Single mum in China raises disabled son to become Harvard law student

Mr Ding Ding posing with his mother Zou Hongyan outside Peking University.
Mr Ding Ding posing with his mother Zou Hongyan outside Peking University. PHOTO: WEIBO
Mr Ding has cerebral palsy, after a birth complication during which he nearly suffocated.
Mr Ding has cerebral palsy, after a birth complication during which he nearly suffocated. PHOTO: WEIBO
Mr Ding's mother would support him by sending him for rehabilitation and even teaching him life skills herself, after her husband divorced her.
Mr Ding's mother would support him by sending him for rehabilitation and even teaching him life skills herself, after her husband divorced her. PHOTO: WEIBO
Mr Ding graduated with a degree in environmental science from Peking University's school of engineering in 2011, and was accepted to Harvard Law School in 2016.
Mr Ding graduated with a degree in environmental science from Peking University's school of engineering in 2011, and was accepted to Harvard Law School in 2016. PHOTO: WEIBO

He was born disabled, and doctors told his parents he was "not worth saving".

But thanks to his mother's unflinching support, Chinese man Ding Ding, who has cerebral palsy, defied the odds by gaining admission into Harvard University nearly 30 years later.

Mr Ding, 29, attributes much of his success to his mother Zou Hongyan, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on Monday (May 15).

In 1988, he nearly suffocated during a birth complication, which left him with cerebral palsy.

Doctors in Hubei province, China, told Ms Zou that her child was "not worth saving", saying that he would grow up either disabled or with low intelligence.

To Ms Zou's dismay, her husband sided with the doctors.

"Let's not have this child. He will be a burden to us all our lives," he said.

Ms Zou insisted on saving their baby, and soon the couple divorced.

To support her son, Ms Zou took up a full-time position at a college in Wuhan, and also worked part-time as a protocol trainer and insurance salesman.

In her free time, she took Ding to rehabilitation sessions, regardless of the weather.

She taught herself how to massage his stiff muscles, and would also play educational games with him.

To some, Ms Zou might have seemed like a harsh parent.

She insisted on teaching him how to use chopsticks during mealtimes, even though he found this extremely difficult at first, so he would not have to always explain his disability to others when he had meals with them.

"I didn't want him to be ashamed about his physical disability," she said. "Because he is less skilled than others in many areas, my expectations of him are higher, so as to get him to work harder."

Mr Ding graduated with a degree in environmental science from Peking University's school of engineering in 2011.

That same year, he enrolled in a second degree programme at the university's international law school.

In 2016, after working for two years, Mr Ding was accepted into Harvard Law School.

"I never dared to dream of applying to Harvard. It was my mother who never stopped encouraging me to give it a try. Whenever I had any doubts, she would guide me forward," Xinhua quoted Mr Ding as saying.

Mr Ding, who describes his mother as his "spiritual mentor", said that although Harvard has awarded him a scholarship covering 75 per cent of his school fees, the remaining sum was no small burden for his mother.

"At 29, I am still dependent on my mother. I hope I will soon become more successful and self-reliant, so she can have a better life," he said.