The street children who died in Bijie, Guizhou province, China.
The deaths of five children killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in the rubbish bin they used as a shelter have provoked an outpouring of online grief and reinforced a national debate over China's growing wealth gap.
The five boys, all cousins and brothers, aged between nine and 13, died last Thursday night in Guizhou, China's poorest province, after lighting the charcoal fire to fend off the cold. Their bodies were found the following day.
Writing in the Global Times newspaper Wednesday, the commentator Lin Xi said the deaths had saddened the nation and underlined how China's poorest were increasingly marginalised. "These kinds of grim accidents are only supposed to happen in fairy tales," wrote the commentator who, like many, drew a parallel with Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, in which "a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet" freezes to death on New Year's Eve.
As word spread on social media, Chinese journalists descended on Bijie, where the boys had lived and died, their reports painting a shocking portrait of how neglect and poverty persist even after decades of economic boom.
The boys, who all shared the surname Tao, were the sons of three brothers, two of them migrant workers who scraped a living by collecting rubbish in Guangdong province, according to state news agency Xinhua.
The Beijing News retraced the 15-mile route between the dustbin where the boys were found dead and the impoverished village of Caqiangyan where they had been raised.
Of the five dead boys, only one, 12-year-old Tao Zhongjing, had been in school, the newspaper found. Four education and civil affairs officials and two school principals in Bijie have been sacked over the incident, with two district officials suspended.
One week before their deaths, five dirty-looking boys had been seen wandering around the neighbourhood, locals said.
After begging for money outside a school, they bought one large bowl of noodles and asked for five pairs of chopsticks.
Others claimed the boys would sleep beneath a local television tower or in abandoned buildings.
The deaths came days after senior leaders in Beijing trumpeted "the Great Chinese renaissance" at the Communist Party's 18th Congress.
In his opening address Hu Jintao, the outgoing president, celebrated the country's transformation from a "poor and backward" place into "an increasingly prosperous and powerful new China".
But thousands of online commentators said the deaths were a reminder of how far there was still to go. "One country, two systems," wrote one user of Weibo, China's answer to Twitter.
Another micro-blogger invoked the words of the Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu. "Behind red-painted gates the rich wine and dine, while the bones of those frozen to death by the roadside lie."
The Daily Telegraph