Sun, Mar 19, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Crawling to school

Born with deformed legs to a poor family, Cheng Feng-hsi overcame all odds to earn an education, and his autobiography was one of the most widely read books in the 1970s and 1980s

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

From the book, it appears that people back then would ridicule or insult a handicapped person at any chance they had — from teachers to neighbors to even Cheng’s own brothers. There was no subtlety, and everything was said straight to his face.

GAINING FAME

The first version of Ship in a Stormy Sea was made public after it won honorable mention in an essay contest during Cheng’s second year in high school. It garnered him many letters of encouragement from strangers and earned him the praise of his classmates.

The attention continued to increase, and his plight was published in an article in China Daily News (中華日報), titled Born deformed, a person challenges fate. Support poured in to fund his college education, and a doctor from Taipei even visited him and offered to give him prosthetic legs at no cost.

Cheng still struggled with his tuition and daily expenses — but he was no longer mocked, and even found a girlfriend. After college, he got married (to much objection from the bride’s family) and found work as a teacher in his hometown. Around this time, the district education superintendent contacted him and asked him to write a book about his struggles.

“I was excited because … someone as poor and disabled as me could receive help from the higher ups,” he writes. “But I was scared because my prose was unpolished and juvenile, and my situation would only make people cry instead of bringing them laughter. Would anyone even read this book?”

They not only read the book, but adapted it into the wildly popular 1977 feature film He Never Gives Up, which claimed six trophies at the 1978 Golden Horse Awards. In 2000, the story was made into a television series. And his wife carried on his legacy, establishing the Cheng Feng-hsi Foundation for Culture and Education to help people with limb disabilities.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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