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Idid not start my education until I was 17. There are simply too few chances for blind kids to get an education in China, let alone a poor country boy like me. Only about 5 percent of blind Chinese have any schooling. Still, my childhood was a happy one. I did almost all the things a country boy does, climbing trees or catching fish in the river. I even helped out in the fields, doing things like picking leaves. How? We blind people develop a good sense of touch. Ripe tobacco leaves do not have fine hairs on them.

Chen Guangcheng, blind since birth, reads a Braille book. He is determined to pursue a career as a legal advocate for the blind.

Since I was little, I have understood that we blind people will always be treated differently, and sometimes unfairly. To give you a simple example, naughty children used to hit me sometimes for no reason and run away, and then everyone would have a good laugh.

When my brother heard about the blind school in Linyi, our nearest city, my family sent me there. There were 11 students in my class, aged from 10 to 25. I learned for the first time how differently blind kids are treated from one family to another. While some were free to leave their houses on their own, others were locked up at home when their families were not around.

Apart from the usual elementary-school classes, we were trained in some basic skills, such as threading needles. This I could handle already as I had knitted nets at home to catch birds with. In a school competition, I threaded 10 needles in 50 seconds. In my last year, I attended a local art school in Linyi every Saturday to study singing. It was actually a good excuse to get out of school. Without permission, we were simply not allowed to step out of the gate.

I went to a school for the blind in Qingdao for my middle-school education. Then, in 1998, after passing a very strict exam, I became a student at Nanjing Traditional Medicine University, studying acupuncture and massage, the only university course available for blind people. I nearly had to pass up the opportunity, as my family could not come up with enough money for the tuition fees and other expenses. We had to borrow. In order to save money, I ate very little. For the whole first year, I went to bed feeling hungry every day.

Cherishing my hard-earned opportunity, I studied hard. But I have to admit that in the past one year or so, I have come to feel it is more important to get to know the real society than to gain a few high academic grades. So my academic record may look less impressive. I certainly did not waste any time, however. I went out to make friends from all walks of life and I have been helping my fellow villagers to fight their court cases. I have taught myself some legal knowledge and am now better informed than most of them.

The past month has been exciting, as it was the second month of my medical internship at a medical college in Luoyang, Henan Province. I am one step closer to the real world! This month, I was assigned to the shoulder and neck department. Under the guidance of a teacher, I treat a few dozen patients a day, mostly white-collar workers with sedentary office jobs. Massage is a very effective way of getting rid of pain and stress in the shoulders and neck.

After work, I listen to radio programs; it’s the best way to stay informed. At weekends, I venture out to get myself oriented in this new city. All the schools I have been to tried to shut us students up inside to live an isolated life, as the authorities worry we might get ourselves hurt or something. I never worry about getting lost. I can normally tell direction by feeling the roads — I can’t explain exactly how. If worse comes to worst, I can always take a taxi back.

After eight more months internship, I will finally enter the real world. By then, I will have no more real restrictions. There are so many places I want to go and so many things I want to do. I very much hope to study law, although there are few law books available for the blind. My dream is to set up a group, a sort of NGO, to provide legal help to blind people when they need it, since the blind experience discrimination so often. Others may expect me to follow the narrow path of a blind masseur, but I don’t want to limit myself. I may be blind, but the world before me is not totally dark.

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