By WRIC volunteers June, 2007
“The snow came early that winter when I first saw her. She was wrapped in a bamboo basket and there were ice blocks on top of her blankets.“
There is a mountain in the village of Tongcheng city, and halfway up the mountain there is a nunnery called Bai Yun Temple (meaning White Cloud). Shi Xinyuan came to the monastery when she was 12 years old and has been there for 28 years. The “she” in the story above is Shi Jieming, the abandoned girl in the bamboo basket from 17 years ago that Shi Xinyuan discovered. Shi Jieming is now attending Anhui’s Agricultural University.
May 7,2010, WRIC volunteer Yao Cheng (Right) has interviewed Shi Jieming(Left) in Anhui Agricultural University in Anhui province.
Baby Girl in a Bamboo Basket
In 1992, the Lunar calendar date of October 22: On this day, heavy snow fell from the skies. Shi Xinyuan went to the Ruyi’an monastery in Tongcheng County. After finishing her tasks, she was ready to trek back to Bai Yun Temple. On her way, Xinyuan passed by a vegetable market near the Ruyi’an monastery where a crowd of people were gathered and staring at something on the ground. Xinyuan could not help but be curious and also went to look.
“Why are all these people staring? Clearly this is an ordinary bamboo basket,” Shi Xinyuan thought. Indeed, the basket appeared very ordinary, stuffed with an old quilt. Xinyuan turned back to continue on her journey but at that moment someone lifted a little corner of the quilt, and Xinyuan’s breath caught in her throat. Hidden under the quilt was a baby, pale and too near death to make a sound!
Xinyuan went up to the basket and carefully peeled back the blankets and saw a child, wrapped in a blanket, whose tears had frozen and whose ears had turned blue from the cold. The child’s throat was so hoarse from crying that she could barely make a sound, but her eyes were exceptionally bright and alert, eyeing the surrounding people.
At that moment, Shi Xinyuan’s heart was moved.
The parents abandoned their baby girl in a basket with a letter outside the nunnery in Anhui
A Bold Decision
Shi Xinyuan picked up the bamboo basket, dispersed the crowd and went straight towards the hospital. “This child has been freezing for so long, I don’t know if she’ll be able to function normally.” The doctor listened to Xinyuan’s description and immediately conducted a checkup on the baby. Due to being in the cold and starved for so long, the baby was on the brink of death. After the doctor gave the child an IV, Shi Xinyuan stayed by the baby’s bedside. Miraculously, a few days later, the baby’s condition improved!
The baby continued to rest in the hospital and took 40 days to recover. Meanwhile, in addition to caring for the baby during its recovery, Shi Xinyuan made a bold decision: to adopt the child and take her back to Bai Yun Temple. After the civil and religious departments’ careful consultation, Xinyuan’s wish was fulfilled.
On the day that the baby was discharged from the hospital, Shi Xinyuan gently put the child into a basket. At that moment, the baby smiled and joyfully waved her hands. Xinyuan touched the child’s face and went back up the mountains to Bai Yun Temple.
A nun adopting a child into the monastery? This was shocking and to some, unthinkable. When the baby’s cries at night reached the village through the jungle, what must people have whispered in secret? However, Shi Xinyuan did not care. Looking at the sleeping baby, she decided to name the child “ming”: the word for clarity in the hopes that she would live untroubled in the future. From that day forth, the baby was called Shi Jieming.
At that time Shi Xinyuan was only 22 years old. She did not know the complexities of raising a starved child, and had no experience with children in general. In desperation, Xinyuan had to turn to her mother for help and the baby was raised by her mother in the village until she turned four years old.
A Muddy Path
At four years old, Jieming was a very energetic, charming and lovely child. One day, Shi Xinyuan’s mother took Jieming up to the mountains and told her daughter: “You have adopted the child and she must be returned to the monastery.” From then on, little Jieming began to call Shi Xinyuan, “Master,” and Xinyuan’s pupil, Shi Zhongxue, “Teacher”, and the three of them lived together for the next 14 years in the temple.
Perhaps due to the cold winter she was abandoned in, Jieming had cramps from an early age, sometimes so severe that her hands and feet became deformed. This happened mostly at night and as a result, local people often saw Xinyuan hurrying down the mountain with just one flashlight to reach the hospital. When Jieming grew older, Xinyuan took her to Beijing for therapy and Jieming gradually recovered.
Although unable to find her birth parents, Jieming had a carefree life similar to other children her age. When Jieming was 100 days old, Xinyuan took her to the city’s photo studio to get a 100-day-old portrait taken. On Lunar calendar date of October 22 every year, Xinyuan would give Jieming a gift. When Jieming went to kindergarten, everyday at dismissals when other children’s parents came to pick them up, Jieming would run to Xinyuan’s waiting arms.
The mountain was not connected with the village and the mountain road was washed out when heavy rain fell. At these times, Jieming and Xinyuan would be stuck at the temple until the water subsided. When thunderstorms rang over the mountains, the power would go out in the temple, and Jieming and Xinyuan would each hold a book and read under the stars. Sometimes, Jieming would read aloud and study English while Xinyuan would chant her mantras.
A Stubborn Heart
Although Bai Yun Temple has a long history, because of its remote location there are not many pilgrims who support the temple financially. In addition to receiving 70 yuan from the civil affairs department for living expenses, half of Jieming’s tuition came from pilgrims so this small trio could not afford any luxuries and the same clothes would have to be worn for days on end.
The pilgrims who saw Jieming for the first time would curiously ask: “Why is there a child in the monastery?” Sometimes Jieming would rush to answer: “I was picked up by the side of the road!” After learning about her circumstances, Jieming’s school teachers would take care of her and sometimes call her to their house to eat. One day, after just coming out of the teacher’s home from dinner, Jieming ran into a classmate who asked her, “How could you go to the teacher’s house to eat? Children from the monastery have no right to eat at other people’s homes.” Jieming was confounded for a moment and then bowed her head in silence and walked away…
The owner of a company, who was also a pilgrim to the temple, learned about Jieming’s story and brought a special camcorder. He said that Jieming’s situation should be published onto the Internet to allow everyone to help her. However, when the company owner was chatting with Xinyuan about this endeavor, Jieming rushed in, shouting, “I can quit school, if we don’t have money than it is not a big deal for me to go and work.”
Jieming would not take people’s pity. The name behind this special girl hid a stubborn heart.
Bright New World
While she never received extra schooling or ever asked for private tutors, Jieming’s academic records were excellent. Three years ago, Jieming was admitted to the top local high school. Wishing to take care of her, Xinyuan volunteered to go with Jieming to the city to live in an old abandoned temple.
At one corner of the abandoned temple is Jieming’s personal study area. Although the college entrance examination has ended, a variety of reference books are still stacked high on the old table. In the desk drawer are neatly arranged IDs, diplomas and even junior high school cards. All this Shi Xinyuan cleans lovingly and methodically.
“Jieming should have been able to score even higher, but my apprentice was sick and had to have a surgery. I had to rush to the hospital, and Jieming was worried about my apprentice,” Shi Xinyuan said. In last year’s college entrance examination, Jieming had an excellent score of 557 points and was admitted to Anhui Agricultural University.
“I want to go to college, graduate and get a job that will provide my “Master” and her apprentice with a good life,” said 18-year-old Shi Jieming. University for her will be a bright new world.