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Hard lives and bad deaths: rural murders put spotlight on China’s wealth gap

China’s growing wealth gap is once again in focus after a woman in rural China killed herself and her four children, allegedly after being rejected for a government allowance because they were not poor enough, media reports said.

The tragedy in Kangle county in Gansu province was compounded when the husband was found dead in another apparent suicide, China Youth Daily reported on Sunday.

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Villagers found 28-year-old Yang Gailan near her house on August 26, together with her four children aged three to six. All five were either already dead or died in hospital soon after.

The four children had been hacked with an axe before being fed pesticide, and the mother, who was accused of the murders, had poisoned herself, the local government said in a statement.

Eight days later, the husband, Li Keying, was found dead in the woods after taking poison, police said.

According to mainland media, Yang and her four children lived together with her father and grandmother in a mountainous village while her husband worked in the city for extra money.

They barely survived on the crops – mainly peas, wheat and rape – from a small farm as well as three cows and three sheep, the newspaper said.

The family was included in their village’s allowance programme for poor families in 2013, but was removed from the list in 2014 “because Yang’s family was not mentioned during a consultation meeting for low-income family qualification”, the newspaper cited the village director as saying.

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The Yang family was also barred from another government programme for low-income families because they earned too much. The Yang’s average income from the husband’s work and the family crops was 5,226 yuan (HK$6,062), much higher than the maximum allowed income of 2,300 yuan, according to the local government.

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Inequality in China has long been a concern. The Gini coefficient, a widely used measurement of inequality, stood at 0.469 in 2014. The World Bank considers a coefficient above 0.40 to represent a severe wealth gap.

Some media reports said the recent tragedy showed that mental health could be another concern for people in poverty.