A teenager has been hailed as “the most beautiful student in China” after spending three years giving piggy-backs to his disabled friend so that he doesn’t have to miss a class.
The story of 18-year-old Xie Xu, who volunteered to look after his 19-year-old classmate Zhang Chi, has been shared widely on Chinese social media and received widespread local media coverage.
Guo Chunxi, the deputy headmaster at Daxu High School in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, where the friends have studied together for the past three years, described the story as “so inspiring and touching”.
He said Xie had led by example in helping Zhang, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, a condition that gradually weakens skeletal muscle.
“They aren’t family, but Xie has been doing this for three years,” Guo said.
Images of the two friends posted to China’s Sina Weibo social network have been met with messages of support from members of the public – but Xie and Zhang won’t be travelling everywhere together for much longer.
According to Shanhaiist.com, Xie has applied to join the Nanjing Polytechnic Institute after he graduates from high school, and had an interview on 23 April.
In a month’s time, Zhang will sit China’s intensive college entrance exam, the gaokao, and success will see the friends going their separate ways.
And while their story has been described as heart-warming, it also raises the question of what happens to Zhang if Xie moves away.
According to the most recent human rights report on China from the US Department of State, there still remains a huge gulf in the country between the legal right for disabled people to be free from discrimination and the access to formal assistance programme that would grant them full independence.
“Nationwide, an estimated 243,000 school-age children with disabilities did not attend school,” the report found – perhaps because not everyone can have a friend like Xie.
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