Man with cerebral palsy in China now compared to Forrest Gump after becoming self-made multimillionaire

A man in southeastern China with cerebral palsy has been labelled a hero and dubbed “Forrest Gump” after becoming a successful factory owner that employs people with disabilities.

Based in Suzhou, Jiangsu, Lu Hong’s Yuanyue Paper Product Company makes an annual avenue of 10 million yuan (S$2 million). Among its 42 workers, 24 have various physical disabilities, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

“I would insist on doing things. As long as I start to engage in one thing, I will try my best to complete it,” Lu, 42, said. “Therefore many people think I am like Forrest Gump.”

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“Forrest Gump is a bit silly. I am a bit silly. Both of us are silly but cute.”

Forrest Gump was a 1994 film starring actor Tom Hanks as a man who overcomes a learning disability.

People greet the factory owner by calling him Boss Lu, but in his childhood, he was treated very differently, he said.

“People always call me a fool. I was so sad. But at the same time, I was unconvinced by their comment,” said Lu.

Lu developed cerebral palsy when he was 10 months old after developing a fever. The illness is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.

When walking on the street as a child Lu struggled to move his body and head and maintain equilibrium, attracting negative attention from other people.

“I came to realise that they were looking at me with disdain and ridicule,” Lu said.

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His parents sent him to a vocational school after he finished his junior middle school education.

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But upon his graduation from the vocational school, no company wanted to recruit him due to his disability.

“A factory manager told my mother, with me present, ‘Look at him. What can he do? It’s better for me to raise a dog than him.’” Lu said. “It was summer at that time. But I felt I was staying in an ice house because of what he said.”

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When he was applying for another factory a guard at the entrance threw a coin into his cup, thinking he was a beggar. Lu said he felt humiliated.

Finally, he managed to find a job at a factory wrapping mooncakes.

Several years later, lured by the booming development of the private economy, Lu quit the factory to set up his own business — a stall on the street to repair bicycles.

Good at sniffing out business opportunities, Lu then sold newspapers and magazines, leased landline phones, leased film disks, repaired computers and opened an internet bar.

As his company grew bigger and bigger, people gradually called him Little Lu or Master Lu. On the mainland, people usually put the character xiao (meaning little in English) before a person’s family name when they greet a young acquaintance; while ordinary workers doing manual labour, people call them Master followed by their surnames.

“These simple and common greetings are extraordinary recognition and encouragement for me,” Lu said.

Later Lu learned video editing skills before opening a photo studio. He also cashed in on the e-commerce boom with an online shop.

Lu said he enjoyed chatting with his clients on the internet as his disability went unnoticed.

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“They probably thought they were chatting with a successful entrepreneur,”  Lu said with a laugh.

His Yuanyue Company was established in 2017, making notebooks and other stationery. It has since expanded from a tiny workshop with a couple of employees to a factory covering 1,000 square metres with 42 employees.

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Lu said in his eyes his disabled employees were his “precious babies”.

“It’s difficult for them to find a job. they would give 120 out of 100 in effort to their work,” said Lu. 

“They have problems on some aspects, but on some other aspects, they don’t perform badly at all,” said Lu.

He cited the example of Liu Zilong, a worker whose right arm is paralyzed.

“After his continuous efforts, he is able to type 80 [Chinese] characters per minute [with his left hand],” said Lu, adding that Liu is his company’s top-rating client service staffer.

Lu’s company was devastated during the first few months of last year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t have any income,” he said. “It’s okay for myself if the company didn’t make any money. However, my brothers and sisters [his employees] rely on me to make a living.”

Lu said he led his company out of the downturn last year by developing new products.

“I think the God has a brilliant arrangement for me. I have a more wonderful life than others,” he said.

“The God not only let me earn money, but also let me make contributions to society. I think I am a useful person,” said Lu.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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