Cheng Zhenbo: A 12-Year-Old Guizhou Child’s Lonely Life


From Mop:

Photo Story: Cheng Zhenbo, a 12-year-old child’s lonely life

Dinner, on the table is a bowl of vegetables boiled in plain water, Cheng Zhenbo covers his head and says: “I have chickenpox, so I cannot eat too much oil. The day before yesterday, I had a fever, didn’t take any medicine, but now I’m a bit better. I think a pox has grown in my throat, it is a little painful, so I can only eat light/non-oily food. After I get better, I can eat sour peppers or whatever.” When he was 2-years-old, his father died. When he was 9-years-old, his mother remarried, while his older sister and brother went to school away from home. Normally, he cooks, chops firewood, sleeps, and takes care of two younger brothers by himself.

[click images for larger version]


Cheng Zhenbo is a fifth grade student at the Lixue Elementary School in Daguan Town of Wangmo County of Guizhou Province. The Lixue Elementary School he attends, from kindergarten to sixth grade, has a total of 7 classes, 8 teachers, and 194 students. Recently, the media reported, that for several consecutive years, a portion of the educational funds given to Wangmo County of Guizhou Province were misappropriated/embezzled by staff in the County Poverty Alleviation Office, never reaching the students.


Only when going to bed every night is Cheng Zhenbo willing to turn on a dim incandescent bulb. Last month, his home’s electricity bill was only 1 mao. Before going to sleep, he will review that day’s lesson once, because only this way can he sleep at ease. The Cheng family’s three siblings all have good grades, known by the entire Lixue village. Big sister Cheng Lanzhen earned a scholarship, is in Xingyi City of Guizhou Province studying “春晖班 [chun hui ban, I do not know what this is]”, her expenses all covered; Big brother Cheng Tao was admitted into a middle school in the county, currently studying his third year; Cheng Zhenbo is attending fifth grade, and is number one in his class. Covering the wall behind him is the three siblings certificates of accomplishment.


Every day, Cheng Zhenbo must make the fire and prepare meals by himself, one hen and five chicks adding a bit of life to the empty home. Dinner is green vegetables cooked in plain water, and seeing the reporter arriving, he scooped a bowl of soy beans to be the day’s extra food.


Normally, Cheng Zhenbo eats boiled green vegetables every day, and it has already been three months since the last time he tasted meat. On this day, before going to school, Cheng Zhenbo heated up the leftover boiled vegetables from the last night. Eating a bit of breakfast, lunch can be skipped, and by eating a roasted sweet potato in the afternoon, he can make it until school is out.


On the mountainside across from the forest where Cheng Zhenbo’s house is, every day, after getting out from school, he uses half an hour to finish his homework, carrying a bamboo knife to go cut firewood. “It’s winter, firewood burns quickly”, Cheng Zhenbo points to the opposing mountainside and says, “that is the forest where my home is, the trip takes an hour’s walk.”


Every day, after Cheng Zhenbo finishes the chores, there are people who call to him from the path outside his window.  The children in the village all like to form groups when going to school, Chen Zhenbo says this is the happiest part of his day.


The children in the village like to go to Cheng Zhenbo’s home to play, because there are no adults to bother them. It is also during these times that the home has some liveliness.


The winds are strong in the mountains, Cheng Zhenbo and his little cousin Chen Jiajia cover their heads with their clothes to keep warm. When bringing up his remarried mother, Cheng Zhenbo says: “I do not hold a grudge against mom, she does not have it easy there either, yet still mailing us money for living expenses. Sleeping at night, I often dream of my family together going up the mountain to pick wild berries.”


Lixue Elementary School, a child looks aimlessly in a hallway in between classes, behind him a plaque carved with the names of the good-hearted people who donated to the school. Teacher Wang Yan says Cheng Zhenboy is very smart, attentive, and his midterm essay on “what truly moves me”, written about the country’s help towards impoverished mountain areas, was treated as the model essay and read aloud in class.


When having class at school, Cheng Zhenbo’s 2-year-old little cousin Chen Zhenwei plays alone in the schoolyard. He has not yet reached school age, yet likes going to school with the big children. Chen Zhenbo knows that only through education can one truly get out of the mountain areas. “I want to be an architect when I grow up. I don’t have to earn a lot of money, 50 kuai a day would be enough”, Cheng Zhenbo bashfully says.

The original poster on Mop also reposted a comment left by another netizen regarding these photographs:

Seeing just these ten photographs, I did not imagine myself almost shedding tears. That child’s pure and simple little face, is the biggest ridicule/embarrassment of certain people. When he walks out of that big mountain and sees the outside would, he might want even more, but in this moment comparing his simple dream to our desires, I truly feel ashamed.

In the beginning, I somewhat wanted to curse those people who misappropriated the public funds, but one line from a television drama I’ve been watching recently made me think that perhaps my attitude is wrong. We are always complaining about the social system, saying this is not good, that is not good, but we need to see that the country is changing bit by bit, that Rome was not built in one day, that the country’s system is constantly improving, and that many people are currently working hard for this. Rather than loudly criticizing, some practical action would be better and more meaningful, no? That person who misappropriated public funds in this case is of course wrong, but, maybe he had his own predicament. People’s hearts are all made of flesh [not ice, stone, etc.], he should be even more aware of those children’s situations, so maybe he isn’t what we think he is, maybe there are other children in even more desperate situations, but the funds are not enough to take care of everyone. The misappropriation of public funds/diverting o funds may not necessarily have been for one’s own selfish interests.

How meaningful is only criticizing and cursing? The key is to let even more children be happy, and action is better than just being moved. I will definitely go to the mountains and see myself. I do not have the ability to let them realize their dreams, but at least I have the ability to let them know that there are many people who care about them.

—- A reposted netizen comment

Comments on Mop:


Where is hope???


This innocent boy, in the future, will understand this society’s complexity.


Everyday the country talks about Project Hope, but where is the hope? Where did all the education funding go?
Give the children a chance/hope!


There are many children like this in the mountains here in Guizhou, we cannot compare with the big cities.


LZ‘s words in the end were so wu mao.


In the beginning, I somewhat wanted to curse those people who misappropriated the public funds, but one line from a television drama I’ve been watching recently made me think that perhaps my attitude is wrong. We are always complaining about the social system, saying this is not good, that is not good, but we need to see that the country is changing bit by bit, that Rome was not built in one day, that the country’s system is constantly improving, and that many people are currently working hard for this.

Corrupt officials always find excuses for themselves.


Sometimes life is helpless like this. There are people who are born to rich families, and there are people who are struggling for just two meals.


Seeing this, my eyes suddenly teared up. I suddenly discovered that my heart still has a measure of pity that hadn’t been covered by greedy desires. I want to go deep into the big mountains and help them. I think I will have this dream in the not distant future.


Learning architecture requires so much money…this little kid will be disappointed with society in the future…


A lot of village children live like this, especially the young ones. Only difference from when I was small is that they have a few more brothers. Sigh, this is what society is like, this is the difference [between people], what can we do? I make 700 plus a month, I can’t help him. Sigh!


I cried, and I hate myself a little for not having the ability to do change this. We are both of the same people yet I can’t do anything.


I haven’t replied to a post in a long time, but today no matter what I have to say something.
I’ve been to Guizhou, places like the one in the the 5th picture can be said to be the very poor kind, unable to be plant crops, unable to plant trees, maybe even unable to plant grass. It is apparent that the people here, not just Cheng Zhenbo, requires working hard taking one step at a time forward. His mother remarried, probably because [she] “got sick of being poor”. The Communist Party can’t think of this problem? Wasn’t Old Hu [President Hu Jintao] the party secretary of Guizhou before taking office?  This isn’t a system problem, it is a problem with the government official level. These people are the true cancer of this society.


Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


Leave a Reply

3 Pings & Trackbacks

  1. Pingback:

  2. Pingback:

  3. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.