Despite facing adversity, this mother helped her son achieve his dreams.
When Zou Hongyan, a woman living in central China, gave birth to her son in 1988, she couldn’t possibly foresee the tragedies and trials that lay ahead of them. Due to birth complications in which her son, Ding Ding, was nearly suffocated to death, he developed cerebral palsy because the lack of oxygen resulted in trauma to the brain. At the time, the idea of raising a child with severe disabilities was daunting and often looked down upon in the culture; such children were and still are considered burdens, and Zou’s doctors and even her husband encouraged her to give up Ding so as not to complicate their lives.
“Let’s not have this child. He will be a burden to us all our lives,” her husband said, according to Zou.
Zou, as many mothers would, absolutely refused to give up Ding, and this resulted in her swift divorce from her husband. With a child that needed extreme rehabilitation and no partner to help with an income, Zou took three jobs in order to support herself and her son. Her jobs included full-time positions at a local college and part-time jobs selling insurance and protocol training.
Despite facing adversity, Zou remained devoted to her son, who had limited control over motor functions and was deemed to have “low intelligence.” Her fight to give him a normal childhood and encourage him to work as hard as possible to prove everyone wrong was often difficult at best, as Zou and Ding encountered people who constantly doubted them and expected the worst from Ding.
“I didn’t want him to feel ashamed about this physical problems,” she said. “Because he had inferior abilities in many areas, I was quite strict on him to work hard to catch up where he had difficulties.”
Whether it was teaching Ding how to walk through rehabilitation, teaching him how to use chopsticks because they are central to the Chinese way of life, or playing intelligence games or exercises with him, Zou was always working just as hard as Ding was.
Her hard work paid off when he was accepted and graduated from Peking University’s school of engineering in 2011. He then enrolled for a second degree program at the college’s international law school and, after studying and working for two years, was accepted to Harvard Law School in 2016 at the age of 29.
“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,” Ding told Xinhua, a Chinese news agency.
Though Ding knew it would be difficult to live so far away from his mother, both mom and son were exalted at the news of his acceptance and Ding began school at the prestigious Ivy League school in the fall. The school offered to pay for 75 percent of his tuition, which is steep and well over $60,000, but his mother agreed to pay for the difference since Ding is still financially dependent on her.
Ding calls his mother his “spiritual mentor” after she spent so many years physically and mentally helping him develop into the man he is today. Zou says the two have a “close friendship,” which is so endearing because of the formality often experienced between parents and children. Friendship and mentorship are just one of the many outcomes of this dedicated mother’s love, whose son will surely continue to do amazing things in spite of his disabilities.