Despite the harsh weather and poor living conditions in Zhaotong, Yunnan, Qian had always been a happy child with loving parents and sisters. All was well until the winter of 1956. Qian was 12 when his father was diagnosed with leprosy. Out of fear and ignorance of leprosy, villagers burned Qian’s father to death. Later that year, while still grieving for his father, Qian was also diagnosed with leprosy.
Qian was expelled from school and everyone turned their back on him. The rejection and alienation were hard to bear especially from those to whom he was close, teachers, peers and friends. Encouraged by his uncle, Qian was determined to live and seek for medical treatment elsewhere. “Being alive is better than anything else”, his uncle said. Avoiding the same fate as his father, Qian left his home in Zhaotong.
Embarking on his first ever journey, Qian had only ¥5, equivalent to less than one US dollar today. Begging along the way, he found an orphanage he thought would be his refuge. The orphanage however, drove him away after discovering about his illness. Wandering from place to place, he ended up in Puge where he begged for a living and found shelter in a cave in Yongan, a scarcely populated town. The cave was his home for the next six years. With some simple farming, Qian was able to sustain a living with his own crops. Darkness and threats from wild animals were not as bad as the worsening of leprosy. The lack of medicine led to the development of ulcers on his legs.
Eventually he met Jike Mosu who told Qian about the Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre in Xiangyang. Jike arranged for Qian to stay in a straw hut. He even arranged horses to transport Qian's belongings and food from the cave to his new home. The staff at the centre were friendly and helpful. Patients were allowed to stay as long as their illness required them to or if they wished to even after their recovery. There were approximately 100 leprosy patients.
Qian's condition, however, deteriorated.
His life was hard. Although he was allocated 20 acres of farmland, leprosy had led to permanent impairment of his legs and he had to walk on knees. His finger joints were so disfigured that he developed the condition known as "clawed hands”. To work in the fields, he invented his own tools and equipment that enabled his movements in the fields and farming activities.
Many times he thought of ending his own life because of the pain and sufferings caused by leprosy but Qian was strong. He hung on because he had sworn he would leave his hometown to live. He was hopeful about his recovery and reunion with his family one day. His uncle’s advice became his motto and he was determined to live. Perseverance proved its worth when the multi-drug therapy (MDT) became available and Qian's leprosy was cured. The disabilities, however, were permanent.
As the world view changed leprosy drew more attention and, efforts were made on rehabilitation and educating the community about the illness. While discrimination against leprosy patients was still common, more services were developed by charity organizations and NGO's to support patients. Recovered patients began reconnecting with society. In 2009 Qian with the help of The Leprosy Project and Phoenix TV was able to reunite with his family and friends in Zhaotong. After years of living as an outcast, it was a comfort to meet his family, nephews and their families and children. He applied for residence in a home for the elderly in the area but due to his history of leprosy the home refused him. He decided to return to Senkeluo, a small village in Puge where he had lived for so many years. Thanks to the support from the staff at The Leprosy Project he had been able to live independently by farming and selling his own produce.
Qian had experienced misfortunes and hardship throughout his life but he was thankful for the opportunities he had had for restarting a healthy and independent life. In 2013, when he learnt about the earthquake in Ya-an on 20th April, he decided to return the favors he had received by contributing ¥5,000 to the victims who suffered the loss of homes and families like he did years back. Mr. Lin from the Education Bureau in Sichuan advised him to keep some of his savings and donate only ¥150. Qian hoped the survivors of the disaster area would summon their courage and face the difficulties ahead. Qian truly believes there is always hope.
He happened to have the chance to visit Er-mei Mountain and other places in Chengdu in 2013 supported by kind donations from the society. It was an eye-opening experience and he looked forward to more opportunities in future as the world became more accepting towards patients affected by leprosy (PALs). His uncle's advice echoed in his mind, "Being alive, it’s better than anything else."
The TV documentary “Homecoming Journey of a PAL” produced by Mr. Aaron Ren of Phoenix TV has been broadcaste nation-wide in China. You can watch it here.