Ma Fuxing’s life journey was off to a rough start after he lost both hands in an accident when he was four months old, but the journey has inspired generations of children in a remote Chinese village.
For nearly 40 years, Ma has been teaching at the elementary school in Xiamaer village in northwest China’s Qinghai Province. Now close to 60 years old, he has no plans to retire.
“For some families, I have taught all three generations,” said Ma, who is now the school headmaster. “I can still carry on teaching, all I want is to give the children a good education so that someday they can leave the mountains for a better future.”
Ma was born in Xiamaer village in 1959, a time when China was fighting rampant illiteracy. In 1949, the illiteracy rate in the country was 80 percent. The central government launched several campaigns against illiteracy in the following decade.
For Ma, who lost both hands, the simplest acts of learning proved challenging. “It took me a long time to learn how to write, turn pages and put on clothes,” Ma recalled.
He tried using his foot to write but later found using his forearms was easier. He practiced writing on the ground with twigs when there was no paper and pens around. By fourth grade, he finally learned to write as well as his classmates.
Despite his disabilities, Ma had been a keen learner and ranked among the top in his class. When he graduated from high school, the local village chief offered him a job as a teacher in the village school, and he took it.
Ma still remembered his first class in 1981. “As I entered the classroom, children stopped talking, and stared at my arms,” Ma said. “Instead of explaining anything, I picked up a piece of chalk, wrote my name on the blackboard, and introduced myself.”
Back then, many parents in the mountain village were reluctant to send their children to school due to the cost, and some doubted Ma’s ability to teach because of his disabilities.
The school lost many students, Ma recalled, and at the worst time, the semester could not start as there were too few students, so he went door to door in order to change the parents’ minds.
“It was a tough time,” he said. In the beginning, people shunned him due to his frequent visits, some had bad attitudes, and some even would not let him in. Ma persisted, and gradually, parents were touched by his spirit.
The enrollment rate gradually increased. Today, all school-age children in the village are attending schools. Statistics from China’s Ministry of Education showed that in 2018, the enrollment rate of primary schools reached 99.95 percent.
Ma still wants to do more. His school currently offers first- and second-grade education to the children, who will have to go to another school over a dozen kilometers away for further education.
Ma plans to suggest the local government build another school that offers both primary and middle school education so that students do not have to get up very early for school and return home late.
“I have been a teacher for nearly 40 years. After such a long time, many students have become like children to me,” Ma said. “I want the best for them.”