China’s “Father of Homeless Children” Dies

Nov 17, 2010
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Zheng Chengzhen rescued as many as 400 children from the streets, and supported them by collecting rubbish and selling blood.

Zheng Chengzhen died of asthma recently at the age of 63. The man was known for being altruistic while leading a very hard life.

He was from Jinan, Shandong Province in eastern China.


136 Zheng Chengzhen has a meal with his nine kids.


138 Tears well up in Zheng's eyes on some kids' departure.


139 The 20-square-metre room is packed with three double-deck beds.


140 His kids form a baseball team.


141 His kid takes him to hospital for intravenous drip after he is ill with asthma.


Ever since 1987, Zheng Chengzhen rode a tricycle every night around Jinan Train Station looking for homeless children who often seek shelter there, and brought them home. For the past 20 years, he altogether brought 400 children home. His 20-square-metre (210-square-foot) tiny home at one time accommodated as many as 13 children.

In order to “lead children down the right path,” he quietly dedicated himself to offering children a place of warmth. Zheng, called by children “Grandpa”, had no job or fixed income. Even this house is a donation by others. However, this did not stop his passion for adopting homeless children.

When his kids came of school age, coordinated by the local administrative office, they were offered free admission. Those who were older were sent to polytechnics after Zheng persistently contacted those schools, hoping that they would gain a foothold in the society in the future. Most children did not disappoint him and have become excellent students. With financial support of a professional baseball club based in the city of Jinan, three kids he adopted made their way to the baseball team and did very well in many games. After hearing about his story, many baseball clubs from Korea and Japan which visited Jinan for games or cultural exchange insisted on calling on the special family.

Owing to the media coverage, Zheng Chengzhen became famous. Many people came specially to send orphans to him, including some journalists who came across orphans while covering stories. He never refused any one of them. More and more children came to his home. Seeing an increasingly bustling family, he was very happy.

To feed these children was not an easy task, especially since Zheng Chengzhen did not have a job. He had to move out of his sister’s home because of the kids, and lost two hard-earned jobs. With more children he brought home, his life became more difficult. But he tried every means possible to eke out a living for the family. Sometimes what he earned from picking up trash was not enough to for him and his kids, he sold his blood.

For these children, Zheng Chengzhen, who had been single for the greater part of his life, gave up on marriage. Zheng admitted that he was afraid his children would be compromised after he got a wife. “If I had to look for a wife, she must support my cause to begin with and not quarrel with me over kids.” Zheng never felt the kids were his burden. “I must protect them.” He said that if one day he failed to bring home children wandering on the streets, “I cannot sleep.” Zheng had a relapse of asthma on June 27 and was admitted to hospital. Sunday, his health worsened. Because of severe pulmonary heart disease and lung failure, he passed away. Not long ago, he got the key to the low-rent apartment he applied for. It remains unclear where the nine kids he left behind will go.


This post was originally published on Ministry of Tofu in November 2010.