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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

  • Ranger_lost_in_Mordor


  • Ranger_lost_in_Mordor

    算了,板凳也坐了!不好意思。 ^_^

  • Joe

    Link to Mop seems to be broken…

    • Kai

      It works fine for me.

  • Kai

    Reading the first paragraph, I admit, I was already starting to feel pretty sad for the little guy, readying myself for a heart-wrenching story.

    Then I saw that he has chickens.

    The boy has chickens!

    Hey, that’s not bad!

    Joking aside, I can’t possibly appreciate what this kid’s life is like. On one hand, he’s probably far more mature at his age than most of us were. On the other hand, he’s probably ignorant of just how immature most of us were able to be at his age, able to live loves he couldn’t possibly imagine. I admire and feel sorry for the kid, for having so much less than many of us, yet at the same time, being so much more than many of us could ever be for precisely that.

    • Rick in China

      CHICKENS? Muthafucka got a tin of redbull! Look to the otherside of the same photo’s fire!

      • shocked

        … i imagine that that was probably an empty tin in some dump/side of some road, which he treasured and found a use for, seeing as he’s not exactly rolling with disposable cash. you know i once admired your education and eloquence. even if you were just joking, i’m truly dismayed by the lack of compassion you displayed. why are you so bitter?

    • Phil

      Usually being poor forces you to grow up fast which is a sad fact of life, especially for someone that young.

    • bleah

      The boy has chickens!

  • Panda

    damn… months of not tasting meat… I would of killed and roasted that chicken after a few days without meat…

    or that dog…must have meat…

  • Akbar Lo

    my father grew up 10x more poor than this guy.
    yet he is now living very comfortable life.
    don’t blame society for your own shortcomings.

    • lili

      you think that just because your father suffered you should not feel compassion for someone like this? your father would be ashamed!

      • akbar lo

        and here comes the Chinasmack Strawman force.

        • Jean

          If it was you, instead of your father, could you have survived?

  • Shanghairocks

    “What Chen Zhenbao is living is not life, but loneliness…”

  • Python

    1. 春晖班 (Chunhui class) is a scholarship established for helping kids from distant areas in Guizhou province. Fifty students receives 5000RMB each year for their living expenses and school fees.

    The name 春晖 is from Tang Dynasty poet Meng Jiao’s 游子吟 (I find a translation online).

    The thread in the hands of a fond-hearted mother

    Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy;

    Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends,

    Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home.

    But how much love has the inch-long grass

    For three spring months of the light of the sun?

    The word 春晖 means both spring sunshine and parental love.

    2. The Wangmo embezzling case can be found here:

    In the incident, 6400RMB (donated to 40 kids) had been embezzled by County Poverty Alleviation Office staff Huang Shimei. She has been arrested and is currently under investigation.

  • carl

    It’s remarkable how mature he is.

    It’d be great if he could have some time to just be a kid.

    Most western kids wouldn’t live a week without their parents around.

    • Rick in China

      You’re dense.

      Lots of kids have parents who are never around and don’t take care of them. The difference is most of them (except maybe a lot in the projects) end up going to child services before their week is up. I’m sure there are trailer parks all over America with kids who haven’t seen a sober/present mommy or daddy in more than a week.

  • Is his mother not around? Isn’t that illegal, even in China?

    • Python

      His mother was remarried and moved to Guangxi. Cheng is probably living with his mother’s relatives since the article mentioned his cousin several times. That’s probably illegal but I’m not sure since there are few details in the post. “even in China?” you should specify which China you are talking about. The China in distant mountain areas is quite different from the China in eastern cities. China is so diverse and full of contradictions.

  • shw

    Guys, let’s not go nit picking…He is living alone at the age of 12 !! That’s the issue. We should try help him and others in same situation.

  • [email protected]

    so his mothers a hoor that deserts her children who is an illegal logger.

    cry me a river. that looks like paradise compared to the dosshouse im living in

    • Alikese

      Is your keyboard broken, or are you retarded?

      I’m going with a little bit from column A, and a little bit from column B…

      • Joe #2

        He could also be posting that email to make someone he hates look bad (that’s called a “Joe job” incidentally). That’s basically column B, but malicious.

  • lili

    to be honest, my husband grew up in a village much like the one that this child grows up in now. looking at him now i sometimes cannot even image the conditions in which he grew up in. for the 99 other percent of the children who attended his two-room schoolhouse, the ending was not so fortunate. every year, when we visit his home for spring festival i get to meet his classmates. even though i cannot talk to them, i get to see the condtions in which they are currently living… but what hits me the most is the expressions. they are hardy. i have not once see them complain.

    what i have learnt from all of this is that there is no instant solution. many things have to change at the top before these people get to enjoy the benefits that some of us take for granted every single day of our lives.

  • easygoing

    C’mon China, you are suppose to be the next super- power yet your people are still suffering like this. Your rich people are getting richer yet your poor are suffering, if this is what communism is all about.

    • Hongjian

      You seem not to understand how China works.

      China is a darwinist meritocratian society.
      Which means everyone must fight and kill each other, but has the chance of achieving wealth and prostperity by his/hers own ability.

      No matter how. If you fail, you die. Easy as this.

      Dunno, maybe this child will become China’s next Dictator? One cannot know.

      There’s no communism in China.

      • lili

        achieving wealth by his or her own ability? are you nuts?
        …let’s talk about survival of the richest, or if not that, survival of the ones who can win over people pr can cheat the hell out of people

        • Hongjian

          Well, cheating people and using one’s cunning mind IS an personal ability.

          I know new-rich bastards, who were poor farmers when they started.

          Generally in China, there is a new version of the “American Dream” running.

          • MAOCUNT

            Hongjian is right about this. China is really a Darwinist meritocratian society. Power means everything. Its like a state religon or something; alot of chinese ppl have no qualms in stepping on other people to achieve their means.

            That is exactly the reason why much of the civilized world is against china. China’s logics are realist to the max. But lets be real* here, humanity need morality to keep them in check, many in China seems to forget about that. We will be going into WW3 in a blink of an eye if everyone start doing what they are doing; stepping on other ppl to get on top, thats how imperialism works if you ask me.

          • B. Prichard

            I guess this is true in some cases, but it’s certainly a lot more complicated than that. Most of the countryside people who became extremely rich did so during the gold rush period of the late-80s, early 90s. Those kind of opportunities don’t really exist anymore. Local government officials have stolen most of them.

            There is a meritocratic underpinning to the system, as anyone can gain admittance to one of the top universities through gaokao performance. However, it’s hard to be too optimistic about rural students who more than likely do not have access to the best schools and teachers and who have a huge amount of work related to their families. It’s not exactly a level playing field.

            How well do you think the top student at a tiny rural school compares in terms of learning outcomes to a pretty good student at one of the many far superior urban schools? How many rural students, regardless of their ability, do not finish school because they need to help their families subsist?

            There are a lot of great opportunities to make money in China, but look at the job prospects for students of good universities in China. They’re not exactly excellent. Not many students who have the kinds of disadvantages this kid has are going to make it far.

            There are more instances of moving up in social class in China than in many other countries, but there are also a lot more people. It’s still not easy here or anywhere.

            I don’t want to even get into discussions of urbanites attitudes toward rural people and systemic corruption.

            I wish this kid and the others like him the best of luck.

            /boring others

  • JMoneyMonkey


    • Hongjian

      Intellectual Fallacy.

      People HAVE Kids, simply BECAUSE they are too poor to support them. it’s like the poor-man’s pension.

      It’s like with animals. The more offspring they have, the chances are higher that some survive and preserve the genes.

      • lili

        more kids = more people to help on the farm = more mouths to feed = more work to do = need to have more kids to help with the work = more kids… continue times 1.3 million and counting

    • baudelaire

      true but that’s not a solution because these kids are already there…

  • crabpeople

    you gotta feel bad for this kid. i think the state in china needs to do a better job taking care of people. government is some of the worst people in every country. this blog has things about bad people, including Chinasmack.

  • DWR

    Although the story is sad, is anyone else getting a little tired of this voyeuristic “poverty porn”?

    It seems as though half of the photojournalism stories from China are about the suffering of poor people, and all of the replies are from “concerned” urbanites wishing that they could do something (and, of course, doing absolutely nothing).

    Good luck to the little fellow, though.


  • 痴人说梦

    The kids are too innocent to think outside of the box. No meat? Try American tourists – they’re fat and juicy!

    • Hongjian

      Fuck YEAH!

      I love the comments here.

      you are a winrar.

  • laowaixian

    WHOSE FAULT THAT THIS BOY IS IN THIS SITUATION??????????????? Well, people`s fault, you guys are stupid, lazy and you DONT REALLY GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THIS BOY. THE people are the only ones who can do something about it.DONT post saying that you felt heart-broken upon seeing it. DO something about it. WHY the hell does everything have to be government officials` fault. THE government officials only steal money because the poeple dont FUCKING do anything about it. IT IS TIME FOR ANOTHER CULTURAL REVOLUTION!!!!!!!

    • hellomoto

      Didnt hear you. Maybe you should try a bigger font

    • Chen

      Thumbs up, agreed, but I disagree one one thing – not all human beings are a disgrace.

    • lili

      you had some sense up until the end… then you fell off the wagon… again

  • Alikese

    The commentary at the end is absolutely idiotic. I might be a hopeless pessimist, but I’m damn sure that the director wasn’t embezzling funds from the impoverished people of the city to give it to the even poorer. She was buying a new Geely and fur coat for the winter. It’s fine to see the silver lining of a bad situation, but it’s wrong to lie to yourself to justify your preconceived notions.

    • baudelaire

      but at least it’s an alibi against any potential ‘charges on subversion against the state’…
      probably not though and he/she really believes it. which is the number one problem in this country.

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  • Duchemin

    Doesn’t China have a Communist Party which is supposed to protect the interests of workers and peasants, and take care of children?

    • lili

      where have you been living since the foundation of the PRC???

  • laowaixian

    guys, sorry, i just got angry after seeing the comments, about the (fuck the laowais thing), somebody said some dudes are thinking about NGO BUT thinking doesnt fucking CHANGE anything, attitude does

  • fireworks

    hope the kid makes into high school and also a scholarship into uni if he’s got the preseverance to tough it out. Guizhou is one of the poor inner provinces. hope the economic expansion in nearby Chongqing and Chengdu flow onto the region.

  • A “Westerner”

    “Most western kids wouldn’t live a week without their parents around.”

    I am “western” and I find this comment shrinkingly offensive. First, you would have to know how cities are laid out here, and how developing a farm in these urban sprawls aren’t even a factor. 1. our gov won’t let every day people farm, you need a permit. 2. our gov owns the seeds. Don’t get it confused, SOME have had not only their right to grow food taken away but the right to have it period. Westerners also have corrupt officials that spend money the wrong way, that allow children to fall through the cracks and who grow hungry and tired at a young age of their life. Our “media” doesn’t cover stories like that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. If I had to say any child that could be compared to this poor young boy in this story it would be the IMPOVERISHED inner cities kids – minorities. They too are mentally mature at a young age, but in our society and their environment, they tend to act out rather than want to improve their lives. I am pretty sure the boy in this story is mad just like the inner cities children are. There is not much this child do to his society in terms of damage which is why his anger will probably turn inwards.
    Think about it this way, what’s this child going to do? Go rob a bank? Go steal a gun and rob people? Go and steal a car? That’s what they do here in America to “get by” because they are soooo poor. We live in that structure here, that is an “opportunity” for these children. THIS is the news and media you see reported from over here, but you fail to see threw the smoke and at the serious issues impending. And yes, some of them go longer than weeks without parents, especially if their parents are in the prison system.
    Bottom line? We are not much different in terms of the situations we see our neighbors in. I am empathetic to this child as any other child I see fail here in America. Please, don’t be confused.
    A child deserves a chance and happiness, at real love, at hope, at kindness, to see the world as a GOOD place because if not, if people do not believe it is, there are serious issues to face up the road in their life (mental, emotional, and social.)

    • qwe1362003

      As long as we’re alive, there’s still hope.

  • Mimi

    Reading this makes me think of how my grandparents were raised and went to school, because if China still isolated itself and if my parents didnt move, i would be living in similar conditions, taking hours to walk to school and working hard everyday.

  • I wish I could help him. He seems so sweet and warm hearted. I would hate my mom if she left me. But he forgives her and continues to get by on his own.
    I hope he become successful and keep his heart warm.

  • JD

    communism is really work !!!!
    The communist party leaders keep getting fatter is only benefit of communism in China.

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