Global Politics

Hard life for disabled in China

(Introduce us to the first person you spoke with, a musician.) Yes, this is a man who has done well for himself, a blind folk singer who's quite popular in Beijing at the moment. He lost his sight as a child, but still went to school and college, and he hoped to get a job that would put his mind to work. He says at his first job, he wasn't really given work, but just a modest pension, because of his blindness and they told me to stay home. He said he felt worthless. He eventually took up the guitar and started writing his own songs. He says Chinese attitudes towards the disabled are improving, and one person who can be thanked for that is the wheelchair bound son of a former Chinese leader. He broke his back and was paralyzed after falling out�or being pushed out�of a fourth floor window in the midst of being tortured by Red Guard soldiers in the 1960s. he's since founded the Disabled Persons Federation and worked to encourage compassion in a society that has no tradition of helping the less fortunate. In one center run by the DPF we walk past a classroom where mentally challenged kids are learning about the Olympics, and then we walk past some rec rooms. But the way all this is set up suggests China still has a way to go before the disabled can be integrated into normal society. For one, this center is for anyone with a disability�the blind, autistic children, mentally challenged, etc. the job center here is mostly for low skilled jobs. An exception is this wheelchair bound woman, who teaches English over the internet. She says these Olympics have made her more optimistic, both because she was China's sole wheelchair bound torch bearer and because she's seen two disabled athletes hold their own in the competition. Even now she says there's always room for improvement.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

(Now one of the disabled people you focused on was the founder of the DPF in China. he has a tangential link to another story coming out of China today.) The link is that Hua Guofeng died today at 87 and he was the leader who succeeded Mao. The disabled man's father is the man who pushed Hua Guofeng aside a couple of years after taking power. He was the one who was a pragmatist and opened up the economy. (If Hua Guofeng had not been taken out of power, would China be where it is today?) Hua Guofeng arrested the Gang of Four, the people who were actively leading the Cultural Revolution. If he hadn't, things would've been messier. But then he didn't have the vision to move further. He wanted to abide by Mao's instructions and that was wide open because Mao was all over the place. (So how are the media portraying the death of this man?) They're praising him, saying he was an outstanding Community Party member, and this is to be expected from the Chinese media.

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