SHIJIAZHUANG: As the former chairwoman and general manager of dairy giant Sanlu Group, many may hold her responsible for the suffering of those children who took the company's milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.
But old neighbors of 66-year-old Tian Wenhua in Nangang village, about 30km north of Shijiazhuang, provincial capital of Hebei, still find it hard to associate her with the scandal that saw six babies dead and at least 290,000 others afflicted with kidney problems.
"She never showed off her wealth," said Zhang Xuezhen, 57, a widow who lives opposite the Tians' three-roomed brick house at the north end of the village.
The last time Zhang saw Tian was in 2006, when Tian's 89-year-old father died in the village.
Her mother moved to Shijiazhuang subsequently.
Tian stands trial today in her hometown for her involvement in the scandal.
She may face a maximum death penalty for producing and selling contaminated baby milk food, along with three of her senior managers at the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court.
One of Tian's younger sisters, Tian Meizi, still lives in the village, but she stayed away from the public's eye on the eve of her sister's trial.
"People of the Tian family are smart," said Wang Suling, the 38-year-old daughter-in-law of Tian's younger sister.
The family was marginalized as pro-capitalist rightists during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). The experience is said to have made Tian Wenhua, the second eldest child of the family, determined to make her family proud.
After graduating from middle school, Tian studied veterinary science at a technical secondary school. At 26, she joined the Shijiazhuang Dairy Farm, the predecessor of Sanlu Group, in 1968. She rose to head the business in 1987 and made it the top seller of baby milk food nationwide for 15 consecutive years.
But all this ended in September, when her company's baby formula was found tainted with melamine.
Tian insisted on her company's innocence in the scandal on Sept 13, one day after the central authorities blacklisted 22 dairy companies, including Sanlu, that produced dairy products contaminated with melamine. On Sep 16, she was removed from her post, along with Shijiazhuang mayor Ji Chuntang and other city officials.
Altogether, 15 suspects stand trial in Hebei courts for the tainted milk scandal.
Two brothers, Geng Jinping and Geng Jinzhu, who added melamine into raw milk, were charged with producing and selling poisonous food yesterday. Geng Jinping yesterday knelt before the court, begging for victims' forgiveness.
"Yes, Sanlu Group has committed a crime, but it should not be just for Tian to take responsibility," said Dong Shiliang, father of a 1-year-old boy from Yunnan province. The child is suffering from four stones in both his kidneys after taking contaminated milk. "More people should be held responsible and prosecuted," Dong said.