Impoverished girl who embraces life’s good and bad admitted to top university

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/2 18:40:14

Wang Xinyi works as a part-time counselor at a tutoring agency in Baoding, Hebei Province. Photo: VCG

Scorching August is the season for Chinese high-school graduates to receive their coveted college entrance offers. When an offer from Peking University, one of China's most reputed universities, was sent to Wang Xinyi, an 18-year-old high-school graduate in Hengshui, Hebei Province, she was working as a part-time counselor at a tutoring agency in Baoding to support her family.

The girl was accepted by Peking University because of her high score in the extremely competitive Chinese National College Entrance Examination. However, Wang hit the headlines recently, not because of her excellent performance in the test, but because she "thanked poverty" in a recent article published online, which caused debate across China's social media.

"Though the poverty has narrowed my vision, hurt my self-esteem and even taken away the life of my beloved ones," she wrote in the article, "I still want to say, thank you, poverty." She suggests that the poverty and her bitter experiences of material deprivation did not only expose her to the dark side of life, but also strengthened her spirit.

Growing up poor

Wang is from a poverty-stricken family in a village in Zaoqiang county of Hebei Province. Zaoqiang county is impoverished, with an extremely low per capital income. 

With her ailing mother, grandpa, and two younger brothers, the family of six were only supported by five acres of family land and her father's income from odd jobs in cities. Her father's unstable job and meager salary always left the family caught in a financial crisis. Her mother had to carefully control their daily expenses to make ends meet.

Since primary school, Wang, as the eldest child in the family, has taken the initiative to do a lot of farm work to ease the family burden. She thanked poverty for giving her the opportunity to be close to nature in her childhood, and for giving her hope and an indomitable spirit to escape from poverty.

When receiving the offer from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Peking University, Wang was too excited to fall asleep because she said she has given more than anyone else for this moment.

Wang's grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when Wang was 8. That was the first time she "felt poverty strangling my throat, making me face the truth of life." She said the economic distress made her family feel despair for the first time. But poverty has hit her elsewhere.

She had only her school uniform to wear almost all year round. Her daily meals were monotonous cabbage, steamed bread and porridge, with eggs as a bonus after a good result in her exams, she wrote.

The bill for her family's medicine left less money for food and clothing for her and her little brother. "Relatives with older children often brought us old clothes to wear, and my mother would wash them like new clothes for us," said Wang in her article.

One of her junior high-school classmates even laughed at Wang's worn jacket and called it "old and dull." That made Wang frustrated and run back home in tears. Her mother comforted her by saying, "Leave him alone, and do as you please." Wang said her mother's optimism and determination shaped her fortitude, and encouraged her to not care about what other people thought.

The scarcity of material goods and hostile environment strengthened the bonds between her family members. "I learned that happiness is not because life is perfect, but because you can ignore the imperfections and embrace the beauty and sunshine you see," she wrote.

She thanked poverty for enhancing her faith in the power of education and knowledge. "Material scarcity often brings about one of two results: the extreme poverty of the spirit or the extreme fullness of it. I definitely chose the latter."

Flower in the desert

In the eyes of her classmates and teachers, Wang is an outgoing, optimistic and humorous girl who loves music. She enjoys telling jokes, believing that "her jokes can really help build the abdominal muscle."

In addition, she loves painting, singing, giving public speeches and reading English books. She also developed interest in current affairs and politics, as opposed to most of her peers, who are normally attracted to stories about celebrities and entertainment.

Although she majored in science in high school, she chose Chinese literature as her major out of her love for the subject. "It is important to follow firmly what you truly love," she explained.

Controversial remarks

While netizens cheered her success and were impressed by her courage in pursuing her own wishes, some argued that despite her remarks, poverty should not be thanked and praised. Many said that what is truly worthy of praise is her own efforts and determination to change her fate, not a harsh living environment and limited education resources.

Her success is believed to be very rare in rural China, where most students have little chance to break out of the cycle of poverty.

A netizen joked in a social media post, "You entered Peking University because you were from a poor family, but you could easily have been admitted to Harvard University if you were from a rich one."

"It is obviously misguided to play up the tragedy of suffering, and to portray it as a kind of blessing," a critic said on the Weibo. "[This] ignores the girl's own efforts, and covers up the fact that many people's educational rights are not yet guaranteed."

Most people understood the essence of the girl's "thanks for poverty" essay as thanking herself for being tenacious and hard-working in rewriting her own destiny under difficult living conditions.

Wang responded by confessing that the ensuing discussion had been much more heated than she had expected. But she says she will use all the attention to motive herself in the future.

She said she wishes to become a teacher in the future, and hopes to volunteer at rural schools during her vacations, because "there are a lot of kids who are worse off than me, and I can show them the world outside the mountains."

Wang also announced that she refused any donations from the enthusiastic public. "I thank you for your generosity and kindheartedness, but I do not wish that warmness to be concentrated only on me. I hope it can be delivered to someone who is more in need."

Global Times
Newspaper headline: ‘Thank you poverty’


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