A rapidly spreading Internet controversy
threatens to turn a precocious political star-in-the-making into a 21st century Chinese version of Icarus.
Like the mythical Greek boy with the waxen wings, the child at the center of the controversy, 13-year-old Huang Yibo, was soaring.
According to local media reports (in Chinese), Huang, a top-ranking student in Wuhan's Young Pioneers of China, started watching China's main state-run evening news broadcast at the age of two. He went on to become a voracious reader of the People's Daily when he turned seven and has since made 'allowing everyone to live an even better life' his dream.
Huang's fall came when a series of promotional photos was posted online, attracting the searing heat of Chinese Internet scrutiny.
In the photos, Huang is seen busy sifting through reams of documents, preaching lofty
principles to his classmates, donating one-hundred-yuan notes to a good cause and generously providing autographs to younger admirers.
Published online by the Young Pioneers (a primary school branch of the Communist Youth League), the photos initially seemed to launch Huang to nationwide political fame. But praise quickly turned to ridicule
A lot of attention was paid to Huang's conspicuously
displayed five-stripe badge, a symbol of his status in the Young Pioneers hierarchy. According to the the organization's charter, the highest-ranking leaders of the group are allowed to wear a three-stripe badge only. As reporters later discovered (in Chinese), the city of Wuhan, where Huang lives, breached the rules and established a subbranch
of the Young Pioneers, which decided to treat its top local leaders to an extra two stripes.
'I've never heard of five stripes before,' wrote one Internet commenter from Sichuan province in comments translated by the blog chinaSMACK. 'I only know that having stripes all over your body is the outfit of mental patients!'
Critics were equally focused on the boy's appearance. In the photos, Huang's chubby
face, framed by the Young Pioneers' signature red scarf, projects a stern and worldly look -- the calm expression that is the trademark of revolutionary figures and favored by today's senior Communist Party cadres.
'The humble people seek an audience with Lord Huang,' a reader from Nanjing joked on the Tencent news portal.
Some critics have also laid into Huang's parents, with many accusing them of brainwashing their own child and packaging him for public consumption. Responding to questions from the local Changjiang Times (in Chinese), Huang's parents denied they encouraged their son to choose politics as an interest, insisting the child developed his study habits on his own, and said they've been bewildered by the response to the photos.
'He's just a child,' the boy's father, Huang Hongzhang told the newspaper. 'I don't understand why people want to take out their frustrations with society on my son.'
While the bulk of online opinion has been stacked against them, Huang and his parents enjoy support from at least one heavy hitter. Writer Han Han, arguably the country's most influential blogger, joined defended the youngster in a post published Wednesday:
If anything, Han Han jokes, he is jealous of Huang. Noting that he earned two out of three stripes when he himself was a Young Pioneer, the blogger writes: 'I'd always thought I was 66% successful. It wasn't until today that I realized I'm actually not even 40% a success.'