Zeng Jinyan: From Change itself

The following is a translation from Zeng Jinyan’s blog of today. Corrections are welcome. It refers to a story which Kou Yanding (寇延丁), a Chinese documentarian and freelance writer from Shandong province, published in 2007. Ms Kou’s “From Change itself” describes both Zeng Jinyan’s childhood and her work as a volunteer later. The author is known for promoting the works of artists with disabilities. I’d like to translate all of the story (which starts after Ms Zeng’s actual blog entry), and not only some paragraphs, but I might leave that to more experienced translators.

Today, I suddenly found a book information about NGO people – Everything starts from Change itself, by Kou Yanding (寇延丁), although the year of publication was 2007. (For security reasons, I haven’t linked there.) It includes a section about me – the way I was before 2007. Looking at it again now, I’m feeling ashamed. Weren’t these small things becoming glorified through written records? Also, back then, the notion of volunteers still didn’t exist.  Zeng Jinyan within the text is just a name, and the things she mentions doing were achieved by many people working together. There is no team of volunteers, no completed work, and as for Zeng Jinyan, Li Jinyan, Wang Jinya*), they aren’t that important. There were many volunteers more outstanding than me who are still working in obscurity.

Instantly, I don’t know what to say. Real life is a bigger drama than the stage. When I became acquainted with Hu Jia that year, he was just a young volunteer who frequently went to the countryside, and I was an unexperienced university student. Now he is in prison, and whereever I go, it leads to puzzling trouble.

I would like to go back to life as it used to be, but there is no return. It doesn’t tolerate you to be an honest person. But the evil of the system can’t stop you from doing some good.

I’m telling myself: maintain your faith and hope.

*) apparently no referral to the names of existing people.

Excerpts from the chapter published by Kou Yanding in 2007:

Zeng Jinyan was born in Fujian province, in a small remote mountain village, in October 1983. She entered junior high school in 1995, became class representative, and she often walked to a home for the elderly with her classmates, about an hour away. They each adopted one grandfather or grandmother, accompanied them when they went for a walk, had chats with them, sat with them in the sun and helped with cleaning the place. They were all still children, and they couldn’t do a real lot, but they brought the old people great happiness. The elderly awaited the weekends like a holiday, they awaited the kids. At the beginning, Zeng Jinyan had no explanation for their excitement: “I wondered, how could they wait that much for children who was neither related nor acquainted. Only after growing up, I understood that living alone and helplessly, every bit of help and visiting from outside brought them such great happiness.” A bit of well-intentioned action brought about such happiness. It gave the children a sense of accomplishment, it encouraged them to continue. Going to the home for the elderly on weekends became a tradition for the class.

Zeng Jinyan had only been five years old when she had came to the place for the first time. An aunt who worked there took her along. The elderly had nothing to do. The most important thing every day for them was to wait for the meals, and so the arrival of little Zeng Jinyan caught everyone’s attention. Even in the evenings, when she cried because she wasn’t used to be without her parents, the elderly didn’t accuse her of breaking the silence but came together and looked what they could do to help her. Maybe this was a cause for Zeng Jinyan to do voluntary work here later on.

To help others was something she had learned from her father first. Her father had been best of his class but had no opportunity to attend high school, but he didn’t blame it on others. When she was a small child, her family’s house was next to the motorway, the countryside had no street lighting, so her father extended a power cable from his home and put out a light bulb himself, keeping it lit through the night, and although it added a lot to the family’s electricity bill, he kept saying that with so many people passing through, someone might drop headlong in the dark otherwise.


After taking the high school exams, Zeng Jinyan entered the People’s University of China (中国人民大学) and left for Beijing. After a few days, she entered the university’s branch of the Red Cross and started working at the health department. To do voluntary service had become a natural thing to do for her.

During winter vacation, she came back to the home for the elderly who held her hands, asked her how she was doing, told stories about her when she was a child, and even remembered why she had cried more than a decade earlier. She had done nothing for them  after leaving home half a year before, but the elderly still missed her, were concerned about her, and Zeng Jinyan felt warm and at peace in her heart. Just like [her father’s] lamp at the roadside hadn’t only given to others, all good intentions are mutual, and don’t only lighten other people’s way, but also give warmth to yourself.


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