40-year of reform and opening up brings increased well-being
Written by Chen Ziqi; narrated by Ken Smith
The year of 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up since 1978. To celebrate this special year, a rice paddy has been grown by different types of rice in the Yuhang District in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang province. The bird’s eye view of this special deigned paddy shows “1978-2018, 40 years of reform and opening up”. [Photo: from VCG, taken on July 8, 2018]
Over the past 40 years of reform and opening up, the world has witnessed China's vast economic growth and development and along with it, an immense improvement in Chinese people's living standards and welfare.
One person who provides testament to this is Tang Chunhong, a senior and restaurant owner in Zhejiang province. Health problems mean Tang has difficulty in walking, but he has never been defeated by his weaknesses.
Instead, his determination has enabled him to overcome everything that would have seemed impossible, and this has been helped by the country's policy.
Tang Chunhong was born in Changxing in Zhejiang province. At age three, he was diagnosed of polio and then suffered from muscle atrophy. Unfortunately, it left him lame. But Tang never surrenders to life. He named himself "Tang Baxian". "Tang" is his surname, and "Baxian" refers to the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology. He explains why he named himself with such a nickname.
"When late Chinese leader Deng Xiaopeng launched the economic reforms in 1978, he often mentioned two Chinese proverbs to motivate the public: 'it doesn't matter if a cat is white or black. As long as it catches rats, it's a good cat', and 'the Eight Immortals cross the river, each reveals its divine power'. This inspired me,” Tang Chunhong says, “Physical disability should not stop me from becoming an independent man. And that's why I call myself 'Tang Baxian'. The Iron Crutch Li was one of the Eight Immortals. His injured legs did not limit his strength and power. He was still as great as other immortals and helped save the world. He has been my life-long role model."
Tang has had to make far more efforts than his peers to be independent. Over the past 40 years, Tang has had various jobs, such as a cobbler, herdsman and even the owner of a fishery. He came up against many challenges and never gave up. Tang recalls the worst failure he's had.
"The most difficult time was when I ran a three-hectare fish pond to support my family. My children were all at school age then. Unfortunately, one severe flood completely destroyed my business. The facilities were damaged and all my fish and ducks went missing. I lost several thousand yuan. It was quite a fortune 40 years ago," according to Tang.
Tang Chunhong didn't let the incident ruin him and went into a completely new venture—selling steamed stuffed buns. Because of what the flood had cost him, he didn't have enough savings to rent a storefront, nor could he buy any bakery equipment. So he started as a street vendor. He loaded a cart with all the necessities, the flour, fillings, kitchen supplies and tables and benches for customers. Every day, he would pull this cart and travel some distance away to an open market.
Fortunately, Tang's work didn't let him down. His steamed stuffed buns were delicious and affordable, so they gained popularity. A few years later, he managed to get a business license and opened his first restaurant. Tang Yuangang is Tang Chunhong's youngest son. He says his father is hard-working and very persistent. He recalls his father's hands got injured, but still insisted on providing services to his customers.
"One morning, my dad finished cooking breakfast and went to put porridge on the table. On his way, he slipped and fell over. His hands were burned by the boiling porridge and he got several blisters. After he came back from hospital, my sisters and I persuaded him to take some time off at home. He refused. The next day, he got up at 2 am as usual. He said his customers would expect his buns for their breakfast. He couldn't disappoint them," Tang Yuangang says.
Tang has gone on to even greater success, opening a couple of branches across the region. He also teaches his specialty to youngsters.
"On weekdays and Saturdays, we take 8000 yuan a day and 10,000 yuan on Sundays. Now I have three stores. My apprentices have their own shops as well. Some of them have opened restaurants outside Zhejiang province," Tang Chunhong says.
Tang Chunhong says he's very grateful for what he's achieved. He still vividly remembers all the challenges from the past and understands what it's like to feel helpless. This has made him determined to try his best to help people.
"I heard of a poor child being raised by his grandparents because his parents had passed away. Their life was tough because they didn't have a stable income. So I provided this child with financial support, like daily expenditure and tuition fees," Tang Chunhong says.
With the help and care from Tang, the child grew up to become a photographer. He's just settled down and got married.
Tang Chunhong says he volunteers to help people and doesn't expect payback. He simply cannot ignore someone who is suffering.
"I've had some difficult times in my life, so I know the feeling. I can't leave people struggling and do nothing. I want to alleviate their pain or burden if that is within my capabilities. I believe helping others is a good spirit, and it helps build a harmonious society," Tang Chunhong says.
Tang Chunhong also believes that he can help people out of desperation by teaching them useful skills, and that's why he teaches his life-long specialty to youngsters. He never holds back on his recipe, experiences and methods of operating a business. Fan Donghai is one of his apprentices. He says his shifu changed his life.
"I started learning how to make buns from shifu Tang in early 2012. He was very nice to me. I asked him if I could learn the craft from him, and he agreed without a second thought. He provided me with accommodation and three meals a day and didn't charge me any fees,” Fan Donghai says, “Many of his apprentices have their own restaurants now. If he knows we need any help, he immediately helps us without hesitation. My language is plain and can't describe how kind my shifu is. I will always be grateful for what he has done for me."
Tang Chunhong says his children all have decent jobs and lovely families, and he doesn't have any regrets. Tang is just one example of a Chinese person that has improved their living standards in the past 40 years of China's reform and opening up. He will assuredly be just one of many.