The Story of Yang Dan
(Wenxue City) The Death of the Street Beggar Girl Yang Dan (杨丹). By Zhang Renjie (张仁杰).
It was the autumn of 2005. There were very few people in the streets of Beijing.
Occasionally, you can see the yellow leaves falling down from the trees.
I like autumn in Beijing, and I like to watch the colors of autumn in Beijing.
While I was enraptured by the beautiful colors of autumn in Beijing, I got to know a family.
A mother brought her two daughters to beg in the street.
There are very few pedestrians in the streets.
Occasionally, the yellow autumn leaves fall in front of the mother and daughters.
I walked up to them and I saw that the little girl was asleep in her mother's arms.
The child was tiny. She ignored the loud horns of the cars and slept peacefully.
The street noise did not seem to bother her at all.
On the other side of the mother, there was another little girl.
This girl was a lot older than the girl in the mother's arms.
Behind them are some beverage bottles and lunch boxes.
The mother did not react to my appearance.
The little girl stared at the camera in my hands.
I noticed that the face of the little girl was turning purple.
I asked the mother whether the child was famished or cold.
The mother said that the child was ill.
I asked why the child was not being treated at the hospital.
The mother said that the family had no money, and so had to come to beg in Beijing.
They want to earn some money so as to get medical treatment for the child.
These words surprised me.
Because of these words, I entered into their lives.
Actually, before I entered their lives, there were some reasons.
I used to bring some food and clothing to this family.
The middle-aged woman at the Turkish barbequed meat restaurant told me that
this were a family of liars --
They sat in the road to beg for money during the day,
but they stayed at hotels at night.
She told me not to help them. So I had my doubts.
Then I got acquainted with the man of the family, who was collecting garbage.
The man was named Yang Rucai. He is 31 years old.
He said that he has two daughters.
The elder one is named Yang Dan, and she is 7 years old.
The younger one is named Zhou Hua and has reached one year old.
The beggars by the road were his wife and two daughters.
They came from Minquan county, Henan province.
Every evening, Yang Rucai put aside his work and went over to pick up his wife and children.
Yang Rucai carried his elder daughter Yang Dan on his back. She was 7 years old.
According to Yang Rucai, Yang Dan had a congenital heart problem.
Since the family had no money, they came to Beijing and tried to beg for enough money
to let Yang Dan have a heart operation.
But Yang Dan's condition has deteriorated
and she has breathing difficulties just by walking.
Therefore, she needed her parents' help to move around.
The first time that I entered Yang Dan's home, I began to doubt what I was seeing.
Autumn was going away and winter was slowly descending.
I looked at how they slept in the open and I wondered whether the children might suffer from the cold.
I began to doubt what the Turkish barbeque lady told me.
Although I was beginning to doubt, I was still concerned that this was just a show.
Did they have somewhere else to go?
So I tried to verify if this was where they live.
Sometimes I wondered if they sneaked out in the middle of the night to a hotel.
So I ended up being a neighbor of Yang Dan.
And Yang Dan became my friend.
It was getting colder and colder.
Sometimes, Yang Dan was crying because it is so cold.
When that happened, her dad would hold her hand and walk back and forth along the railroad track.
Yang Dan and her dad walked slowly.
If they walked even a bit quicker, Yang Ban would breathe heavily.
Yang Dan's father told me that her heart disease was at the terminal stage.
Without counting, I had spend a period of time with Yang Dan's family.
Yang Dan's mother asked me to take a family portrait.
One time, Yang Dan's mother asked if I was a reporter.
I told her that I was not a reporter.
I was just someone looking for a job in Beijing without success.
Therefore, I could only stay with them for a while.
As I said that, I could feel my face turn red and hot.
The days went by.
The lives of Yang Dan and her family followed a pattern.
Every morning, Yang Dan's dad would carry her to the location with his wife and other daughter.
Then Yang Dan's dad set about collecting garbage.
When it got dark, Yang Dan's dad would picked them up to return to their place.
Now the north winds were howling. Sometimes, the wind carried dust.
Yang Dan's dad told me that winter was really coming.
Yang Dan was a child who did not like to speak.
But one time Yang Dan told me that she was really cold.
Seeing the nasal mucus on her ruddy face, I put my blanket upon her.
After having given my blanket to Yang Dan, I had to go away from my life with them.
After spending more than two months with them, I have become more mature.
Although the cold woke me up from my dream, I felt that I was relatively luck compared to them.
I often invited Yang Dan's family to eat at the road side eatery.
At first, when Yang Dan's parents went there, they were worried that the restaurant
would refuse to serve them because of their dirty clothes.
Yang Dan loves sliced pork in garlic sauce the best.
When she went to the restaurant, Yang Dan did not dare to eat too much.
Later I found out that Yang Dan ate sparsely if the restaurant was crowded.
One time, we were the only customers and Yang Dan ate a lot.
The next day, her mom told me that Yang Dan had an upset stomach.
After the meal, Yang Dan and family would cross the railroad track.
Although this was supposed to be fenced off, someone had created an opening.
Although we could proceed down the street to make the crossing,
Yang Dan's dad preferred to take the short cut.
Each time when Yang Dan's dad put her down, I could see the sweat on his brow.
Yang Dan's mom told me that her husband had not been in the best of health.
Quickly, we were now in November. It was quite cold already in November.
But even in the cold winter, one can still see the bright blue sky.
When the sun came out, I asked Yang Dan's mother to take out the blankets for basking.
Yang Dan's mother told me that there was no need, because the sunlight can reach the blanket directly.
When she said that, she was smiling with delight.
When I tried to collect money for Yang Dan's surgery, I often wanted to abandon the effort.
I went to many charity organizations but no one wanted to give me a definitive answer.
I wanted to give up.
I was afraid to see Yang Dan, because I was afraid of her look.
One time, I went to eat with Yang Dan's family.
I got intoxicated and I promised Yang Dan that I would cure her disease.
After so many setbacks, I really did not have the courage to look at Yang Dan again.
This can was picked up Yang Dan's dad from the garbage heap.
According to Yang Dan's dad, there had been a lot of paint inside the can.
It took a lot of effort of scrap it clean.
When I saw the empty can, I felt terrible.
Many times, I wanted to stand by the roadside to beg too
so that little Yang Dan can get the money for the operation.
Time is reliable.
No matter whether you are in a hurry or not, it will progress steadily without stopping.
Little Yang Dan's life did not seem to change before I knew them.
The only difference was that a person came to visit her regularly.
As I spent some more time with Yang Dan, I went from stranger to intimate friend.
After more than two months together, Yang Dan and her family treated me as one of them.
Whenever we chatted, Yang Dan sat and listened expressionlessly.
When we laughed at something, Little Yang Dan would stare fixedly at us without saying anything.
But Yang Dan's younger sister was more lively and she called me "Uncle Zhang.,"
and then she hid in her mother's arms and peeked at me shyly.
The neighboring McDonald's was running promotions so I would get some free balloons.
I brought the balloons to Yang Dan.
After a few minutes, Yang Dan would hand it to her younger sister.
The balloons would become treasures in her hand.
She would hold on to them all day from the moment that she woke up in the morning.
When Yang Dan woke up this morning, her disease took a turn for the worse.
Yang Dan was shaking all over and she could not breathe.
In her most difficult moment, she articulated clearly: "Uncle Zhang, save me!"
Yang Dan struggled painfully in her bed.
Her parents did not know what to do.
Her dad lowered his head and said nothing.
Her mom used the soiled towel to wipe the tears from her eyes.
The little sister looked at her shivering sister with curiosity.
When I took the towel from Yang Dan's mom to wipe the sweat from Yang Dan's face,
I saw that the water was filthy.
So I asked her mom to get some clean water.
She said that the water had been collected several days ago when it rained
and there was no more clean water left.
Yang Dan loved to sit in her mom's embrace to watch the trains speeding by.
Yang Dan's mom said that Yang Dan has been wanting to go home by train
even since her illness has been taken a turn for the worse.
Yang Dan's mother said that they will be returning home soon
for the delivery of their third child.
It does not rain too often in Beijing during the winter.
Without rain, Yang Dan's family had no water.
The dirt has been gathering on her face because she has not been able to wash her face.
Today, it got a lot warmer.
Yang Dan held some loose change in her hands
and she wanted me to take her to the hospital for treatment.
I had no idea how to respond to her request.
I was hoping that a certain charitable person
at the Peking University School of International Relations could respond.
A month ago, I went by the Peking University campus.
The red poster said that the chairman of a certain Hong Kong fashion clothing company
was going to talk about his charitable career at Peking University.
I was so elated when I saw that because I thought Yang Dan would be saved for sure.
After I heard his rousing speech, I requested that he aid Yang Dan.
In front of the audience, I bowed deeply to him three times even as I cried.
As I bowed, I saw Yang Dan smiling at me.
The chairman told me to wait for news from him.
Upon the fifth telephone call to a senior manager working for the chairman,
I was told never to call him again.
At that moment, I sat and cried in the corridor of the hospital and I lost all hope.
I went back to Yang Dan's home.
From the hospital, I learned that Yang Dan had a congenital heart disease,
and the operation would cost about 20,000 RMB.
I offered my personal guarantee to the hospital and asked them to perform the operation.
Over the telephone, I heard laughter.
It was getting very cold.
Some friends brought clothing for Yang Dan.
Whenever Yang Dan puts on the new clothes, she tried to smile.
Upon my repeated pleas, Yang Dan's parents took her back
to their home in Henan and wait for news from me.
Yang Dan's dad pointed to the semi-new bicycle chained to the fence
and he told me that this was his sole possession in Beijing.
This was a gift from an overseas student who has gone home.
He was thinking about how to take it back home.
At 6pm, November 28, 2005, I went to the train station to see Yang Dan and her family off.
Yang Dan's family was taking train 1487 to Zhengzhou departing at 7:02am.
Yang Dan's said that they had been in the waiting room since last night,
because it was warmer inside than outside.
On the train, Yang Dan looked happy.
Even if she seemed to be reluctant, I can see that she is genuinely happy.
Yang Dan's mom told me that when Yang Dan found out that she was going home,
she could not sleep all night.
As the train was bout to leave, Yang Dan told me in a low voice
that she will waiting for me to find medical treatment for her.
Yang Dan took it seriously.
I look at Yang Dan's purplish face and I promised her that I will go to see her at home
and take her back to Beijing for medical treatment.
For the first time, Yang Dan shed tears in front of me.
The train departed at 7:02am.
As I watched the train slowly rolled out, I felt that I had a lot of say to Yang Dan
but I have no idea what to say.
I stood there for an indeterminate length of time
as I watched the train recede in the distance.
During the time Yang Dan was back home, I ran around to find aid.
I was delighted to find a foundation which agreed to help Yang Dan.
On December 23, 2005, I telephoned Yang Dan's grandparents and
told them that Yang Dan can come to Beijing for the operation.
Strangely, there was silence at first from the other side.
After I delivered my news, I was told that Yang Dan had passed away last night
because of the heart disease.
As she was about to die, Yang Dan said "Uncle Zhang will save me ..."
The death of Yang Dan was a tremendous blow to me.
For the next few nights, I was like a deserting soldier who returned to Yang Dan's former home
and when I got drunk, I heard Yang Dan saying that Uncle Zhang will save her.
On the second day of the Chinese New Year of 2006,
my good friend Chen Jian accompanied me to visit Yang Dan's home.
I learned that Yang Dan's mother gave birth to a boy right before the Chinese New year.
This photograph above showed Yang Dan's grandmother.
The next morning, I found Yang Dan's father.
He seemed to have lost a lot of weight.
When I took out the photographs from my backpack to give to him,
he turned his back to his mother and shut his eyes.
But two clear streams of tears flowed down from his eyes.
Actually, I have no idea why I came to Yang Dan's home.
Quite often, I wanted to erase the name of Yang Dan from my memory.
When I see the photographs of Yang Dan, I want to burn them all.
But Yang Dan's father called me and said that he wanted some photographs for keepsake.
When I saw Yang Dan's mother, she was sitting in the bed.
According to local customs, the new mother has to stay in bed for a month.
When she saw me, she seemed very sad and she said nothing.
Yang Dan's dad did not take out the photographs to show her,
because he was afraid that she might be saddened.
The room had no other utensils other than a coal stove.
Yang Dan's dad must have been cold on the bicycle ride,
so he put his hands on the stove to keep warm.
The rice on the coal stove was done. It was plain congee.
There was nothing else to go with it.
So Yang Dan's dad took out a can of red sugar and put two spoonfuls into the congee.
Yang Dan's mom blew on the hot congee to cool it down.
The little girl by the bed also wanted to eat.
Yang Dan's dad said that the little girl has been asking where her sister was.
As I was leaving Yang Dan's parents, her little sister raised her reddened hands and waved goodbye.
She said "Uncle Zhang has come to save my sister."
Before I left Yang Dan's home, I went to visit the grave of Yang Dan.
This was my last stop.
Yang Dan's grave was tiny.
There was a small tree in front of it, with just a few tree branches on it.
There were some snow on her grave that has not melt yet.
Standing in front of Yang Dan's grave, my thoughts were confused.
I didn't know what I should say or think.
There was a mound of earth in front of me, and it was a small mound.
I seemed to see Little Yang Dan with the purplish face saying,
"Uncle Zhang will surely come to save me."