Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Hero's Reward

From the unlinkable South China Post (thanks to Martyn), comes this story of another "ordinary" hero. It's quite a story, and I'm reposting it in its entirety...

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Jilin fire hero rides fortune's roller coaster

Modern-day heroes are a scarce commodity, and Hu
Maodong says he now knows why.

The 40-year-old building labourer is a living legend
in the northeastern city of Jilin for rescuing 11
unconscious people from a shopping centre inferno 18
months ago. Soon afterwards he fell seriously ill
because of the noxious fumes he inhaled inside the
blazing building.

He had to stop working and with no way to support
himself and his daughter, Hu Yue, they were evicted
and spent months living on the streets, begging for
food. None of the 11 people he saved came to his aid.

It was February 15, 2004, when a smouldering cigarette
butt started the fire that ultimately ravaged the
Zhongbai shopping centre. As the flames engulfed the
building thousands of people watched firefighters'
vain attempts to control the fire. Mr Hu could not
just stand by and watch.

"We could hear screams from the building and through
the smoke you could see some signs of movement, so I
had to help," he recalls.

Lean and wiry, he scampered through the burning debris
and picked up a woman who had collapsed. When he
carried her outside several people urged him not to go
back in, calling him a "crazy fool". But back he went,
several times, despite the fact that each time black
smoke nearly choked him.

As the flames subsided Mr Hu collapsed on the ground
outside, having saved 11 people from certain death.

The death toll that day was 54, the worst fire tragedy
in the province since the founding of the People's

As the city mourned its dead, the tale of Mr Hu's
heroics lifted public spirits and local officials
applauded the "selfless role model".

But soon after the fire his health rapidly
deteriorated. He felt constantly dizzy, one leg went
totally numb and he had difficulties breathing.

Doctors told him that as a result of the prolonged
exposure to carbon dioxide and other poisonous gases
in the fire his brain was wasting away, and he had
developed serious respiratory problems.

Before the fire, Mr Hu worked as a freelance
construction worker, earning about 700 yuan a month.

Confined to his bed after the tragedy, he stopped
earning and his savings were quickly spent on medical

As a rural residence permit worker he had no social
welfare support.

In April this year, he could no longer keep his angry
landlord at bay, so he was forced onto the streets
with his 11-year-old daughter.

"It was such a depressing feeling. I was always able
to provide for my child and I never dreamt that this
would happen to me," said Mr Hu.

He spent his days on a bridge in the city centre
sitting on the ground with a begging bowl.

His daughter held up a sign that read: "Please help my
father! He rescued 11 people in the Zhongbai fire but
now he is seriously ill and has no money for
treatment." The loose change they collected kept them
alive but covered only the most rudimentary health

On a few occasions while on the bridge, Mr Hu saw
people he had pulled from the fire, but his greetings
were always ignored as they strode by.

One day when a friend was taking him to a clinic they
saw a woman he had saved. His friend approached her
and pointed out Mr Hu sitting in the waiting room and
asked her if she could now help the man who had saved
her. "I don't know what you are talking about," she
replied, and walked away.

Mr Hu's luck finally changed on July 25 when a
journalist from a Jilin newspaper read the sign on the
bridge and wrote of how the city had abandoned a hero
in his time of need. The story apparently outraged a
provincial cadre, who ordered that something be done
to help Mr Hu.

Mr Hu was issued with an urban residence permit that
gives him access to basic health care and a small
pension, and his daughter was granted free schooling.

The report also touched a nerve with the community and
donations started flooding in.

A businessman provided a small flat rent-free and they
have received more than 70,000 yuan from the public
and local government to cover some of the medical
costs Mr Hu will incur.

Despite the toll the fire took on his health, he has
no regrets and says he would do the same again. But he
is saddened by the fact that of all those who have now
helped him, not one was among the 11 people he saved.

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