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Retiree, 97, uses pension to aid pupils


Over the past 15 years, 97-year-old Xia Sen has given most of her personal savings to help students from poor families gain an education.

China DailyUpdated: March 24, 2021

At a conference last month to commend people who made outstanding contributions to poverty alleviation, the sight of an elderly woman in a wheelchair receiving a medal and certificate from President Xi Jinping touched many onlookers.

Xia Sen with her medal and certificate at a conference held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to mark China's accomplishments in poverty eradication on Feb 25. [Photo/Xinhua]

Over the past 15 years, 97-year-old Xia Sen has given most of her personal savings to help students from poor families gain an education.

Born in September 1923, Xia worked as a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences before retiring in 1982.

In 2006, she started providing financial support to students in Danfeng county, Shaanxi province, and Shangyou county, Jiangxi province. She has donated more than 2 million yuan ($307,800) to help 182 students attend college.

According to Cao Qizhang, who worked with Xia for more than 30 years, the money she donates comes from her and her husband's pensions.

The nonagenarian joined the Communist Party of China in Yan'an, Shaanxi, in 1938.

Xia was only 15 years old at the time and despite her young years she became a teacher in Yan'an. While teaching she kept acquiring new knowledge in the belief that the development of society relied on well-educated young people.

"When she was working at CASS, she often told us to keep on reading and learning," Cao told the China Media Group.


In 2006, Xia visited Xijie Primary School in Danfeng. The dilapidated condition of the school and lack of facilities and teaching materials saddened her.

During her visit, she borrowed 20,000 yuan from friends and acquaintances and immediately bought desks and books for the students.

She soon took out another 20,000 yuan from her savings to reward and encourage outstanding students at the school.

In 2008, she donated 200,000 yuan and helped Zhaogou Primary School in Danfeng construct a teaching building.

"It is a two-story building with eight bright and clean classrooms, which is a complete change from its former situation," said Li Baoying, principal of the school.

The previous teaching building was made of earth and wood, dimly lit and unsafe, he said.

"In winter, students often felt so cold that they had to bring a coal heater from home to keep themselves warm," he said. "Now it's totally different."


In 2013, Xia used 1 million yuan of her savings to set up the "Xia Sen Scholarship" to support high school and college students from impoverished families in the two counties.

So far, at least 182 students have benefited or are benefiting from the scholarship.

Lai Houfang, from Shangyou, is one of them. Xia's scholarship supported her in completing a four-year teaching degree. She's now a teacher in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

"I made up my mind that I would learn from Granny Xia and use my strength to help others, from the first day I received support from her," Lai said.

"After graduation I went to teach in Xinjiang, which is where I was needed," she said.

Another beneficiary of Xia's scholarship from Danfeng, who chose to remain anonymous, was admitted to Tsinghua University in 2015.

In 2018, he and other students who received the Xia Sen Scholarship went to her home to visit her.

To his surprise, Xia and her husband led a very simple life and the furniture in their home was ordinary. "I was moved by Granny and her husband, both of whom are members of the Communist Party of China," he said. "At that time, I was planning to submit an application to join the CPC. By visiting Granny Xia and her husband, I had a deeper understanding of CPC members."

Cao said the couple have always lived a frugal life and say they have enough food and clothes and don't need much.

"But in terms of helping students, they always say that what they have done is far from enough," she said.

"She often says her life has improved so much compared with what she had in Yan'an decades ago. Now her only hope is that her money can be used to help students."