Yiyi had her head resting in her hand, her hair covering both sides of her face. “She was like a completely different person.”
Chen couldn’t understand how Yiyi suddenly became so ill. “Depression’s something that develops over a long time,” she thought. “How could she get sick just like that?” Recently, when she heard Yiyi’s diagnosis, she was dumbfounded. “So it really was that incident?”
Wenjun tried getting in touch with Luo to learn what he knew about what happened, but was told not to pursue him. The Luo family was going through enough trouble over the incident, someone familiar with the situation told Wenjun. Thinking back, Chen wasn’t willing to talk much about it, either. She just shakes her head. “Don’t even bring up how difficult those two years were for us.” Eventually, Wenjun had to give up on them. He understood the situation Luo was in, and he never blamed Luo for having Yiyi go rest in the teacher’s break room. He even thanked him for looking out for his daughter.
But key information for the case didn’t break for a long time, and Wenjun fell into isolation and helplessness. The reality of the situation pressed on, step by step. His son’s fourth grade essay, “Elder Sister, I Love You,” was submitted as evidence in court.
“Because Sister was under a lot of pressure in her second year of high school, she couldn’t take it, and she became very sick in the last half of the school year. Exactly what illness she had, I’m not sure. From then on, her temper became really bad,” the essay reads. “Sometimes she got so sick the doctors didn’t even know what to do. I was really worried. What could I do? I felt really hurt because you got sick. I was sad because you were going through a lot of pain.”
Brother and sister were seven years apart, but they had been close. Wenjun used to bring them candy from Shanghai, giving half of the haul to each of them. His son would quickly eat his. Yiyi would tease him: “Call me ‘Elder Sister,’ and I’ll give you my candy.” His son would end up eating it all. When they were out shopping and he got tired, she let him sit on her feet and lean back on her legs to rest.
Wenjun knew Yiyi was still working hard at her studies during winter break of that year. There’s no way she was that sick then—his son must have mixed up the time. But the appeals court did not admit this opinion to the court. The official criminal ruling stated that although the brother was a minor, his essay constituted a clear and objective narration of the facts and his feelings regarding the matter. Therefore, they “could not rule out that the individual, surnamed Li, had not already been suffering from depression or had been in a depressive state before the incident.”
“Although Wu Yonghou’s obscene behavior towards Li contributed causal force,” the ruling concluded, “it was not the only reason for her suicide.”
Furious, Wenjun kept shouting the last line of the ruling. “Contributed causal force—what’s that supposed to mean?”
To him, this meant there were other reasons his daughter became ill, like her family situation. People commenting online said she was affected by her parents’ divorce. But Wenjun thinks there isn’t much of a connection. He and his wife rarely fought in front of the kids. When Yiyi learned her parents were divorcing, she said: These are adult matters. I respect your choices.
Wenjun still hasn’t told his son about Wu’s role. But he’s growing older by the day, and wants to know the truth. “I’m definitely not going to let him think that his sister’s illness was because of me, as a father.”
He continued to appeal.
Good Dreams Don’t Last
Yiyi’s ashes were scattered on the hillside, blown away by the wind. According to local custom, unmarried girls who pass away cannot have headstones. Wenjun was also worried her remains might be stolen for a ghost marriage. For everyone else who had been caught in the vortex of this saga, life returned to normal.
Later on, Wenjun ran into two of Yiyi’s classmates. The winter of the year his daughter passed away, a classmate came to visit Wenjun with her parents. He really wanted to talk with her for longer that day, but with her parents around, it wasn’t so easy. Another time, a girl came up to him at the mall, calling him “uncle.” He recognized her: she used to come over to cook and do homework with his daughter. He really looked forward to encountering Yiyi’s classmates, but it was always so hurried when he did. There was so much he wanted to say, but he always held back.
Zhu Yonghai, the principal of Qingyang No. 6, was promoted and named the new principal of Qingyang No. 1 Secondary School, a key school in the city. Mr. Luo is still teaching physics at Qingyang No. 6. According to Chen Qingyang, her husband once ran into Wu Yonghou after he was released from prison. “He was walking down the street. He looked really dejected.” Wu even said hello to Luo. “Be careful on the road, especially at night,” Wu told him.
Only the Li family fell into a hidden abyss, left to swallow their pain. For a long time, Li Wenjun and Xiao Xuemei didn’t feel as if their daughter was really gone. They always heard her voice, sometimes her laughter, sometimes her voice calling “Dad” and “Mom”… it seemed uncannily real. But though they looked up and down their apartment, no trace of their daughter was ever to be found.
Wenjun holds a lot of regret. Before she fell ill, his daughter liked to whisper in his ear about the “misty regions south of the Yangtze.” When he took her to Shanghai for treatment, he rushed back to Qingyang. He didn’t think about it until after she was gone—he should have taken her to see Suzhou and Shaoxing.
He stopped talking to friends and to his neighbors down the hall. Their front door usually stayed shut tight, and the entire apartment smelled of Chinese medicine. Not long ago, Wenjun’s father had a stroke and was hospitalized. Wenjun rushed around taking care of his father, ultimately landing himself in the hospital with exhaustion. A year ago he was diagnosed with diabetes, and now his nerve endings are deteriorating. Scabs appear one after another on his lower legs. He has stared so long at his phone that his eyes are uncontrollably watery and sore.
When Wenjun was in the hospital, his son couldn’t sleep. Two “Combat Continent” comic books and a stuffed animal sat at the head of his bed every night. The events of the past few years have left their mark on him. When his sister overdosed, the then-ten-year-old boy stood staring blankly outside the door to the emergency room. The day his sister died, Wenjun told his son that his sister had gone to a far away place and would never come back.
The following day, Xiao Xuemei saw her son sitting alone, “not crying, not smiling.” Sometimes, out of nowhere, he’ll mention that he misses his sister.
Li Wenjun’s relationship with his son has gradually returned to normal. They had previously been very close. Back when he was taking Yiyi for treatment, if his son had a cold or a fever he had no choice but to leave him in the care of relatives. His son wasn’t able to understand at the time. “He must have thought his dad and sister were off doing something without him.” Over the last two years, Wenjun has explained to his son, “When your sister was sick, she didn’t have control over herself. I worried it would affect your studies, so I left before dinner every day to go out looking for her.”
“Dad, you should have told me sooner,” his son replied. “That way I’d understand that Sister wasn’t mad at me.”
This was a rare moment of relief for Wenjun. He felt he owed a great debt to his son, and so gave him his undivided attention. There was a period when his son became moody and agitated, taking much longer than usual to complete his school work. Wenjun went right to his teacher. They had just begun studying geometry, his teacher explained, and his son hadn’t made the mental adjustment yet. It’s OK, Wenjun explained to his son, everybody goes through challenges. Then they went to buy workbooks.
Now 14, his son has grown into a polite and mature young man. When a guest recently visited their home, he greeted them with a nod before going to the kitchen to chat with his mom. Later, at dinner, the topic of college came up. He glanced at his mother, then said, “No matter where I go, I’ll be sure to bring Mom and Dad with me.”
Wenjun thought about taking his son out of Qingyang, but it just wasn’t a viable option. In 2019, Wenjun worked for a time as a guest room manager at a local hotel, but his health began declining after just four months, and his doctor made him stop. Xiao Xuemei was in a similar situation. In Qingyang, jobs other than menial cooking and cleaning were hard to come by for someone of her age and in her condition. She went to work in a restaurant, where she made 70 RMB for ten hours a day. After one month, her wrists hurt so much that she couldn’t lift her hands.
A few months later, rent came due, and Wenjun didn’t know how he’d cobble the money together. He used to believe that “as long as you work hard, there will always be a way.” Before the incident, Wenjun was a hotel business contractor. He had some money in savings and planned to buy a home in the city. But after his daughter fell ill, he lost his business and his contacts.
Xiao Xuemei worked in Hangzhou during the two years of Yiyi’s illness. The two of them video-chatted every few days. Xiao had plans for her daughter. After she got better, she wanted Yiyi to come study baking in Hangzhou. In their last phone conversation, Yiyi expressed concern for her mother, working so hard away from home. She reminded her mother to make sure she got enough rest. Xiao wired Yiyi 200 RMB and told her to buy herself a dress and waited patiently for her daughter in Hangzhou. In the end, the only thing that came to her was the news of her daughter’s passing.
“Perhaps it’s fate,” says Xiao. She had hoped her daughter could have a tombstone, “Somewhere I could go visit when I wanted.” But there was nothing she could do. Now, the only place she can meet with her daughter is in her dreams.
She once dreamed she saw her daughter lying in bed. She asked Yiyi, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for so long.”
“Mom, after I jumped, someone saved me,” Yiyi replied. “They did some experiments on me, and it worked. I’m back now.”
Xiao woke with a start. She shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. Good dreams don’t last, she told herself.
To protect the privacy of individuals interviewed for this story, the following are pseudonyms: Li Wenjun, Xiao Xuemei, Chen Qingyang, and Liu Chen. [Chinese]
Translation by Little Bluegill.