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The Long Road to Equality:

China’s Disabled Make Giant Strides

By staff reporter XING WEN 


Led by her guide dog Lucky, Ping Yali carries the torch at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Paralympics.

    SUFFERING from congenital cataracts, Ping Yali never had a chance to see the world. While still a little girl, she was enrolled in a school for the visually impaired. There, her talent as a sprinter impressed her PE teacher, and that teacher helped her launch her sporting career.

    Whenever talking about China's first Olympic medalist, people usually think of Xu Haifeng, who won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. However, few people know that at the 1984 Games, the Paralympics were held prior to the Olympics. And it was at the 1984 Paralympics that Ping Yali won gold in the long jump. So in a sense, she was China's first Olympic gold medalist.

    When Ping began practicing sport, the cause of the disabled in China was still in its infancy. Most disabled athletes, including Ping, made use of their leisure time after work and study to receive training in sports schools. Training fees and facilities were limited. "We would have liked to enjoy the same training opportunities as able-bodied people, but people were afraid that our training would interfere with theirs. That was why our training was always scheduled while they were having dinner or taking a rest," Ping recalls.

    However, Ping always kept the dream of sporting success alive in her heart, and thanks to the patience of her coach, she finally overcame extraordinary difficulties to stand victorious on the podium. Though she could not see the national flag rising in the venue, Ping felt the honor and the excitement around her by listening to China's stirring anthem. Sadly, no domestic journalist attended that Paralympics, and Ping had no photos of her standing on the podium.

    Returning to China to a hero's welcome, Ping was rewarded with RMB 300, a tidy sum at the time. In subsequent years, Ping won a string of medals at such competitions as the National Games for the Disabled, and the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled. After retiring from sports, she lived with less public scrutiny. She worked in a factory, got married and gave birth to a son. However, her life was not always easy. She lost her job because the factory's business was down. And her marriage came to an end. Her son also inherited her eye condition, and had trouble seeing. Life could not seem to get much worse.

    By law, Ping is entitled to an allowance of RMB 300 per month. "I felt bad and embarrassed to receive the money. After all, I was the Paralympics champion." Although the allowance covered the basic needs of mother and son, Ping never gave in to such a life, because she believed she could do well at anything. "I am an athlete. I had competed with many rivals, and I won. To me, life is just like the Olympic Games. I could overcome any difficulty by myself and become a Paralympian in daily life as well."

    Ping decided to support the family on her own. She had picked up some massage skills at school, and so she decided to open her own massage center at her home in Beijing. Luckily for her, it was a period in which the cause of the disabled made a great deal of headway in China. The social welfare system for people with disabilities had been further improved, and Ping said she benefited from a series of preferential policies for the disabled.

    She also felt a shift in social attitudes while running her business. Staff at the local residents' committee volunteered to do publicity work for her massage center, and the residents living in her community often visited her center and enjoyed the service there. In addition, Ping was supported by a fund launched especially for disabled people wishing to start their own businesses. Several years later, her business is now doing quite well, and she plans to set up a third chain shop.

    In the 24 years since 1984, Ping's experience has mirrored the development of the cause of the disabled in China. The lives of China's disabled have improved dramatically. Society has come to understand that certain people have special needs, and pay more attention to the welfare of the disabled. And with each passing year, more and more disabled people have begun to enjoy equal participation with the able-bodied in society.

    On a wall in Ping's massage center, a banner reads: "Self-respect, self-support and striving to be stronger." The Beijing Paralympics have boosted the chance for China's disabled to transcend their difficulties and better integrate into society. While receiving increasing respect and care from those around them, they are eager to display their abilities to the fullest and help others in turn, like Ping, who opens new massage centers in order to provide more job opportunities for the visually impaired.

    Undoubtedly, the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing is a milestone for the development of the cause of the disabled in China. It offers a perfect opportunity for able-bodied people to understand the disabled. For Ping, the many regrets that followed her triumph in 1984 were wiped away in a single stroke when she participated in the torch relay at the Beijing Paralympics opening ceremony with the help of her guide dog Lucky.

    The moment was captured by media from around the world, and the images left an undying impression on the minds of millions. The indomitable spirit of the older generation of disabled athletes and the optimistic attitude of the new generation have moved everyone. Ping Yali, for her part, firmly believes that following the 2008 Paralympics, life for the disabled will get even better. There are 83 million disabled people in China. Where once they had to endure in silence, they are now united in saying: "We share the same world with you, we want to enjoy an equal life with you!"


VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us