Aerial photo taken on July 17, 2020 shows ancient dwelling compound Honglincuo in Xinhu Village, Bandong Township of Minqing County in east China's Fujian Province. (Xinhua/Wei Peiquan)
Lost both arms in an accident at the age of nine; failed twice in the national college entrance exam and the result of the third try was still up in the air -- Huang Daoliang recalled the time in his younger age as the darkest period in life.
Now 52, Huang is able to look back with satisfaction at what followed: a place at college and a career that has made good use of his skills and enthusiasm. He says he owes a great debt of thanks to the college principal who decided to enroll him at the time.
The principal who gave him "a new lease of life" was Xi Jinping.
Born in 1970 in the county of Minqing, east China's Fujian Province, Huang had both of his arms amputated after he accidentally touched a high-voltage wire. He stayed in hospital for over half a year, and after returning home, he felt everything had changed.
"All the joy had disappeared along with my arms," he recalled.
Huang went on to senior middle school, and officials at a local welfare institution offered him a job after graduation.
"However, deep in my heart, I still cherished a dream," he said. "I wanted to go to college and continue my studies."
He decided to carry on at school, writing with his feet, a practice that required him to go barefoot. Without shoes or socks, the winters were difficult. His feet turned "as red as carrots" in the cold air.
He took the college entrance exam in 1988 and 1989 but failed to gain admission on both occasions. Although Huang got decent scores in the exams, he was rejected due to his physical limitations. At that time, no universities or colleges enrolled students without arms.
Huang tried for a third time in 1990, but his past failures hung over him like a dark cloud. What he didn't know was that better times were just around the corner.
In that year, Xi took up the position of Communist Party of China (CPC) chief of the city of Fuzhou, Fujian's capital, as well as principal of Minjiang Polytechnic College (now known as Minjiang University). On learning of Huang's story, Xi decided to admit Huang on the basis of exceptional enrollment.
Huang thus became the first "armless student" in his college, and in the province.
Huang joined the CPC during the college years, and after graduation he became a staff member at the local disabled persons' federation in Minqing, aiming to help more people with disabilities embrace their "rebirth."
Over the years, Xi, as the country's top leader, has given "particular care and attention" to disabled people. He has pointed out that people with disabilities are equal members of the community as a whole, and has pushed for society-wide efforts to support them.
In 2016, during a visit to a paraplegic rehabilitation center in Tangshan, north China's Hebei Province, Xi talked with residents, saying, "If people with a sound physical condition can have a brilliant life, people with disabilities can do likewise."
During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), more than 60,000 students with disabilities were enrolled in higher-education institutions. In 2020, a total of 8.62 million people with disabilities were employed across the country. The government subsidizes over 400,000 handicapped people's vocational training annually.
Several years after his graduation, Huang met Xi at a local meeting to commend role models for disabled people and those who have made outstanding contributions in helping the disabled.
"I wanted to tell him in person of my gratitude for the college admission," Huang said. However, he was too shy to express his feelings.
"I decided instead to keep that thankfulness deep in my mind, and use it to drive the sense of responsibility in my work, and my devotion to the cause of helping disabled people," he said.