CHINA> Profiles
My granddaddy Deng
By Chen Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-11-27 08:08

Twenty-nine-year-old Yang Yang has devoted herself to charity. [Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Yang Yang devotes her adult life to helping those less fortunate. Her next events are star-studded affairs in Beijing tomorrow and Saturday, and promise to be her most successful yet. And every day, she is inspired by her grandfather.

He was none other than Deng Xiaoping, the former leader of China. His influence on her life is immense, even surreal.

Born in Oct 1979 as the only child of Deng's youngest daughter Deng Rong, Yang Yang grew up with her grandfather and her extended family in Beijing.

"We enjoyed family life together - grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and cousins - over a dozen people, very warm and jolly. My grandmother is over 90 but still healthy. Growing up in such a big family, I never felt I was the only child of my parents," Yang Yang says.

Nor was she ever allowed to feel special, better than other children. "Like every ordinary kid, I went to school on my bicycle or bus every morning," she says.

"After school, my cousins and I would go to grandfather's room. He would give us chocolates and watch cartoons on TV with us.

"He saw our school reports every semester but rarely commented much about our scores or told us what to do. I think he hoped we would become well informed about life.

"Every year, he took us to plant trees, visit factories and go to swim in Beidaihe."

Deng took her and her cousins on his tours of Shenzhen and Shanghai in the early 1990s, even though they couldn't even begin to realize how momentous the visits were for China's economic reforms.

In 1995, 16-year-old Yang Yang was sent to high school in San Francisco, alone. "The first days were really hard. Grandfather told me not to cry but I cried a few times," she says.

"I missed home and had to deal with the language problem and exams. But I soon adapted myself to the school and made many friends."

Her classmates did not know who she was until they saw her on the TV news when she returned Beijing to attend her grandfather's funeral in 1997.

"If you treat yourself as an ordinary person, others won't think you are special," she says. "I never showed off my grandfather. Nor did I ever feel the pressure of being his granddaughter."

Yang Yang left high school in 1998 and attended prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts, majoring in psychology.

Seven years in the United States made Yang Yang an independent woman. Her mother only visited her twice from the moment she put her in the care of the stewardess on the plane to San Francisco in 1995 until she graduated in 2002. Once was when she applied to the college and the other was her graduation ceremony.

A year later, she returned to Beijing and set up JoYa, a PR and fundraising company, with her friend Jocelyn Ang from Singapore. Their first project was a charity gala ball, an event she had become familiar with in the United States.

"My grandparents and parents always told me to be kind and helpful," she recalls. "My grandparents donated money to Project Hope. My uncle was the former chairman of the China Disabled Persons Federation and did much work to help disabled people.

"When I was young I donated pocket money. In middle school, I was a volunteer teacher at a Project Hope school in Shanxi. Then, when I studied and worked abroad, I attended many charity events, so naturally, when the company started, I decided to do an event, too."

For Yang Yang's first project, she did not make use of her family's influential network and resources. She collaborated with the China Charity Federation and held her gala at the China World Hotel. A total of 40 tables were sold for 20-50,000 yuan each and raised 2.1 million yuan ($308,000) to support 2,000 girls who needed to return to school.

"It was a success. I mentioned it to my uncle but maybe he thought I was too young to do the job or was just doing it for fun so he was totally impressed by the result and agreed to join the project the next year," she says.

Since 2004, the China Disabled Persons Federation and China Foundation for Disabled Persons have co-launched the Beijing Charity Gala Ball.

In 2004, it raised more than 4 million yuan to build three schools for disabled children in Sichuan. In 2005, over 4 million yuan was raised to help blind kids in Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions to go back to schools and they published a dictionary in Braille; in 2006, they raised 7.3 million yuan for the China Rehabilitation Research Center and No 6 Hospital of Beijing Medical University to rehabilitate children with autism; and last year they raised 18.7 million yuan to help the China Paralympic Committee prepare for the Beijing Paralympics.

Her exposure to both Eastern and Western cultures has helped her company JoYa in its work on a variety of social and cultural projects, including the annual Beijing Music Festival and Beijing Pop Music Festival, in addition to the Beijing Charity Gala Ball.

In early June, three weeks after the Sichuan earthquake, Yang Yang and her friends went to the disaster area, taking four train carriages and 4 million yuan's worth of food, daily necessities, books, tents and wheelchairs.

If raising the funds was not a challenge, knowing where to go was. The situation was still not clear and there were frequent aftershocks. "But my family supported me. My uncle said, 'We Dengs should not be afraid of such things as earthquakes'. And my grandfather was born in Sichuan so it is the family's home province," Yang Yang says.

She finally managed to reach many of the stricken areas, experienced the aftershocks for herself and saw many survivors who had lost arms or legs. On the plane back to Beijing, Yang Yang decided to do something for them.

The China Disabled Persons Federation says more than 6,000 disabled survivors badly need medical treatment, surgery, rehabilitation and artificial limbs. To raise public awareness and funds, her company is staging a charity show at the National Gymnasium tomorrow and a gala dinner on Saturday. Among those performing are several popular artists, singers, actors and celebrities, including Jackie Chan, soprano Song Zuying, pianist Li Yundi, "Super Girl" Li Yuchun, "Super Boy" Chen Chusheng, baritone Liao Changyong, plus actors Tong Dawei and Chen Kun.

Saturday's proceeds will go to hospitals to pay for each disabled patient's rehabilitation treatment for 6 months, supplying children's artificial limbs and improving medical conditions in their communities.

"So far we've raised 15 million yuan and we expect to get over 20 million, even though the economic crisis has just hit us," she says.

The Beijing Charity Gala Ball has developed into an influential event.

"We don't simply serve a dinner and beg for money," she says. "We tell them moving stories, produce documentaries, take photos and show them at the dinners, bring the kids to the dinners and let them meet their idols so as to encourage them.

"When we started in 2003, we didn't think the project would continue for six years. We also had some frustrations - it's not that easy to get money out of others' pockets.

"I remember what grandfather told me. He said 'if you can't do something significant, do something meaningful. Just do your best'. Whenever I have a problem at work I think of those words," she says.