Chinese media has lit up with reports about a foreigner in Beijing who is being sought by authorities for questioning related to suspected child abuse after his 8-year-old foster daughter ended up at a Beijing hospital in critical condition.
Ray Wigdal, an American reported to be in his 50s — who appears to be a Christian missionary that has fostered a number of Chinese children, many of them with disabilities — has not been heard from since late last month.
The girl, who at 20 kilos is underweight for her age, is still in critical condition at the hospital after three surgeries to relieve a duodenal obstruction and kidney damage that doctors believe were caused by external blunt force. A volunteer attending to the girl claims she said she had been beaten by her foster father, who has not been seen nor heard from since November 24.
Reports say the man, referred to as Ray, lived for a time this year in a two-bedroom flat in Capital Paradise [Shunyi, Beijing], where neighbors complained that the foster kids would occasionally be caught rifling through the trash to look for food. Area residents say the man was a frequent customer at the Pinnacle Plaza Starbucks where he would sip coffee while his children played in and around the store.
According to hospital officials, the girl is fluent in English and speaks only simple Chinese. She is extremely withdrawn and in her current condition is mostly too scared to talk to anyone.
The volunteer, a male foreigner identified by the pseudonym Xu Qiang, volunteered at Wigdal’s home three times a week. He told 法制晚报 that Wigdal has been in China for more than 30 years and speaks Chinese fluently. The children were taken in by Wigdal after being abandoned by their parents, and in some cases were found homeless on the street. A Web site run by Wigdal, rayschildren.org, features a comprehensive series of photo galleries dating back to 2004 showing images of his 11 foster children at parks, birthday parties and generally just being kids.
From The Beijinger: Xu said that Ray would move every several months, and after each month would cease to contact former volunteers. Reporters interviewed Capital Paradise security guards who say he has since moved out, and Xu’s latest attempts to contact the man via email and phone have failed.
NOTE: I’d like to end this by recognizing the holes and assumptions in the above story. Both the 法制晚报 and The Beijinger have run a photo of what appears to be a maniacal white man with an evil grin looking to prey on poor innocent homeless children, like the one splayed on a hospital bed in an adjacent photo (ironically, it’s cropped from a happy photo of the two together sharing a birthday cake).
Both articles (and perhaps what I’ve relayed above as well) paint a rather pre-judged caricature of Ray Wigdal, while somewhat irresponsibly sharing the name of the alleged abuse victim. The only sources of information are second-hand, and no official charges have been laid. While the Beijinger’s comments section is filling up with solid arguments debating both sides of this issue and the integrity of “news” like this, the Chinese media (and this story is on pretty much all of them) is littered with unvetted repeats of the original article as well as thousands of comments falling quickly into the darkest presumptions and blatant racism. At best Wigdal is an illegal missionary in China with a saint-like desire to help children that had quite literally been thrown away, at worst he is an abusive predator who clearly needs to be stopped. We won’t know which, or more likely where between the two, he is until after he and the other children in his care are found and all the facts are made public.