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Pursuing the Dream to the Very End

Cutting Paper with Teeth

5 April 2007

Shan Guojun (单国军) isn’t the only child in his family. When he was born in 1963, Chinese were yet to appreciate the heavy burden placed upon the earth, and big family was still very much in fashion with highly productive women branded “proud mom” (光荣妈妈). So as it happened, Shan was born to one of such proud moms and became the proud seventh child of a family living in Harbin, in the Northeast of China.

The pride he brought to the family, however, did not last very long. Soon it was discovered that the baby was born with a condition of cerebellar vermis maldevelopment, which led him eventually contracting a viral disease: the infant paralysis. He was kept prisoner in home ever since.

But that did not stop him dreaming. When he was ten, he fell in love with folk art paper cutting, and aspired to be a paper cutting artist. Ten years later, he indeed became a master in the field and he was about to once again make Shan family proud. Then Fate stroke again. His condition deteriorated and he was paralysed from the neck down – he could no longer cut paper using his hands.

It would be a lie to say that he did not consider giving up his dream all together. He did, as he confessed to the Chinese reporters twenty years later – he once secretly put aside the pills his mom gave to him and swallowed them in one go. He was saved, and eventually touched by the heart-rending tears and tender love of his parents and family. He decided not to back down, and began to learn how to cut paper with a knife held between his teeth.

Mr Shan Guojun working on paper cutting by holding the knife between his teeth

It often takes days, even weeks, for him to finish one paper cut-out. There were dangerous instances that the knife got stuck in his mouth, and painful moments when his lips and gums were badly swollen to the point that they kept dripping blood. But at all times his grey-haired mother was by his side, taking care of his physical needs and strengthening his spirits.

Gradually, his accomplishment on paper cutting becomes widely known in his neighbourhood and beyond, and his cut-outs are hotly sought after. Although bedridden and quadriplegic, he is busier than many people who are able to run around.

Now aged over eighty, his mother’s devotion to help him following his dream is as strong as it ever was. She acts as his toolmaker and material purchasing officer. A thousand paper cut-outs have witnessed both a man who is staunch and unbowed to his ill fate, and a mother whose unconditional love and support for her son never fades.

But his physical condition keeps worsening, and early this year he was diagnosed with prostate disease. Knowing he might not have much time to spare, he set an ambitious final task for himself: to produce 108 paper cut-outs as his gifts to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is determined to pursuit his dream to the very end and to leave proud legacy behind.

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