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Role Model Given Leading Role

She has been a national legend for more than 25 years, inspiring a whole generation with her tenacity by living a fruitful and fulfilling life despite a disability.

Her words "if your wings are broken, your heart can still fly", are a beacon of hope showing the way forward to those trapped in the darkness of despair.

On Thursday, she was elected the chairperson of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF).

Writer and translator Zhang Haidi, 53, replaced Deng Pufang, who will serve as honorary chairman.

Although her election came as a surprise to many people, Zhang was greeted by thunderous applause when the announcement was made at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing at the closing session of the CDPF's fifth national congress.

A Shandong native, Zhang was diagnosed with a spinal tumor when she was five. Three surgical procedures to remove the tumor left her paralyzed from the chest down. Against all odds and with help and encouragement from her parents, she set out to live her motto: "As long as I live, I shall be useful to society."

Zhang taught herself to read and write and later gravitated to medicine, painting and such foreign languages as English, Japanese, German and Esperanto.

She also tried her hand at acupuncture when she was still a teenager and living in a rural village where her parents were receiving "re-education" between 1970 and 1973.

She taught the children in the village to read and write, and treated country folks when they were ill.

In 1983, Zhang rose to national fame when she was named one of the most distinguished youths in the country. On May 4, the National Youth Day, Deng Xiaoping wrote an inscription: Learn from Zhang Haidi.

The same year, she took to writing and translating. She has since written several long novels and won national literary awards.

Her novel, Dream on Wheelchair, was also published in Japan and South Korea in the early 1990s.

In 2006, she was chosen by netizens as one of the 10 most charming Chinese women along with film stars such as Maggie Cheung and TV anchorwoman Yang Lan.

As the chairwoman of the CDPF and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhang said on Thursday that she would try her best to promote the rights of the disabled and improve their access to public facilities.

Wang Shuchun, a representative from Jinzhou, Liaoning Province, said he was excited at Zhang's appointment, because she is his "role model".

"She will do a great job for the CDPF and she is our pride," said Yang Yi, another representative.

Deng helped found the federation in 1988 and has been at the forefront in the crusade to improve the lives of the now more than 83 million disabled people in the country.

(China Daily November 14, 2008)

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