Though living through a life of hardship and poverty, a Tujia couple did not compromise when it came to their children’s education.
Zheng Congzao and Du Yongmei are from a mountain village inhabited by the Tujia ethnic minority in central China’s Hubei Province.
High mountains have left the villages poor and underdeveloped. The drop-out rate for school-age children in the village was high for years. Few families could afford to have their children finish even primary education.
However, Zheng and Du managed to support all of their four children so they could fulfil their dreams of going to university. And it paid off. One of the children, after receiving a PhD in radio-electronics from Peking University, is now vice-chairman of the board of a high-tech company. The other three all received college-level education.
The Zheng family’s efforts to send their youngsters to school has been making headlines across China.
Zheng and Du got married in the early 1960s. In 1963, their first child, Zheng Dachun, was born. In the following years, three other children, Zheng Dazhou, Zheng Yuchi and Zheng Dahao, came into the world.
Around the time when the first boy was born, an exceptionally serious famine was sweeping the whole nation. In order to keep the whole family alive, the couple had to toil in the fields day and night.
Though life was hard, Zheng believed that no one could lead a happy life without receiving education, which seemed to be proved by the poor life they were living. So he and his wife were determined that their children must go to school.
To fulfil their dream of getting a better education for their four children, the couple suffered many hardships.
When the children were young, the family was very poor. Once, there was very little food in the house. For the sake of the new born babies, Zheng decided to go to town to buy some radish leaves as a supplement to their daily rations. It was very hot that day and Zheng walked alone on a hilly path carrying heavy baskets of radish leaves. In the afternoon, it began to rain heavily. Though tired, Zheng did not stop for a rest. He carried on because he wanted to make sure his children had something to eat. When he got home that night, he was too tired to say a word, but smiled when he saw his children eating happily.
According to Zheng Dahao, the youngest son, it was a really hard task for his parents to send him to school.
“We were so poor that my parents couldn’t even afford shoes for us. We had to wear battered shoes to go to school whether it rained or snowed. Later, my mother made shoes for us with some ragged cloth, but we wore the cloth shoes only when we were in school so they wouldn’t wear down quickly. Because we often did not have enough food to eat, we all looked thin and weak,” Zheng Dahao recalled.
However, the parents did not give in under the pressure of their poor life. They did everything possible to gather money for their children’s education.
Besides hard labor in the fields, they supported their children’s education by borrowing money from friends and relatives.
Thanks to their unremitting efforts, in 1983, their eldest son, Zheng Dachun, entered the Central China Teachers’ University in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei Province.
Their second son, Zheng Dazhou, was admitted by the Medical Higher Training School of Enshi Prefecture in Hubei Province.
Even though they were exempt from tuition fees, they still found it hard to support themselves. At that time, few odd jobs were open to university students.
Once, to get money for their second son, the parents had to sell their pig. However, the purchase and sale of pigs was monopolized by the government in the early 1980s.
Learning that an official of the commune was inspecting a nearby village, the elder Zheng spent the whole afternoon walking over 10 km to look for him to ask for help.
Deeply touched by Zheng’s eagerness for his children’s education, the official gave him permission to sell the pig. With every bit of the pig sold, Zheng handed his son 130 yuan (US$15.7) to start his college life.
For six years from 1983, the family never had meat for Spring Festival, an occasion when Chinese people eat the best food they can afford.
“We had to sell all the pigs we raised to get money for our children’s education,” Du the mother said.
Dazhou now works in Hubei Province’s Xiaogan municipal government. Though a common farmer, Zheng Congzao uttered these impressive words in a parent’s meeting for his youngest son. Before the entrance examination to senior middle school, Dahao was only listed eighth or ninth in his class. Teachers thought his chances of being admitted to a senior middle school were slim.
“If only my youngest son could go to senior middle school and then on to university, I would close my eyes in peace without a coffin when I die,” the father was quoted as saying.
People familiar with the customs of the Tujia ethnic minority know that a coffin for the dead is as important as a house for the living.
What the father said expressed his strong desires. He only hoped teachers could teach his son more. With the teachers’ help and his own efforts, Dahao lived up to his father’s expectations.
He was admitted by the No.1 Middle School, the best in the county, with good scores. Finally he graduated from the Hubei Institute of Nationalities and now works as a civil servant in a local government.
Zheng Yuchi is the only daughter in the Zheng family. She gave up her studies in 1983 because of poor scores and worked in the family’s fields for two years. However, her parents and her three brothers kept encouraging her to continue studying.
Two years later in 1985, she took their advice and returned to school. She studied hard and was admitted to a secondary normal school in Enshi Prefecture. Later, she acquired an associate college-level academic degree by passing exams designed for home-learning students while working as a primary school teacher and helping other children fulfill their dreams. All four children finally realized their parents’ dream.
Du Yongmei said: “All we wanted to do in our lives was to send our four children to university.” Now their dream has become reality, they can enjoy their remaining days being cared for by their children.
Their children today live happy lives, which proves once again what Du Yongmei said. “All the hardship we have suffered was worthwhile.”
(China Daily 04/26/2001)