Cerebral palsy sufferer beats the odds with entrepreneurial spirit
As soon as he was born, Gao Shuquan's parents knew something was wrong.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at eight months when his 'relatively rich' father took him from the impoverished rural county of Hulan, Heilongjiang , to the best hospital in the province for treatment. There the doctors said his condition was so advanced that it was beyond rehabilitation.
'Some doctors hinted that they could have abandoned me, but they [his parents] did not have the heart and decided to take me home and raise me,' Mr Gao said.
The trip to the hospital would be the farthest he would venture for the first two decades of his life.
'I spent the first 13 years lying on a bed in my home town, a small village. When I grew too heavy to be carried around, I seldom had a chance to step out of the room, not to mention to leave the village,' he said.
'It was worse than imprisonment. People at least have other inmates in jail, but I spent most of the time in the dark and in silence with nobody to talk to.'
When Mr Gao was about 13, his family pooled enough money to buy a small black-and-white television, and it became a window on the world outside his home. But his parents feared the 'precious machine' would be worn out by continuous use, so they switched it off when they went out to work the fields and his two younger brothers went to school. That left Mr Gao in extended periods of silence and loneliness.
Then, when he was about 20, a family friend paid a visit and casually suggested to Mr Gao's parents that they poison their eldest son after one of them died because he would be too heavy a burden for one person.
'I overheard the conversation and felt so hurt. Whatever kind of life I am born with, I do not want to waste it. I swore not to be a useless burden on my parents. They had already been too nice to me,' Mr Gao said.
In 1997, Mr Gao talked his parents into buying him a wheelchair and practised sitting on it. Then he came up with the idea of selling ice cream near a highway. It was a risky business idea but his parents supported it and bought the first refrigerator in the village.
Mr Gao's ice-cream business thrived until other villagers started doing the same. The family's finances were squeezed further when Mr Gao's youngest brother was accepted into a university in Harbin .
Last year, Mr Gao persuaded his parents to move to Dalian , one of the richest cities in northeastern China, in search of a higher income.
Instead of making a living by begging, as some suggested, Mr Gao came up with the idea of selling newspapers. It was a brave decision given that he could not hand the papers to customers, give change or prevent his merchandise from being blown away by sudden gusts of wind.
His father, who had just got a temporary job as a rubbish collector, was, as always, supportive. The business was launched on a chilly spring morning last year. The father stocked 20 copies of three local papers, set up a makeshift stand near a morning market, and waited with Mr Gao to see what would happen. Mr Gao said he expected to make a profit of 4 yuan.
'I should have made 20 fen per copy, but I ended up making 8 yuan profit. Some people just walked away without asking for charge.'
Mr Gao has since graduated to running a larger newsstand in Dalian's central March Eighth Square, offering more than 100 magazines and newspapers. Some customers go out of their way to buy his newspapers. He says 'thank you' to each one and never gets impatient, even if some just read through the publications without buying.
He has built up a steady clientele through politeness and tenacity and mans the stand 12 hours a day, except when his parents drop by for lunch.
And his business has never been held up. Mr Gao keeps receiving 'extra money' from buyers, contributions he feels ambivalent about.
'I feel glad to see there are so many kind-hearted people in this society. But I feel a bit sad too, because I do not want to take something that is more than what I am supposed to earn.
'I feel indebted to my parents, who, despite growing so old, have to feed me, take me to the toilet, and do everything for me.'
Mr Gao is also grateful that his parents did not abandon him when he was a baby.
'I could have been born with a mental impairment. Or I could have died somewhere if my parents had given me up when I was eight months old. But I survived. Isn't that a wonderful reason to live on and work hard to live a better life?'