ARTS / CULTURE & LEISURE
Chinese couple set example for others with charity kitchen
Kindling the fire of human kindness
Published: Nov 07, 2021 06:08 PM
Above: Wan Zuocheng and Xiong Gengxiang (right)
The relatives of patients at a nearby cancer hospital cook food at an open-air kitchen in an alleyway in Nanchang, East China's Jiangxi Province on August 21, 2020. Photos: IC

The relatives of patients at a nearby cancer hospital cook food at an open-air kitchen in an alleyway in Nanchang, East China's Jiangxi Province on August 21, 2020.  Photo: IC

Above: Wan Zuocheng and Xiong Gengxiang (right)
The relatives of patients at a nearby cancer hospital cook food at an open-air kitchen in an alleyway in Nanchang, East China's Jiangxi Province on August 21, 2020. Photos: IC

Above: Wan Zuocheng and Xiong Gengxiang (right) Photo: IC



At noon every day, an open-air kitchen in an alleyway in Nanchang, East China's Jiangxi Province, is always swamped with people. The fires have long been prepared in dozens of little stoves. The fumes from heated oil rise into the air, mingling with a cacophony of chopping, frying and the clanging of pots and pans.  

The people gathered here are the relatives of patients at a nearby cancer hospital. Many feel helpless in the face of their loved ones' health struggles, but they can at least cook them some familiar, comforting food. Utensils and sauces are provided for free in the kitchen, while the use of a stove costs just one yuan (16 cents) per dish, much cheaper than restaurant takeaways. 

Wan Zuocheng and Xiong Gengxiang, a couple in their 60s, started the charity kitchen back early in the 2000s following an encounter with the relatives of a patient.

The couple had been running a breakfast stall by the hospital, selling fried dough sticks. One morning, a family stopped at the stall and begged to use what remained of the fire in the stove to cook something for their cancer-stricken child. Wan and Xiong readily agreed, and soon realized how meaningful something as ordinary as a cooking stove could be to the family of a patient.

Eighteen years into their endeavor, the couple has been nominated as national ethical role models. They are among 60-odd candidates for the government award for their acts of helping others, along with those nominated for bravery, honesty, dedication and filial piety.

Such values have been an essential underpinning of Chinese society for millennia. Indeed, the unselfish efforts of Wan and Xiong, and the award they are being nominated, are an important reminder of this great national tradition.

The ethos of selfless service has been prominent in various Chinese philosophical schools stretching back at least to the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC). 

In the philosophy of Mohism, for example, it is spoken of as indiscriminate and unconditional love, while Taoism describes it as the highest good, benefiting myriad creatures without contending to them. Last but not least, there is the benevolence of Confucianism.

Confucius said that a man who gives extensively to the common people and brings help to the multitude would best be described as a "sage." In an ideal world, according to the Confucian classic Liji - or The Book of Rites - men do not regard as parents only their own parents, nor do they treat as children only their own children. Instead, they would make sure that widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely, as well as the sick and the disabled, are all well cared for.

Such teachings have nurtured and shaped the Chinese people in a great way over the centuries, with some fine examples going down in history.

Li Shiqian, a country gentleman in the 6th century, pursued the path of benevolence throughout his entire life. He once distributed tons of grain to feed fellow villagers during a famine year. When famine recurred the next year, villagers went to Li to say sorry for not being able to repay the grain. Li provided them with a nice meal and set all the IOUs on fire.

"The debt has now been cleared," said Li. 

"Please do let go of the past."

A bumper year came eventually. People thronged to return the grain, only to be turned down again. When Li died at the age of 66, local people gathered in tens of thousands to mourn his passing.

Around 1,300 years later, another man moved the nation with his generosity and altruism. Lei Feng, probably the most famous soldier in China, devoted almost all of his spare time and money to helping others. He died at the young age of 22 in 1962 when helping a fellow soldier direct a truck.

Lei Feng was deeply committed to the cause of communism, and to helping his fellow citizens with life's struggles. He wrote in his diary: "A communist should consider himself the servant of the people. He is supposed to take the difficulties of others as his own difficulties, and others' happiness as his own too."

As for Wan and Xiong, it is clear that their actions come from the heart, with public recognition way down their list of priorities.

Earlier in 2021, they turned down an opportunity to collect a charity prize in Beijing. 

"The patients need us," they said.  


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