Lei Wenfeng, a teenager diagnosed with autism, passed away eight days before his sixteenth birthday. None of those around him realized he was this young because his skin was dark, he was unusually tall and he was growing a beard. Some people guessed him to be as old as 24 based on his appearance. On October 19, 2016 he was admitted to a support center in Shenzhen for medical treatment. However Wenfeng died less than two months later at another support center in Guangdong’s Xinfeng County on December 3. His story, which has been reported by the Chinese media, has highlighted the difficult conditions faced by many runaway teenagers in Chinese cities.
While his mother was busy taking care of his two sisters in rural Hunan Province, Wenfeng accompanied his father to Shenzhen, where job opportunities in factories were more abundant. While his father was at work, Wenfeng would stay in the factory’s office, watching TV and waiting for his father to finish his shift and make dinner. While this wasn’t exactly an ideal situation, the care that Wenfeng received from his father is considered permissible by guardianship clauses outlined in the PRC’s General Principles of Civil Law.
At some point in October however, Wenfeng decided to run away from home. Seven days after he left his father in Shenzhen, he showed up in Dongguan, where a security recording shows him collapsing at a bus stop in front of a fast food restaurant, his clothes filthy and arms scratched up. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was given medical treatment. When the hospital started inquiring about his identity and family a week later, there was no information to be found.
The hospital transferred him to a local rescue station, where he became known as the “unknown” patient. At the time of his transfer, a police officer reported that “he appeared to be in good condition.” The day after however, he was rushed back to the hospital because of a festering wound on his foot that had been overlooked.
During this time, the Dongguan rescue station transmitted a radio broadcast stating that they had found a runaway teen. When no family members responded to the transmission, the rescue station concluded they had done enough. This course of action was in line with protocol regarding runaway children, so according to the regulations the station had done its bit.
Even though the rescue station had done everything in line with the rules, Wenfeng passed away in their care on December 3. According to the station, Wenfeng died of a fever after being infected from unsanitary food or water. Hospital records indicate that the fever had an incubation period of ten days, meaning its source is still unclear. Food sanitation conditions at the hospitals, the support center and the rescue stations are still being investigated.