Art student with cerebral palsy defies the odds in quest for degree

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 December, 2006, 12:00am

Q: What is everyday life like for you?

A: I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy soon after birth, something my family believes is due to a medical accident. My muscles are weak and my legs are paralysed because of stiff ligaments. When I was born, the doctors even suggested to my mother that she plan to have another baby. But my mum never abandoned me and never gave up hope.

Each day, my mother wakes up at 5am, helps me get dressed, brushes my teeth and face, prepares breakfast and massages my feet, before taking me to university in a wheelchair to catch an eight o'clock class. If it rains it's more difficult for my mother to send me to school because she has to carry more things to ensure I'm OK.

Over the past couple of years, I learned a lot and can do more things independently to relieve the burden on my mother. I am confident that I will be able to do more in the future.

How did you start learning about art?

For most of my childhood, the colour I saw most was white because I was either at home or in hospital. I wanted to see other colours. At five my mother taught me how to write by holding my right hand in her hand. I could write by myself about four years later, which delighted my family. I can write, but fairly slowly.

There is only one piece of healthy nerve tissue in my hands and I use my left hand, with the good nerves, to paint because painting requires more effort.

I started my regular art training at about 15, which is old for this area. I took the college entrance test and was enrolled in Shanghai University. I feel very grateful to my alma mater. It has never discriminated against me, and has given me a lot of encouragement and the opportunities any other student would get.

The teachers are very considerate about my situation and they sometimes tell me to pay more attention to my health. They know I am self-disciplined and motivated to study hard.

I got top marks while at university and was given a place in graduate school two years ago without having to sit the entrance test. Some of my work has won awards in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and other places.

How did you do in the PhD entrance exams last month?

I think no matter what the result is, the test was an important challenge for me and will be helpful for my future studies. I took tests in the major courses - art history, art theory and English - and was interviewed by professors. I have studied art for six years at Shanghai University and will get a master's degree next summer. The more I learn, the more things I don't understand, so I think there is no end to study. Some of my teachers in their 50s will say there are still some points in their research field that they don't know about or cannot grasp. I want to continue my study and I have the physical ability to do it.

You also belong to an ethnic minority?

Yes, I am from the She minority, which has over 700,000 people on the mainland, mainly in Zhejiang , Fujian , Jiangxi and other southern provinces. This summer I got on the train to Fujian to visit the place where my ancestors lived.

Tell us about your mother.

She is a very persistent and great mother. For more than 10 years I have relied on her to survive and she has been the only person to care for me. My disability has meant that we have had many difficulties. Although I talk little to others about my feelings for my mother, she has a place in my heart no one else can replace. If I feel pressured with my studies, my mother's presence can make me feel fearless and calm.

I owe my mother so much. She gave up her job to be with me every day since I started primary school. At that time, no school would accept me because of my disability. To persuade a school to enrol me, my mother promised to quit her job and look after me in the classroom. She is 55, but has recently developed a chronic autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis.

My only wish is that she will remain in good health.