New clothes, books, confectionery, toys, cash donations and even a free trip to Beijing – China’s “Ice Boy” and his family have benefited from his new-found fame in many ways since his photo went viral after a freezing trek to school last month.
But this Lunar New Year, there’s one thing eight-year-old Wang Fuman wants more than anything else: his mother, Lu Dafeng.
She left the family’s remote village, deep in the mountains of southwestern Yunnan province, two years ago.
“Mum, I don’t want to wait any longer only to be disappointed again … can you please come back?” Fuman said in a message he wanted conveyed to Lu.
The family’s emotional appeal for Lu’s return comes ahead of the Lunar New Year, when Chinese families traditionally celebrate a reunion.
Lu left the family in 2016 after growing weary of struggling through their difficult life in abject poverty, the boy’s father, Wang Gangkui, told the South China Morning Post from their home in the village of Zhuanshanbao in Ludian county.
She severed contact with the family, returning only once, last July, to demand a divorce, Wang said. But she left again the next day after he turned her down.
“I haven’t been able to find her as she changed her mobile phone number and never called us after she left,” the 29-year-old father said.
“I know she hated how poor we were and believed I was not capable [of making money to better our lives]. We often quarrelled over this in the past. Then she left me.”
Wang and Lu were from the same village and were previously construction workers in Kunming, the provincial capital some 211 miles (340km) from their village.
Once every three or four months, they would return home to see their two children – Fuman and his 10-year-old sister Fumei.
While they were away, Wang’s mother took care of the children and tended to their home, growing crops for food and feeding the pigs and cows they raised as livestock. Wang’s father has been in jail since 2007 after getting a suspended death sentence for killing a fellow villager in a dispute.
During Wang’s absence last month, Fuman came under the media spotlight after an image showing him with his hair, brows and eyelashes encrusted in ice was widely shared online.
Fuman, whom internet users nicknamed “Ice Boy”, had walked for more than an hour from his home in thin clothing along treacherous mountain paths to get to school that morning.
A teacher took the picture and shared it online. Internet users have responded with an outpouring of sympathy and donations since the photo went viral. The family was even given a free trip to Beijing, where Fuman experienced for the first time the wonder of central heating.
His father has also been offered a job in their hometown so he can be with his children. Wang will start his new job, as a construction worker in a state-owned construction engineering firm, after the Lunar New Year.
The Wang family live in the poorest part of Yunnan, itself one of China’s least well-off provinces.
The yellow mud walls of their two-storey house, built some 20 years ago, cracked long ago and have taken on a grey cast.
Cold air seeps through the cracks into the home, which is barely warmer than the 24 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 4 degrees Celsius) outside.
In the spartan living space on the first floor stand three cabinets, a tiny table, some small stools and a cloth sofa torn around the edges and discoloured with age.
Upstairs, accessible only by a narrow, rickety wooden ladder, are their sleeping quarters. The loft is empty but for three thin quilts spread across the cold wooden planks.
As Wang shone a weak battery-powered flashlight on the loft, he said: “Grandma and Fumei use the quilt on the left. Fuman and I use the one in the middle. My 16-year-old brother uses the last quilt.
“Every time it rains, it leaks here, on our sleeping area.”
There is no running water or even a toilet at home, and the nearest public bathroom is a 10-minute walk.
Baths were a luxury, Wang said. The adults washed themselves about once every two months, while the children and elderly took a bath only every year or two.
While they had power supply, the house had only two electric appliances – a small ceiling lamp and an old television set.
The nearest road connecting their village to the rest of the world – built only last year – is 15 minutes away on foot. Before that, they had to trek for three hours to get to town.
The family fetches drinking water in buckets from a nearby brook where the livestock drink.
On days that Wang has the cash to spare, he buys Chinese cabbage or meat from their town market.
The extra food is a rare treat for the family. Otherwise their meals are only home-grown potatoes and rice twice a day.
Wang says that in the first few months after Lu left, the children cried constantly.
“They kept asking for their mother and when she would return,” he said, adding that the children still missed her deeply, even though they had grown accustomed to her absence.
“I’m still hoping for my wife to return to me,” he said. “I want to tell her: please come back for the sake of our children.
“I may be poor now, but I believe, as long as we work hard, our lives can become better.”
Fuman said he was eager and hopeful for his mother to return to live with them.
“Mum,” he said. “I want you to beat me and scold me for my mistakes – the way other mothers do to their children. At least, then, you would be by my side. Please come back.”