Growing up is not easy for most people but for Hong Zhanhui it has been even tougher.
With his father suffering from a mental disorder, his mother walking out and an adopted baby sister to look after, Hong has shouldered all the burdens on his own for the past 11 years.
But, even after initial attempts to go to school were hampered by his commitments, Hong is finally setting out on a career path.
And the plucky 23-year-old, from Central China's Henan Province, has been determined to do it his own way, refusing financial help and support.
The rural family in Hongzhuang Village in Henan fell into chaos in the summer of 1994 when Hong's father was struck with a mental illness.
He would often disappear without warning. After one morning searching, Hong, then aged 12, found his father sitting under a tree far away from the village, holding a abandoned baby girl in his arms.
The family, despite having two sons already, decided to foster this girl, who they named as Hong Chenchen.
Shortly afterwards, however, Hong's mother left the family because of the beatings she suffered from her husband.
Hong's younger brother later also left home, leaving the family's future in his hands.
In 1998, he passed the entrance examination of the Xihua No 1 Senior High School, about 20 kilometers away from the village.
He rented a room nearby, and took his little sister along with him so she could receive better care.
Hong's studies, though, had to jostle for room alongside his other commitments.
He also had to split his time and energy into working to raise money, looking after Chenchen, then aged 4, and sending medicine home to his father.
A year later, Hong quit the school to help his father, whose mental condition deteriorated again and had to stay in hospital. He was able to return a year later when the condition of his father improved.
In 2003, Hong was recruited by the department of economic management of the Hunan Huaihua Institute in Central China's Hunan Province.
With barely any funds, Hong had to bid farewell to his father and sister and set off alone.
Then a freshman aged 21, he continued a life of studying and working when he could. He took on a range of part-time jobs, such as selling convenience noodles and marketing advertisement.
Li Hong'e, Hong's fellow villager and college alumna, said he rarely had the chance to eat well.
"Sometimes he had rice only, flavoured with the spice of convenience noodles," she said.
Last year, little Chenchen came to join her brother in Hunan. She lived with Hong's teacher and female classmates in turn during the year.
School bosses launched an appeal for donations to help the pair after learning of the family's plight.
When donations of 3,190 yuan (US$400) were offered to Hong, his pride led him to refuse the handout.
The school instead decided to use this money to help cover Hong's tuition fees.
But he keeps refusing to accept additional donations.
"I think it is most important for a man to support himself and be strong," he said.
Without the help of the school authorities, Hong succeeded in sending little Chenchen to a primary school in the city of Huaihua himself.
And his efforts to try to keep the dwindling family unit together have been rewarded.
Hong's mother has now returned home and his long-lost younger brother has got back in contact.
Hong said his tribulations had given him the strength to face any adversities in the years to come.
"It is the love and responsibility that has driven me to hold on during the years."
"When the going gets tough, I choose to face it without considering how difficult it is or whether I can do it," said Hong, who is now seeking a job in the city.
"I want to be such a man, who brings opportunities to other people instead of myself."
(China Daily December 16, 2005)