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What Drives a Single Mother in China to Starve Her Daughter to Death?

Xiang Heping, the single mother who starved her daughter to death last year. Screen capture from CCTV circulated on Weibo.

Xiang Heping, the single mother who starved her daughter to death last year. Screen capture from CCTV circulated on Weibo.

A single mother in China who starved her young daughter to death as punishment for doing poorly in school last year recently spoke about her cruel act on TV. In the May 24 interview, she tearfully said that she had just wanted her daughter to perform well at school and get to university.

As the story spread across Chinese social media platforms, many denounced the mother as a cold-blooded murderer, while some tried to address the root cause of the social problem.

Xiang Heping, 52, was sentenced to 10 years in prison this year. She had tied up her 9-year-old daughter Zhang Qiongdan (Dandan) and deprived her of food and water for six days in China's southwest Guizhou province.

Xiang wept and explained in the interview that she loved her daughter so much that she absolutely did not want to kill her. She blamed the tragedy on her high hopes for daughter to go to college, a dream she herself hadn’t realized and so had pushed her daughter to achieve it to shed adversity.

Xiang said she had suffered two miserable marriages. Her second husband left home when Dandan was just over a month old. She was forced to return to her parents home in a shantytown and lived with her daughter in a store room. She earned her living as a cleaner in a department store. She also collected waste from the street and sold it to make ends meet.

The tension between the mother and the daughter had escalated when the girl began to play truant in third grade. Her teacher said the girl began to hate doing homework and her classmates said the girl always kept to herself after class.

At first, the mother confined her daughter to her room, but she escaped through the window and wandered into the street. Xiang then decided to bind her daughter to the bed post on April 4, 2014 and deprived her of food and water as a penalty for her poor performance at school. Her daughter remained stubborn and did not beg for forgiveness nor ask for food. Enraged by her daughter's silent treatment, Xiang did not stop the punishment. After five nights, she found her daughter in a coma and called the police.

About 3.5 million couples filed for divorce in 2013 in China and the trend continues to increase at an alarming rate. More and more single mothers have to bear the responsibility of raising children themselves, all the while facing discrimination and pressure for having broken societal norms, which say that women should remain in a marriage, even if they are subject to abuse from their husband.

On the other hand, the Chinese education system has long just focused on children’s study performances, neglecting their mental health as they grow up.

Many people furiously denounced Xiang on Twitter-like Weibo and Toutiao, a news headline aggregating platform:

心灵之缘1314: 解释就是为自己脱罪,六天那么长的时间不吃不喝,大人都难于忍受饥饿,何况是个小孩子,这跟本就是存心要把孩子活活饿死,绝不能轻判。

“Karma of the soul”: She tried to explain away her crime. Adults can’t survive hunger and thirst for six days, not to mention a kid. She intentionally wanted to starve the kid to death. She should be harshly sentenced.

花海四海: 还好意思上诉 根本没有悔改的意思 一般人不会上诉 早就在悔恨内疚 她这个贱货还上诉 说什么不是 故意杀人 你的行为不是故意杀人是什么 向和平 你去死吧 反正我不原谅你 可怜你

“Flower seas”: How could she have the nerve to appeal? There is no sign of repenting. Other people would feel regretful and would not file for appeal. Wasn’t your behavior intentional homicide? Go to hell, I won't forgive you nor have pity on you.

假如没有晴天: 这个母亲肯定心里有问题。同样作为妈妈,我们都是有种恨铁不成钢的心理,但是我无法理解:眼看孩子一天.两天……没有吃东西,没有喝一滴水,甚至饿到皮包骨,身为妈妈她怎么能不心疼?无动于衷呢?不给孩子喂点水和食物呢?有什么比孩子的健康更重要呢?别说作为一个妈妈,我看她连最基本的人性都没有

“If there weren't sunshine anymore”: The mother surely has psychological problems. Being a mother, we wanted our children to be successful. But I can’t understand how she had remained indifferent to her kid’s hunger and thirst for so many days… No food and no water. How could a mother bear to see such skinny body? How could she not give her some food and water? What’s more important than kid’s health? She has lost basic humanity.

Some tried to examine the root causes of the tragedy, such as ignorance and pressure faced by single mothers at the bottom of Chinese society:

是开森呢还是开森呢: 向和平把自己的亲生女儿竟然活活饿死了,每个父母都是爱自己孩子的,可是因为无知,却把他们害了,甚至可以害死,可悲!可叹!

“To be happy or not?”: Xiang starved her daughter to death. Every parent loves their children. But some could injure or even kill their children due to ignorance. How sad!

唱歌唱大哥: 爱没有错,只是过了火,孩子更没错,也很无辜。畸形的家庭,畸形的爱,畸形的性格,畸形的人生而造就畸形的命运!悲剧的出现从来不是不是单方面原因完成的!可怜,可悲,可叹一个花季少女!

“Singing brother”: There is no right and wrong in love. But it is wrong when overdone. The kid had done nothing wrong and was innocent. Abnormal family, abnormal love, abnormal character and abnormal life lead to abnormal fate. There is no single cause for a tragedy like this. The saddest consequence is that we lost the blossoming life of this girl.


Everyone is attacking the mother. Just imagine, since her kid was one month old, she had to raise her all by herself. Taking care of the kid and earning a living at the same time. Such a life can be unbearable for ordinary people. The harshness makes her more ambitious for the daughter’s study than others and more extreme in behavior. The daughter, who had a lack of self-esteem, was an introvert and stubborn. These kinds of character traits could make parents enraged and crazy. […]

梦琳36979210: 一个没钱的单亲妈妈独自抚养孩子的艰辛是常人无法想象的,孩子的叛逆,经济的拮据,社会的冷漠是导致她走到今天这个结局的真正原因

It’s unimaginable for a poor single mother to raise a child. The child’s rebellion, poverty and social indifference are the real reasons for today's consequence.

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