Grand designs of the Chinese 20-year-old who is building his dream future brick-by-brick
A college student hailed as the world’s champion bricklayer was feted on his return to China and is now determined to become a true master of his trade
Twenty-year-old Liang Zhibin may not be rich or studying at one of the country’s top universities, but his college classmates idolise him like they would a pop star.
The young man is, after all, already a world champion. Liang was the first Chinese to win the gold medal in bricklaying at The WorldSkills Competition – an international test of vocational skills for young people held every two years – in Abu Dhabi in October last year.
He beat his competitors by completing three delicately constructed walls of various designs, including the national emblem of the United Arab Emirates, within 22 hours.
In a society where the ancient Chinese philosophy that academic study is more valuable than anything else still prevails, most people at his age see their path to success as running through the fiercely competitive college entrance exam.
But Liang, who started studying engineering and construction in 2014, sees his future in the construction trade.
He attends the Guangzhou Architecture and Engineering Vocational School in Guangdong province.
“You can become a master by studying in a vocational school. It’s not always going to university and obtaining a doctoral degree,” said Liang, who has already started passing on his craft to younger students.
“Many young people would think that it’s too tiring to do such a job. But to me it’s boring to sit in an office for work. I’d rather learn a certain skill and travel around [to make a living],” said Liang.
Liang said he developed his prowess through years of practice.
After studying for more than a year at the Guangzhou college he was selected as one of 10 candidates to represent China in the bricklaying competition at the WorldSkills Competition and trained at the Changsha Building Engineering School for nearly two years.
He defeated the other nine and was finally chosen to take part in the event – which saw more than a 1,300 competitors from 79 different countries and territories testing their skills in fields ranging from construction work to fashion and IT.
In the bricklaying contest, competitors weren’t just judged by the speed at which they built their walls but also on the precision of their work, and would be penalised for the slightest deviation in its angle.
“The meaning of doing all this lies in craftsmanship. You just don’t give up on any detail,” said Liang, one of 15 Chinese gold medal winners at the Abu Dubai contest.
On his return he was feted by his classmates, and even featured on the prime-time evening news.
“It never occurred to me that I would arouse so much attention. My teachers and schoolmates congratulated me, the media chased me for interviews,” said Liang.
Born and raised in Wuchuan, in the southern province of Guangdong, a place known as the “town of construction”, Liang said he had become interested in building work when he was a little boy.
“My family had a new home built when I was in primary school. I liked watching the workers building the house. I would stay beside the bricklayers and play with the bricks and cement,” he said.
With a population of over 1.1 million, Wuchuan is known for the large number of construction workers and contractors it sends out across China.
It is also the county with the biggest number of millionaires in the country.
“Almost all the young people in my village have left to work in construction sites,” said Liang.
They are mostly working in Hainan, the southern island famous for tourism, and Guangzhou one of the biggest and most prosperous cities in the province, he said.
His dream is to be a contractor, like his relatives and fellow villagers, but instead of just making a lot of money by joining the country’s urban boom, he hopes he will be able to use his skills to repair historic buildings and build artfully designed low rises.
“I want to prove the old saying, ‘one can become the master of his trade provided he is diligent and tries hard’,” he said.