China / Society

Woman has 'clear conscience' despite fire

(Xinhua) Updated: 2013-01-06 16:16

ZHENGZHOU - The woman whose unlicensed orphanage in Central China's Henan province caught fire and claimed seven young lives said Sunday she has a "clear conscience" and will not abandon her charity work.

"Dozens of children would have died if I had not taken them in, " Yuan Lihai, 48, said at a hospital ward in Lankao county. "I have a clear conscience."

Woman has 'clear conscience' despite fire

Yuan Lihai, the owner of the unlicensed orphanage in Lankao county, Henan province.

Yuan, who has a history of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, complained of breathing difficulties late Saturday night and was sent to hospital.

Before she fell ill, local authorities held her in isolation in a hotel room for questioning. Even her family was unable to find her.

A fire broke out in her two-story home on Friday morning when she was taking the older children to school. Seven people, including children aged seven months to five years and one 20-year-old man, died in the fire.

A 10-year-old boy nicknamed "Xiao Shi" narrowly survived with injuries to his respiratory system. He remains in intensive care at a hospital in Kaifeng, the city with jurisdiction over Lankao county.

The children were left at home unattended when the fire broke out. "I hired a nurse to help me look after the kids, but she had a second job at the county hospital. So, she left every morning after preparing the children's breakfast."

Yuan's biological daughter called her about the fire. "I ran home and was desperate to dash into the flames, but passed out."

Eighteen homeless children and young people were staying with her at the time of the accident. Most of them have congenital diseases ranging from infantile paralysis and albinism to heart disease. Some are mentally handicapped.

The 10 who were not harmed in the fire have been relocated to a welfare home in Kaifeng.

Yuan refuted widespread speculation that she had unlawfully profited in under-the-table adoption deals. "Shoot me if you have evidence that I sold any children."

She began taking in homeless children, including orphans and abandoned children, in the 1980s but never went through formal adoption procedures.

She raised at least 100 children with the money she earned by selling homemade pancakes and other snacks, allowances granted by the government to support the children and some donations from individuals.

"They are all like my own children and I miss them terribly," Yuan said through tears.

"Do you think I can see a child die from cold and hunger out there in the street?" she said when a Xinhua reporter asked if she would continue her charity work. "I will certainly give a hand as long as I'm still alive."

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