Chinese province valedictorian becomes homeless scavenger

By Huong Duong   April 19, 2024 | 03:30 am PT
Yao Yuan, once the top-scoring student for the university entrance exam in Hubei, China, found himself disillusioned with repeated failures in his career, leading him to a life of homelessness.
A man sitting on the street. Illustration photo by Pexels

A man sitting on the street. Illustration photo by Pexels

As reported by Sohu, in 2020, amidst the ruins of a Shanghai building slated for demolition, authorities discovered a disheveled, destitute man living among piles of garbage in the basement. When questioned about his identity and origins, the man’s responses were frantic and confused.

The authorities then escorted the man to the police station, where he was later identified as Yao, formerly recognized as a prominent scientific academic in Hubei. By that time, Yao had reached the age of 49 and lived without a home for over a decade. He appeared much older than his age.

Yao’s origins trace back to a modest rural family in Hubei. Excelling academically from a young age, Yao stood out as a stellar student, making him his parents’ pride. However, that made him gradually develop a sense of superiority amidst the continuous praise, believing himself to be truly exceptional.

In 1990, Yao’s exceptional performance led to his admission into the prestigious Beijing University of Technology, achieving the highest score among students from his rural hometown. His acceptance was a rare feat, which brought immense joy to his parents, who celebrated with a party.

With his admission letter and luggage in hand, Yao set off for Beijing, filled with anticipation for his new life as a university student. However, this transition marked a turning point, as he encountered peers who were equally if not more talented, impacting his mental well-being negatively.

In this new academic setting, Yao found himself no longer the recipient of admiration or praise from classmates and teachers, an experience foreign to him. Nevertheless, he motivated himself to dedicate even more effort to his studies, unwilling to be left behind.

Upon graduation, Yao secured a position at a military industry group, earning a respectable income and making his parents proud of their son’s success. However, the corporate environment introduced him to unprecedented competition, prompting frequent overtime work in hopes of distinguishing himself. This relentless workload took a toll on his health and focus.

After enduring nine years of this grueling routine, Yao resigned and moved to Shanghai in search of new opportunities, only to find out that Shanghai’s job market presented fiercer competition than Beijing’s.

Despite his extensive work experience and prestigious educational background, Yao struggled to stand out. He applied to numerous companies, only to realize that the positions he desired were reserved for candidates with international experience or recent graduates from elite institutions, qualifications he lacked.

Faced with this harsh reality, Yao reluctantly accepted a position that fell short of his expectations. Still, Yao’s career continued to be unstable, leading him to resign once again in 2008 during the financial crisis, which saw many large corporations downsizing and smaller firms shutting down or freezing hiring.

Opting to apply to major corporations, Yao found himself outmatched by superior candidates, diminishing his chances of employment. After numerous rejections, Yao resigned himself to conformity, severing ties with his family and friends to begin a life of vagrancy.

He eschewed the use of communication devices and bank cards, resorting to scavenging for food in garbage bins and seeking shelter in the basements of abandoned buildings for sleep.

Unaware of Yao’s plight, his parents embarked on a journey to Shanghai, traveling thousands of kilometers and inquiring at his former workplaces and among acquaintances, even seeking police assistance, all without success. Yet, they remained hopeful, disseminating missing person flyers in anticipation of any news about their son.

Upon confirming the homeless man’s identity in 2020, the police promptly notified Yao’s parents. The sight of their son, now aged, disheveled, and living without a home, left them devastated.

They then arranged for Yao to receive medical evaluation for mental health issues. Following treatment, Yao regained his clarity of mind and shared with his parents the hardships he faced in Shanghai, from the continuous job rejections to his eventual descent into homelessness and survival through scavenging.

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