Bringing the dead back home

Updated: 2011-11-03 07:51

By Qiu Quanlin (China Daily)

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Bringing the dead back home
People help Zhang Dayong to board a train in Luoyang, Henan province, on Oct 26. Zhang, who suffers from rickets, launched a nationwide database for unidentified bodies. Guangzhou is his first stop. [Photo by Cao Fuchuan/for China Daily]

GUANGZHOU - In the past two decades, Zhang Dayong's life has narrowed down to a bed, a mobile phone, a computer and a small desk.

Now he is about to widen it as he launches a nationwide database for unidentified bodies.

The 47-year-old from Luoyang, Henan province, who has suffered from rickets since childhood and is bedridden, began his effort by working with a Guangzhou volunteer association, which helped him visit hospitals, police authorities and funeral houses.

"I will travel across the country - by lying on my bed - to collect information of nameless dead bodies to help family members and friends reclaim the bodies," he said.

"I'm not sure how many government bodies and associations will support me," he added.

Still, Zhang will face another challenge - finding the money to finance the project.

After competing in a nationwide event for business start-up plans in September last year, Zhang was awarded 30,000 yuan ($4,720) to set up China's database for dead bodies.

The local disabled association in Luoyang also donated 5,000 yuan to support Zhang.

He has already collected information on some 2,000 dead bodies, though only two bodies have been claimed.

"But it does not stop me from continuing."

While doing other research a decade ago, Zhang came across many announcements about children being abducted. This led to the establishment of a website and a hotline in 2001, which helps people track lost relatives and friends.

Zhang said his efforts had helped about 240 families reunite with missing members. But that is not enough.

"When I looked for clues about missing people in the databases of police departments and hospitals, the information about many unidentified bodies struck me," he said.

"There is a heart-broken family behind every one of those bodies."

Zhang's initiative to collect information on dead bodies has been greatly supported by his family and friends.

"Although he's physically disabled, he has his dream and is brave enough to realize it. His spirit inspires us," said Zhang Junyang, a 21-year-old college student from Luoyang.

He and a dozen other volunteers regularly help Zhang and his elderly mother on weekends.

They take care of Zhang's mother when he travels.

Zhang, together with his 70-year-old mother, depend on government welfare subsidies, about 250 yuan a month, as well as his brother-in-law's income of 2,000 yuan a month.

"He helps others, and it's necessary and meaningful to help him," Zhang Junyang said. "Many college students may fail to stick to their goals, and our experiences with him have really made many of us think about it again."

Liu Xiangrui and Tan Xuezhen contributed to this story.