The story of a retired mortuary worker in eastern China who has devoted his life to adopting unwanted children and raising them as his own on his meagre income, has touched the hearts of Chinese readers. Yu Shangzhong, 75, from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, has adopted 12 girls over 35 years, the Qianjiang Evening News reported on Tuesday. Yu and his late wife adopted their first child, a newborn girl, when he was 40, the report said. Abandoned in China and adopted to the US, an American teen’s journey in search of her roots About four years later, he found a baby girl dumped in a paper box in his village and decided to call her his own. His third child was also a girl he found abandoned at a nearby pavilion, according to the report. Over the years, Yu and his wife started taking in more and more unwanted children until the girls numbered 12 in all. But life was hard for the family as Yu, the sole breadwinner, earned little money holding only temporary jobs before he finally found more stable work in a mortuary, according to the report. “We had tough days. When I was a little girl, my mother carried me on her back, collecting scraps or even begging,” said Yu Caisong, the eldest girl now aged 35. “People gave us money and some old clothes.” When one of the 12 girls died from disease, Yu and his wife were grief-stricken. Abandoned: Heartbreaking pictures of parents leaving their children in China’s notorious 'baby hatches' They felt laden with guilt and decided to give up their remaining children for others to adopt so they could have a chance at leading better lives, the report said. “It was just like giving them new life if they went to families with better conditions,” the elderly man said, adding that he and his wife eventually kept five of the girls with them. The four youngest girls managed to make it to college despite their poverty. The two youngest will enrol in a university in Wenzhou this autumn, according to the report. Yu recalled the time in 1998 when he took in his two youngest daughters. He had found them as babies, one after another, in a span of three days, he said. Chinese brothers, abandoned by family, forced to live in school for four years “The two girls had been placed in paper boxes containing their birth information. One was just a week younger than the other,” he recounted. On the wall of Yu’s living room hangs a piece of Chinese embroidery made by his third daughter. It bears Chinese characters that translate to mean “a peaceful family will prosper”. Yu’s children also bought him a golden ring on his 70th birthday to express their gratitude to him for taking them in and raising them, the report said. “What I’m most worried about are my two youngest children. They have yet to grow up,” Yu said. Although the two youngest girls’ college tuition fees would be partly subsidised by the Wenzhou authorities, it would still be a challenge for the family to provide for their daily expenses on campus, the report said. Chinese readers, moved by the report, left encouraging comments for Yu and his family online. “Not everyone has such courage [to take in so many adopted children],” one internet user wrote on Sina.com. “Good people will be repaid for their kind deeds. I wish them happiness,” another wrote.