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Living With Scars: The Story of a Disfigured Chinese Girl

Yan Zhou praying in a Buddhist temple. (Image: 163.com)
Yan Zhou praying in a Buddhist temple. (Image: 163.com)

In September 2011, the breaking news of a 16-year-old girl being burnt and disfigured by her classmate quickly went viral on Weibo — the Chinese version of Twitter — and soon became the main focus in China, due to the crime’s cruelty and the criminal’s sensitive background.

Back in 2011, before the tragedy occurred, 16-year-old Yan Zhou was a beautiful girl. On the afternoon of September 17, 2011, Yan’s classmate, Rukun Tao, followed Yan to her home, poured lighter fluid over her head, and set her alight.

Yan survived after spending seven days in ICU, but her head, face, neck, and chest were severely burnt and injured. With countless scars over her body, Yan even lost one ear in the fire, according to Wangyi News.

Rukun Tao, the boy who committed the crime, is a son of two government officials. In China, children whose parents are government officials are called “the officiallings” or ” the second official generation,” and have often been linked to bad behavior like “My Dad is the Law!” This is one of the reasons why Yan’s story quickly attracted attention after being exposed.

Zhou Yan's photo before the tragedy happened. (Image: 163.com)

Yan’s photo before the tragedy. (Image: 163.com)

Tao claimed he was Yan’s boyfriend and Yan cheated on him, which led to his crazy revenge. Yan denied that she had a relationship with Tao. She said she had been harassed by Tao several times, and because of this she had to transfer to a different school.

Rukun Tao’s parents were the local government officials of Hefei City in Anhui Province. After Tao committed the crime, his parents tried to get him released on bail through bribery. They refused to pay for Yan’s medical expenses unless her family agreed to sign a statement that exempted Tao from taking responsibility for his actions.

Unable to pay for the expensive medical treatment, Yan was forced to leave the hospital, still owing thousands of dollars.

Zhou Yan and her mom in the patient's room. (Image: 163.com)

Yan Zhou and her mom in the patient’s room. (Image: 163.com)

Tao was sentenced to 12 years prison in 2012, but was kept in a juvenile detention center, even though he was over 18 years old. Last year the court ruled Tao to pay a total of 1.72 million yuan (about US $260,000) as compensation. However, Yan hasn’t received any of that compensation.

Tao’s parents claim that Yan’s current treatment is unnecessary. “She’s been over treated,” Tao’s parents say. However, Yan thinks the treatment she has received is nowhere near enough.

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Yan combing her hair. (Image: 163.com)

After Yan’s story aired in 2011, a hospital in Beijing promised to give her free treatment. Since then, she has received nine major surgeries; her skin has been transplanted, and Yan’s neck is now covered with brown scars that look like tree branches.

She has to apply scar cream everyday, and keep herself in a cool temperature as the scarred skin has perspiration issues. But this is not the only problem. A more serious threat to Yan is scar festering, with her saying:

Zhou Yan was washing her hair with her mom's help. (Image: 163.com)

Yan washing her hair with her mom’s help. (Image: 163.com)

As the news has been gradually forgotten by the public, the hospital is less willing to continue the free treatment for Yan.

Over the past five years Yan has been in the hospital majority of the time. Since the accident her life has changed, and even the way people treat her. She recalled that once when she took the subway train, two girls sitting next to her immediately stood up and left their seats.

It has been really hard for her to return to society, even after she took the first step bravely. Yan tried to get a part-time job before, but was declined after employers saw her face. ”People just don’t like someone different from them,” Yan said.

What’s even worse, there has been critisism against Yan over the years, stating that her own actions caused the harm.

Nonetheless, Yan has been slowly walking out of the shadows as time goes by, and she even learnt to paint during her recovery period. Now 21 years old, instead of attending a college, Yan is running a small online store selling cosmetic products.

Her story was acknowledged on International Women’s Day this year, and has already been retweeted on Weibo over 22,000 times and has received about 30,000 comments. Let’s hope the prejudice and crime against women will stop in the future.

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