Armless teacher is inspiring next generation and educating poor kids in rural China

  • At his lowest point, the man had to beg in big cities to survive
  • But a recommendation from his brother turned his life around, and he has not looked back since

In the depths of the mountains in southwestern China, one teacher is educating the next generation while being inspirational proof that no obstacle is too much to overcome.

Jiang Shengfa, who lost his arms in an accident 25 years ago, has been teaching poverty-stricken children for 18 years by tying chalk to one of his arm stumps and flipping books with his mouth.

Besides overcoming the disability, Jiang, 47, walks 8km to work every day and earns a meagre monthly salary of 1,500 yuan (US$235). But he said he would not change anything.

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Armless teacher is inspiring next generation and educating poor kids in rural China
© Provided by South China Morning Post Jiang has no intention of leaving his teaching post in a poor Yunnan province. Photo: Handout

Jiang lost both his arms in 1996 when he was trying to repair an electrical cable in Anle village, in Yunnan province, where he was born and raised. After the accident, his wife left him and took their baby boy. His mother passed away several years later.

In his darkest moments, Jiang begged on the streets of several big cities to survive.

His life turned around when his older brother retired from a local school and recommended him for a substitute teaching job. He is one of the few people in the village who had finished high school.

“I worried that I might not be a good teacher because I had no teaching experience. But if I did not do it, the kids would need to travel further for their studies,” Jiang told

Armless teacher is inspiring next generation and educating poor kids in rural China
© Provided by South China Morning Post Jiang uses his mouth to turn pages while he teaches. Photo: Handout

After more than a decade, he is now regarded as one of the most respected educators in China’s poor rural areas. These areas often lack working-age adults because they left for the city to find better jobs, leaving only the young and elderly.

The man said he is happy to teach the children because many of their parents have left the village to pursue higher salaries in Chinese cities.

He was even offered a significant pay rise to work at a different education organisation, which he turned down because: “It was not money that drove me to become a teacher. It was those kids in the mountains, those who gave me the confidence and courage to survive.”

Before lessons, Jiang asks his students to strap chalk to his right residual arm, which he uses to write.

Armless teacher is inspiring next generation and educating poor kids in rural China
© Provided by South China Morning Post Jiang has been honoured in China for his high-quality of teaching and his backstory. Photo: Handout

He even writes in Chinese calligraphy by holding an ink brush with his mouth. He has been praised for his handsome handwriting.

A recent video showing him writing on the blackboard and using his coat as an eraser made him one of the hottest topics on Weibo earlier this month.

“The conditions at the school and village are indeed poor, but I never thought of giving up. After I was injured, my life hit a bad patch, but the children brought me happiness and confidence. They gave me the courage to continue living. That is all that I can hope for.”

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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