Wang Jiansheng (fourth right) and his colleagues donate money to Project Hope in 2018 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Project Hope received an anonymous donation of 5,000 yuan ($909 at then exchange rate) in 1992. The only clue to the donor's identity was that it came from "an old member of the Communist Party of China."
It aroused the curiosity of staff at the China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF), the founder of Project Hope. They wondered why such a good Samaritan would want to remain in the shadows.
Some time later, after investigating who this mysterious donor was, the foundation discovered that it was China's former leader Deng Xiaoping. Deng, who is famously known as the man who led the nation's reform and opening up initiated in the late 1970s, donated the money anonymously to financially support children from indigent families in rural areas.
Over the past 30 years, donors to Project Hope have come from all walks of life across China. They vary from drivers and doctors to athletes and film stars. Some of them are famous, but many, like Deng, like to remain anonymous.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that China's capital Beijing probably has the country's most talkative and knowledgeable taxi drivers.
These taxi drivers are required to dress in a uniform consisting of khaki shirt and navy-blue trousers. But don't be fooled, as these dull colors do little to hide the vitality and chatter-box nature of the Beijing taxi drivers in their unique old Beijing accent.
The hard-working drivers not only help transport millions of passengers quickly and safely across the city, but also care for the future generation of the country.
Wang Jiansheng, a 55-year-old Beijing-based taxi driver with Beifang Autos Renting Co. Ltd., got the idea to donate to charity in 2001, after he heard about a driver in northeast China's Liaoning Province who donated money to a philanthropic organization annually, on the first day of the lunar year, to help local poor students.
"I was deeply touched by his story," Wang told ChinAfrica. "I realized that although we are doing ordinary work, we could make a big difference."
The following year, he heard a radio program that called on citizens to donate to poverty-stricken students in Beijing Hongzhi Middle School. Wang visited the school the same day and gave all the earnings he made that day to school authorities.
From that year on, Wang made a donation to Project Hope every year on June 1 - the International Children's Day, in the name of "a Beijing-based taxi driver."
"The poverty in rural places is tied to the backward state of education there and I wanted to kindle a fire of hope among rural people," said Wang. "After all, children are the future."
Impressed by Wang's actions, in 2018, 213 other taxi drivers decided to join him in his charitable efforts. As a group, they handed over nearly 10,000 yuan ($1,429) in 2018 and 2019 respectively to Project Hope.
"Now, the dream of my colleagues and me is to make a donation to build a school," Wang said. "Perhaps our power is not strong enough, but we hope our story could prompt more people to pass on the love."
Before his death, few people knew about the name Bai Fangli. However, he went on to touch the hearts of millions with his story of selfless giving, providing a ray of hope to those who can't afford education.
During an almost 20-year period in his life, the man who lived in Tianjin donated a total of 350,000 yuan ($50,000) to help more than 300 poor students continue with their studies.
Bai was not a wealthy man. He made a living by pedaling a pedicab.
He began his donations in 1987 when he was 74 years old. At that time, he had prepared to retire, but was however deeply saddened to see poor children working in the fields instead of going to school. After discovering that the children could not afford school fees, Bai decided to donate 5,000 yuan ($1,351 at then exchange rate) to the schools in his hometown.
Despite his ailing body, Bai went back to peddling his pedicab in Tianjin, determined to help more children get into classrooms. Having a lifelong regret at being illiterate, he didn't want the same for the poor children around him.
In 2001, he rode his pedicab to Tianjin Yaohua Middle School, and made his last donation. Nearly 90 years old then, he told the students that he couldn't work anymore because of his health. All of the students and teachers were moved to tears.
In 2005, Bai passed away from terminal lung cancer at the age of 92.
Bai never expected any return for his donations. "I really hope the students could study hard, get a good job and become honest people who give back something to the country," he expressed, as his last wish.
In addition to individual donations, Chinese companies are big supporters of Project Hope. For example, Kweichow Moutai, one of China's top liquor makers, has been donating for the past seven years.
Since 2012, CYDF and Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd., together with 33 provincial youth foundations, began to carry out large-scale public welfare campaigns to support Project Hope. In this time Kweichow Moutai has donated 714 million yuan ($102 million) throughout 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
It has become the largest contributor to public welfare in China, funding a huge number of students over the widest area. To date, 142,800 students in need have entered college campuses with the company's support.
Guan Xinpeng from Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is one of the students who got to fulfill his potential with funds from the Kweichow Moutai. Last year, Guan was admitted into China's prestigious Peking University, but his family could not afford the tuition fees due to the ill health of one of his parents.
"The donation helped me realize my dream and also it encouraged me to be charitable to others in the future," said Guan.
Kweichow Moutai takes its charity work as a fulfillment of social responsibility. "Helping a student is equivalent to helping a family, and we are committed to cooperating with Project Hope to fulfill social responsibility," said Li Baofang, Chairman of the Board of Directors and General Manager of the company. "Knowledge could change students' fate, and education creates the future."
According to Li, as more students are funded, they will be in a better position to help their families rise out of poverty after they graduate from college, and go on to become part of the backbone of Chinese society.
"Moutai will stick to funding students and continue to do it well," said Li.
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