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August 22, 2011

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Poor boy now successful inventor

A former migrant worker who grew up weaving fishing nets in Anhui Province has become a noted creative mind in Yangpu District who has invented energy-saving devices and "invented" his own legend. He speaks to Victoria Fei.

Gao Yuhua, a former migrant worker who has become a prolific inventor with a powerful personal success story, is brimming with ideas. He has patents for 10 energy-saving concepts and devices from the State Intellectual Property Office of China.

"My inventions have a common aim - to save energy, both electricity and water," Gao says. "Inventions need imagination and a heart that wants a better life for everyone."

Gao was born in a poor family that made a living weaving fishing nets in Chaohu City in central Anhui Province.

"At that time, all fishing nets were handwoven and I wondered whether it could be done by machine," Gao recalls. "Although I tried hard to do research on this, nobody in my family supported my ideas since we could not make ends meet."

But failure can spur invention and Gao was not discouraged.

In 1994, Gao went to Shanghai right after he graduated from high school and became a migrant factory worker. He used to earn 400 yuan (US$62) and lived under a staircase, sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

Gao worked at a factory that made disposable products for a hotel. The factory was on the brink of bankruptcy because of bad management. He and other workers were not getting paid. But Gao's first invention saved the factory.

"I thought to myself that I had to do something to help," he says.

He redesigned an overlock sewing machine (which sews over the edges of one or two pieces of cloth and also cuts) to produce quality shower caps that were in huge demand. He was skilled in repairing machines.

It took him two months to come up with a multi-functional overlock sewing machine that not only processed shower caps but also nurse's caps, pillow cases, other cloth and shoe parts.

The products soon became popular in Japan, Singapore and the United States. He saved the factory.

"In several months, our output doubled," Gao says. "The machine won me a state patent and special prize for invention."

Eventually Gao was promoted to company manager, but he just kept on coming up with new inventions.

He was hungry for knowledge and skills and he knew education would change his life.

In 2002, when Gao was almost 40 years old, he began study business administration at the Shanghai Television University, and then studied electrical engineering at the University of Science and Technology of Beijing. Soon he had both knowledge and skills.

These days he uses CAD, computer-aided design, instead of pens and pencils for drawing.

His inspirations have led to patents on an energy-saving recycling system and an automatic dust cover for electrical appliances.

A multifunctional magnetic motor is one of his best inventions.

"The generators we use now are costly, polluting and use a lot of energy. That's not sustainable," says Gao. "My design relies on magnetic rings and needs no energy to generate energy. It saves time, energy and money."

His wife is ill and cannot work, so Gao has to support the family, including son and daughter.

"Many people have asked me to give up, but I want to continue with my invention; it's my dream," he says.

Today Gao is a successful inventor who has benefited from community skills training.

In the past 10 years, Yanji Community in Yangpu District where Gao lives, has been trying to build "wall-less" schools by integrating schools, community and family.

Schools for migrant workers and seniors offer almost 80 courses of all kinds.

"My father told me to become a good and honest man and to contribute to society," Gao says.

"For me, invention is a simple tool to make a contribution. I'd like to make life better and give back to society through my inventions," he adds.


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