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March 5, 2013

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Soldiers become 'sons' to grieving parents

ZHANG Jusheng and his wife Cao Hongbing had a family dinner with their two "soldier sons" on the day of the recent Lantern Festival. The couple, both 64, hadn't celebrated the festival since their only daughter died several years ago.

But they are not alone anymore since they became "foster parents'' last year of Hu Dongyang and Jin Yuqiao, two soldiers from the Lei Feng Class of the Shanghai Armed Police Corps.

Zhang said he and his wife became shut-ins at home for a long time after their daughter, a senior college student, died in a car crash. Cao was sent to a mental hospital for two months.

"Those days were the darkest days of my life," Zhang said. "I felt hopeless in life and lonely at heart. My wife and I hadn't eaten regularly due to our state of mind."

The days of darkness ended when Hu and Jin walked into their lives. The two were among the 10 soldiers especially paired with seniors whose only child died.

Zhang said his two "sons" often called and visited them on weekends, which made them feel less lonely. They also helped with laundry and housecleaning when they had spare time.

Soldier Jin had received cook training in the army. Every time he went home, he would buy a lot of seafood and vegetables and cook meals for the couple.

"How many years have passed since we had such a decent dinner?" Zhang asked. "They are better than my own child."

Seniors who lost their only child often live under the shadow of their child's death.

They are a vulnerable group because they experience depression and other mental problems and have no child to take care of them.

Shanghai offers a one-time subsidy of 5,000 yuan (US$803) for each of such families and a monthly subsidy of 150 yuan for each parent when they reach the legal retirement age, 50 for women and 60 for men, if they decide not to have another child or adopt a child, according to a policy started in 2008.

But the subsidy doesn't replace having a child by their side during holidays, which turn into a torture for these families.

"Walking into a broken family is not difficult. The difficult part is how to walk into their hearts and free their souls," said Zhang Cong, instructor of the Lei Feng Class.

Aunt Gu is a sensitive and moody woman. The 57-year-old's only son died of illness at 20 and her husband asked for a divorce. She refused to talk to anyone. Solider Chen Tao and Yang Shuide became her "sons" in October. They cared for Gu and she recovered her maternal instinct.

The 10 soldiers learned from the late Chinese icon of altruism, Lei Feng, a selfless solider who died 50 years ago. More soldiers are expected to join.


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