Retreading the boards to support a new family

By Shi Baoyin and Qixin in Zhengzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-06 08:06

Former performer returned to the theater following his retirement to provide a better living for his adopted children

In Central China's Henan province, Wang Kuan is a celebrity. As one of the top local opera performers, he has played in big theaters and is widely respected.

But after he retired at age 56 in 1998, he did something that many found strange - for the best part of the next decade, he rushed around on his moped at night between various tea houses in Zhengzhou, carrying a big suitcase filled with costumes and performing for anyone willing to pay.

 Retreading the boards to support a new family

Wang Kuan, opera performer.Provided To China Daily


At first few knew the gray-haired artist's motives, but soon people found out the truth - he had adopted five orphans from Hezhuang village in Henan's Zhoukou, where he grew up, and was trying his best to provide for them.

Wang met those children, aged between 6 and 11 at the time, on a visit home in 1998. All had a tragic story and were introduced to him by fellow villagers in the hope that he, as a celebrity, could lend a helping hand.

Yuan Qianliang's father died when he was very young and his mother married another man, leaving him with his poor, aging grandparents. Wang Haibo, whose father had also died, lived with his seriously ill mother. She begged Wang Kuan to take her son away.

Three others - a boy and two girls - came from the same family. Their parents had died and their grandparents could no longer support them through school.

"Looking at the kids, my wife couldn't hold back her tears and I also felt bad for them," the artist, now 75, said.

The couple took Wang Haibo with them to Zhengzhou at the request of the boy's mother, and promised to cover the living expenses and study fees of the other four.

In 1999, after the children's grandparents had all died, Wang Kuan welcomed them into his home in Zhengzhou, despite the objections of his own son and daughter.

"When I went to pick them up, they hugged me tightly and called me grandpa. I am their only family now. We all cried," he said.

His three-bedroom apartment instantly became full. Two rooms were set aside for the new family members - one for the girls and another for the boys.

His wife Wang Shurong, also a Henan Opera actor, said that she learned how to bake steamed sweet buns and make clothes for the children, in order to save money.

But their income was still not enough to support such a big family. "I was fully aware I needed to earn more money," Wang Kuan said.

"Our combined income of more than 3,000 yuan ($436) a month from our pensions could not cover our living expenses."

He decided to earn extra money by performing in tea houses, which his wife balked at as he has coronary heart disease and arthritis.

The first year didn't go so well.

"I often sat for hours backstage with nothing to do, while having to listen to others' remarks. Customers prefer younger performers - sometimes when they earned up to 1,000 yuan per night, I was asked to perform only once and earned 60 yuan," he said.

To get more customers, Wang learned calligraphy and the famous secret face-changing routine of Sichuan Opera. But things didn't improve much until local media reported his story. After that, many more people came to see his performances in order to support the children under his care.

Wang kept performing until 2008, when he had to have heart bypass surgery.

All five of his children are grown now and have families of their own, and it is Wang and his wife's turn to reap the rewards of their philanthropy.

During this Spring Festival, "there were more than 30 people at our home (including Wang's own children and grandchildren)", he said, with a smile.

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 Retreading the boards to support a new family

Wang Kuan and his wife Wang Shurong make jiaozi with their own children, adopted children and grandchildren at their home in Zhengzhou, Henan province.Zhang Yifei / For China Daily

 Retreading the boards to support a new family

Wang Shurong with the four adopted children when they came to Zhengzhou in 1999.Provided To China Daily

Retreading the boards to support a new family 

Wang Kuan and his wife watch their adopted children play instruments.Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 02/06/2017 page7)

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