A teenage Russian model died in Shanghai last week, in a story that has made international headlines and ignited controversy over China's modeling industry.
Russian media report that the preliminary cause of 14-year-old Vlada Dzyuba's death was meningitis. Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times obtained an official medical report from the organizers of Shanghai Fashion Week, which revealed the model had suffered from septicopyemia (a type of blood poisoning), along with multiple organ failure, liver dysfunction and renal problems.
At the time of her death, Dzyuba was supposedly two months into her temporary three-month contract with Chinese modeling agency ESEE Model. ESEE CEO and founder Zheng Yi denied widely-circulating allegations that she was overworked and exhausted, telling the South China Morning Post:
“I think the accusation against us that Vlada was worked to death is groundless... There is no so-called slave contract.
“We are one of the biggest model agencies in China and the contract we signed with her is legal and standard.”
According to Russian media, Dzyuba was officially required to work three hours a week in China, which mirrors Russian law. But Zheng said this report was wrong and that the model's contract was in accordance with the law. Zheng told the Global Times separately that the model's working hours were not specified in the contract, but that it did meet legal requirements:
"Dzyuba had received 16 different jobs during her two months' stay in China. She had regular breaks while working. Most of her work was completed within eight hours. Her workload was moderate compared with other models."
According to Chinese labor law, firms in the cultural, sports and special arts industries are allowed to recruit employees under the age of 16, provided they meet national permission procedures and ensure their right to education. The law also calls for eight-hour work days and a 44-hour work week.
In a Weibo post, ESEE also refuted the reports that the teen model, from the city of Perm in central Russia, had collapsed backstage while working a 13-hour shift during Shanghai Fashion Week, which concluded on October 18 or 19.
"We feel sorry that we lost an angel," the statement read.
According to the agency, Dzyuba had actually been in Yiwu, Zhejiang province for a photoshoot when she fell ill on the evening of Tuesday, October 24. Zheng told the SCMP that Dzyuba had just finished an eight-hour shift (with three breaks in between). After the shoot, she told her agent she was vomitting and not feeling well. The next day, the shoot was canceled; Dzyuba was then transfered back to Shanghai via train and taken to her dormitory.
Dzyuba's symptoms continued to worsen, so the agency said its staff members accompanied her to the emergency room at Ruijin Hospital in Huangpu district later that evening.
“At that time she was vomitting, had a headache and couldn’t stand by herself,” Zheng told the SCMP. “There were red spots on her body. So we at first sent her to the dermatology department for a check.”
Tests revealed that Dzyuba's symptoms were serious, so she was transfered to the intensive care unit (ICU), where her condition quickly deteriorated. The agency said it then notified her relatives in Russia and the Russian consulate of her condition.
Representatives from the Russian consulate and police reportedly stopped by the hospital on Thursday, October 26 to check on her condition. Zheng told the SCMP that the consulate then asked Russian expats in the city to donate money to go towards her treatment.
Zheng confirmed that the teenager did not have medical insurance, but said that this was a standard procedure for the Russian agency who initially recruited her — identified by the Global Times as Smirnoff Models, based in St. Petersberg Russia. But ESEE said it paid her ICU bills in full, while Zheng said the agency paid an advance medical fee of around RMB50,000.
Meanwhile, the teen's mother, Oksana Dzyuba, was reportedly on her way to China but unable to obtain the necessary travel documents in time. She had been expected to arrive in Shanghai on Tuesday or Wednesday.
According to the statement from ESEE, Dzyuba passed away at 7.36am on Friday, October 27 due to sepsis. She had reportedly slipped into a coma and put on aritificial ventilation just prior to her death.
Both ESEE and Zheng's accounts differ from what has been reported in Russian media, which blamed her death on "meningitis compounded by severe exhaustion." Oksana Dzyuba, identified by some outlets as an editor for a fashion magazine in Perm, said that her daughter's death was the result of being forced to work excessive hours.
"She was calling me, saying 'Mama, I am so tired,'" the mother was said to have told Russian television station NTV. "'I so much want to sleep.'"
Neither the Russian embassy nor Shanghai Fashion Week representatives have released official statements regarding the model's death, according to the AFP.
[Images via SCMP, VK]