[A] news story isn’t trying to be subtle with this headline:
Vagrant Girl in Zhengzhou: Pretty Face, Speaks English
A definite juxtaposition is made in the story: here is a pretty girl who speaks English, and yet is a beggar; this is a girl that has returned from overseas and once worked at a television station and studied at a university in Beijing, and yet now lives on the streets. Here is the drama to draw in the viewer: a pretty Chinese girl, but no husband to take care of her?
The story: a young woman has been found on the streets of Zhengzhou, begging. What’s more, she is all of these things: young, pretty, English-speaking, from an affluent family. The first of these stories about Zhang Jia found her online profile and was shocked at what they saw:
As much as it is clear that the woman in this story is suffering from some kind of mental disorder and has slipped through the social safety net (and its lack thereof), attitudes towards mental illness in Chinese society are still lagging behind in understanding it.
The news report reveals Zhang Jia as having come from a family that was once affluent and had provided Zhang Jia the opportunity to study abroad in Singapore. Furthermore, Mr Wang, a cousin of Zhang Jia, fully disclosed that Zhang Jia’s mother is also suffering from a mental disorder and her whereabouts are unknown, much like her father who is divorced from her.
If this basically explains the conditions that explain why Zhang Jia has a mental disorder, it doesn’t. Because there has to be a reason for mental illness; there’s something or someone to blame. Said secretary Liang of the City of Zhengzhou Help Station:
“Before when she was lucid, [Zhang Jia] had said she worked at a television station in Beijing; the pressure was heavy, and afterwards she was let go from this job when she started suffering from the mental illness. This was likely a big influence [to explain why she has a mental illness now].”
The attention Zhang Jia has received is not that which any other “normal” beggar would receive:
"In order to provide for her safety, the safety patrol provided two personnel members to guard her throughout the night over the course of several days."
The effectiveness of this help seems to be proportional to the support she gets from her family. Secretary Liang said:
“…in a conversation with her father this morning he clearly stated that he doesn’t want anything to do with her. The father stated that she had gotten married at the beginning of this year. When asked about his daughter’s husband’s family, the father said he didn’t know and hung up the phone.”
The fascination towards the mystery and taboo over mental illness continues to amass and swirl.
Click here for an English translation of the original Chinese language Sohu News report 'Vagrant Girl in Zhengzhou: Pretty Face, Speaks English.'