The world told her she should turn her back on him. The boy’s own father told her the child would not be worth the effort. But mother, Zou Hongyan, did not listen to their hateful assumptions. She raised young Ding Ding with passion, effort, and care, and today he is attending Harvard University.
Ding’s birth in Hubei province was a dangerous one. Left without oxygen for a prolonged period of time, he was burdened with the debilitating illness, cerebral palsy. The doctor’s sage advice to Zou Hongyan? They thought she should abandon him, as he would be doomed to decreased physical efficiency and disappointing intellect. In a country with a one-child policy, a healthy son is valued above all else.
Ding’s father wanted to follow the advice of the doctors. He saw the baby as a waste of time, energy, and money that would only bring misfortune on the family. It wasn’t long before the couple divorced with the man walking away from his wife and his son.
Zou wasted no time. She took up as many jobs as she could to pay for Ding’s medical expenses and needs, juggling a full time job at a local college with several part time jobs. Any other time she had, she spent on the betterment of her child. She played games and exercises that would stimulate his mind. She trained in massage to properly alleviate his rigid muscles.
Zou also pushed Ding to succeed when others thought it would be easier to let him give up. Learning to use chopsticks was a grueling task for both him and Zou by proxy, but she pushed him to grasp it, refusing to make excuses for him.
For Zou, it wasn’t just important for Ding to exist or assimilate—she wanted him to succeed to the best of his abilities. “I didn’t want him to feel ashamed about this physical problems,” she stated. “Because he had inferior abilities in many areas, I was quite strict on him to work hard to catch up where he had difficulties.”
By age 23, Ding was a college graduate from Peking University’s Environmental Science and Engineering School. Later, he enrolled in law school, and at 29, he currently attends Harvard University.
Sadly, Ding’s mother didn’t accompany her son to Cambridge and he speaks of often missing her, citing her as his “spiritual mentor.” Zou reminisces fondly on what she calls her “close friendship with her son.”
According to Ding “I never dared to dream of applying to Harvard. It was my mother who never stopped encouraging me to give it a try. Whenever I had any doubts, she would guide me forward.”
All in all, nobody can doubt the sacrifices Zou made and the love she felt for her son in being his mentor, his teacher, and his champion. After all, she proved that a mother’s love is stronger than any bodily function or financial advantage.