A crowdfunding company that focuses on donations for low-income patients seeking medical treatment is facing scrutiny from netizens after hosting a crowdfunding campaign for Wu Shuai, a popular crosstalk performer more commonly known by his stage name, Wu Hechen.

Zhang Hongyi, Wu’s wife, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Shuidichou on May 1 after Wu suffered a brain hemorrhage in April. The fundraising goal was RMB 1 million ($148,000) to fund his medical treatments and recovery. Wu is a performer with Deyun She, a well-known school and performance group for Chinese crosstalk performance, known as xiangsheng, which are generally comedic acts involving monologue or a dialogue between two performers.

While some netizens sympathized with Wu, more expressed doubt about how the crosstalk celebrity, who is likely to have substantial assets of his own, could qualify for charitable donations on Shuidichou.

It was discovered that Wu is covered by medical insurance and is in possession of two properties and one car. Zhang responded to local media that the two properties are public-assistance apartments that Wu’s grandparents and parents are renting. In addition, they can’t cash in on the car, valued at RMB 130,000, because it’s critical for the transportation between the hospital and their home during Wu’s recovery.

Following the public outcry, the platform suspended the campaign on May 3. A total of RMB 147,959 was raised from 5,269 donors.

Verifying a family’s finances and assets such as cars and real estate is difficult, Shuidichou said in a public letter. “We ask the candidates to reveal their health condition, spending, and economic standing (mainly property and cars), medical insurance and commercial insurance to the fullest extent,” (our translation) said the company, adding that Wu’s family hadn’t yet claimed the funds.

“Why didn’t you mention the apartment that is worth RMB 6 million?” one netizen posted on the crowdfunding site, which only identifies users by a portion of their mobile numbers.

State-owned media weighed in on the issue. “The event sounds the alarm for the charity crowdfunding platforms. It’s critical to protect public goodwill from misuse. Generosity to strangers is valuable and we should take good care of it,” (our translation) an editorial published in People’s Daily said.

Founded in 2016 by Shen Peng, co-founder of Meituan Waimai, Shuidi runs Shuidichou and a medical insurance platform, Shuidibao. The company received $74 million in a Series B from Tencent in March.

The online charity has been gaining momentum in China in various forms in the form of online charity stores and donation platforms, among others. The government has increased medical insurance coverage for some critical illnesses, but its effect on reducing financial burden on families is somewhat limited. Crowdfunding platforms, like Shuidi, Qingsongchou, and Kangai Gongshe have been founded to bridge the payment gap. However, the sector is facing roadblocks as more cases of abuse surface.

In one widely publicized case, Luo Er, the father of a six-year-old girl who was diagnosed with leukemia, raised more than RMB 2.6 million on WeChat in 2016. It was later revealed that the family was quite well-off, was responsible for only a small portion of medical costs, and Luo’s friend was accused of taking advantage of public sympathy to promote his company.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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