I am often amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit.  It really is remarkable, how some among us, , against seemingly impossible odds, can rise above the fray.  I’ve met more than a few heroes here in China but none has impressed me more than the young man I met yesterday.  He is 20 years old and hails from Sichuan Province, near where last May’s massive earthquake was centered.  Lily and I came upon him in the middle of a street near my house.

My Hero I

Zhang Yao Qian lost his arms when he was 2 or 3, the result of a disease that he couldn’t remember the name of.   Doing our best to ignore the gawkers, we spoke to him for about half an hour or so.  During the course of our conversation, Lily and I kept looking at each other, not believing what we were hearing.  I kept asking her to translate for me because I just wasn’t sure I was hearing him right.  Among other things, he told us that he had recently received some money from the government but that he had given the money to his aging parents.

“They are old”, he said, and can no longer provide for themselves.” He added “I am able to make more than enough to support myself. It is most important to be a good son, to show honor to you parents.  They had a difficult life too, caring for me.  I want to be a good son, so it is why I gave them the money.”

Zhang travels all over China, north in the summer, south in the winter. He has been working the streets here in Liuzhou for just over a month and said he is very thankful for the mild winter we’ve been having.

The kid somehow learned to read and write by himself.  He told us he never went to school so I can’t imagine how he managed.  By the time we arrived, he had written his story on the street for passersby to read.  Lily made the comment that he had very beautiful handwriting.  I corrected her by saying his “footwriting” was indeed beautiful.  For a moment, Lily was embarrassed, but Zhang actually understood my pitiful Chinese and laughed, which put us all at ease.  This guy had a beautiful spirit, almost a visible aura.  He was bright, proud and he was working his plan.  I admire that.  It’s hard to explain, it was a “you had to be there” thing.  You see it wasn’t so much “what” Zhang said to us.  Yes his story is inspiring on it’s own, but I was most impressed by “how” he delivered it.  I never once got the impression he felt sorry for himself.

My Hero II

I found myself wishing I had been there to catch him writing.  In fact, The photographer in me was close to asking him if he wouldn’t mind showing me how he does it.  About the time I had worked up the nerve to ask, someone dropped a five kwai note in front of him.  Zhang reached out with his right foot, grabbed the bill with his toes and THEN he grabbed a steel clip with the other foot, put the bill in his small stack, closed the clip and kept on talking to us.  I was too stunned to move.  I didn’t even think to raise the camera until after he was finished.  The dexterity he displayed was mind-boggling.  He had just done something with his feet that I am certain I couldn’t do as well, or as quickly, with my hands.

Here is the  “message”; it basically wishes everyone a good, healthy, happy life.  Zhang wrote all that with his right foot, scooting along backwards on his butt as wrote.

My Hero III

He told us that he does have other family, bothers and sisters scattered about, but was quick to add that he would rather be out on his own, making his own way in life.  So, for me, this kid, is the epitome of just what the human spirit is capable of.  As I said, I never once got the feeling that he felt sorry for himself or his circumstances.  How easy it would be for him to just “phone it in”.  How many others would have just taken the  government money and sat around watching TV all day?

I was going to refer to him as a beggar, include it in the tags, but I think the description is an insult to Zhang.   I wish my college students had a few ounces of his courage, his determination, his moral compass.

Merry Christmas Zhang Yao Qian.

Speaking of Christmas, and for that matter, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a Festivus for the rest of us.  I may not be around much for a couple of weeks, the semester is ending and I expect I’ll be overwhelmed with finals, then grading and posting the results.  So, I wish each of you a wonderful holiday.

Voting for the 2008 China Blog Awards is underway. This blog is nominated in the Personal Blog category. If you enjoy the photos and musings on my life in China, I would appreciate your support by going here. Then just click on the + sign on the left hand side of the page.  You can also get there by clicking the icon on the top right hand side of this page.

Natalie and Nick, I miss you.  Saying I miss you from half a world away doesn’t quite cover it.  The happiest day of my life will be the day I am able to hold each of you in my arms again.  Have fun kids.  Oh, and would it kill ya’ to write your dad once in a while?  Or call your dad?  How about a text message?

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~ by Expatriate Games on December 21, 2008.

8 Responses to “Heroes”

  1. A touching, inspirational comment on the strength of the human spirit.

  2. I saw the pics on Flickr, so I had to come read the story. So sad and touching! Seeing someone like this, you can’t help but wonder, “What would I do in this man’s situation?”

  3. The best Christmas story of all. It really does show his inner strength…making up for his lack of physical strength if you will. Thanks for sharing that…it really is a heart-warming story and gives faith back to the human spirit.
    Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I was just over to put in some kudos (points) for you blog. Good luck and congratulations!

  4. The question is… did you give a little love to him… I mean did you drop a few kuai in his bucket… or clip. If I took a bunch of shots like that I would feel bad NOT to!
    I thought it was amazing that he could write Chinese characters with his feet…better than most foreigners could with their hands!!! CRAZY!

    • Yeah, I don’t know if it is THE question Magnus, but we gave Zhang substantially more than a few kwai. I was trying to avoid making the story about me at all, so I didn’t mention it in the text. We talked to him for quite a while before I began to shoot. I told I would like to share his story and asked him for permission to shoot. He couldn’t understand why anybody would be the slightest bit interested!

  5. A powerful and touching piece, Michael. Some reminders for us all there, and I needed to be reminded. Thank you. (wonderfully photographed, btw)

    I hop you had a Merry Christmas, and that your 2009 is wonderful… and that you get those Text messages/phone calls, emails, etc.

    • Lloyd, I am so grateful for your friendship and encouragement during the past year. Best wishes to you and the (growing) family during 2009!

  6. Really inspiring story.

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