Man records dis­abled girl’s life

Af­ter chance meet­ing 14 years ago, pair’s lives have be­come in­ter­twined

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By WENXINZHENG in Chang­sha and HOULIQIANG in Bei­jing Con­tact the writers at houliqiang@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

More than a decade af­ter they first met on Mount Bami-an­shan in west­ern Hu­nan prov­ince, a photographer from Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, has kept his prom­ise of find­ing fund­ing for a young woman whose arms were am­pu­tated as a child.

Chen Yongheng, 63, has taken about 5,000 pho­tos of Xiang Lip­ing, who he first en­coun­tered when she was age 13 in De­cem­ber 2002.

She ap­peared on the crest of a hill­side as he was com­ing down the moun­tain, fol­lowed by two other skinny look­ing chil­dren, car­ry­ing large bun­dles of straw on their backs.

In­trigued by the sight, Chen raised his cam­era to take a pic­ture of the three — but it was then that he no­ticed the sleeves of the girl in red blow­ing in the breeze.

He ap­proached and touched one of the girl’s sleeves, only to dis­cover there were no arms inside. Af­ter re­turn­ing home and re­view­ing his pho­to­graphs, Chen de­cided he had to find the girl again.

Within months he was head­ing back to Hu­nan, which at that time in­volved a 12-hour train jour­ney to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Chang­sha, fol­lowed by a four-hour bus ride to Jishou city, where he stayed overnight be­fore tak­ing a ser­vice bus to the town of Liye and hir­ing a trac­tor to take him 20 km up the moun­tain.

Chen fi­nally found the girl, whose name he then dis­cov­ered was Xiang Lip­ing. He learned that she had touched an ex­posed elec­tri­cal wire age 4 and had to have both her arms am­pu­tated due to the severe in­juries she suf­fered.

Pay­ing for her treat­ment had left Xiang’s fam­ily in debt, forc­ing both her par­ents to leave to work in Guang­dong — they have only re­turned home once or twice since. “She never talked about her par­ents, be­cause she knew al­most noth­ing about them,” Chen said.

It was then that an idea oc­curred to him — sub­mit his pic­tures of Xiang to the World Press Photo Con­test, which of­fers a 10,000 euro ($11,080) top prize, cour­tesy of organizers the World Press Photo Foun­da­tion head­quar­tered in the Nether­lands.

From 2003 to 2008, Chen vis­ited the fam­ily and took pho­tos of Xiang up to three times a year. He en­tered the con­test twice, but both times he failed to win the top prize.

Xiang and her fam­ily grad­u­ally be­came in­dif­fer­ent to Chen, doubt­ing his mo­ti­va­tion.

Chen didn’t visit Xiang at all from 2009 to 2011.

Though Chen vis­ited Xiang twice more in 2012 and tried one again to win the World Press Photo Con­test in 2013, his ef­forts came to naught.

That was un­til De­cem­ber last year, when his pic­tures caught the at­ten­tion of jour­nal­ists at a photo ex­hi­bi­tion.

Ten­cent, one of China’s largest in­ter­net com­pa­nies, of­fered to pub­lish the pho­tos.

To in­clude the lat­est pic­tures of Xiang, Chen vis­ited her in Guang­dong, where she is now mar­ried with a child.

Af­ter the pho­tos were pub­lished on­line in June, they­were viewed more than 100 mil­lion times and at­tracted more than 80,000 com­ments. With the sup­port of the China So­cial As­sis­tance Foun­da­tion, more than 300,000 yuan ($45,000) was do­nated to Xiang.

It was hoped that the­money could be used to make Xiang a pair of ar­ti­fi­cial arms, but doc­tors have de­ter­mined that this is im­prac­ti­ca­ble given her body con­di­tion.

How­ever, she can now re­ceive 50,000 yuan a year from the foun­da­tion. “She now has more con­fi­dence and told me over phone that she wants to open an on­line store,” Chen said.

PHO­TOS BY CHEN YONGHENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Xiang Lip­ing plays with her child at her home in Shan­tou, Guang­dong prov­ince.

Photographer Chen Yongheng

Top: Xiang Lip­ing (right) and her two younger broth­ers carry bun­dles of straw home in Novem­ber, 2002. Above: With­out arms, Xiang uses her feet to do needle­work.

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