It's heartbreaking for a woman to lose her beloved husband at age 40, but even more painful when she realizes he has left her in huge debt. This was the tragic situation five years ago of rural resident Wu Xiujun.
Middle-aged Wu Xiujun is an ordinary housewife living in a rural village of northeastern China's Liaoning Province. Before being widowed, she had lived a peaceful life taking care of the family, while her husband Zhao Yong ran a private construction firm. But things suddenly changed. One cold day in December 2002, Zhao Yong left home for work and never returned. He died in a car accident. This was a body blow to Wu Xiujun.
"I'm just a common woman. I enjoyed my simple but happy life of doing housework and looking after my sons and parents-in-law. My husband was a good man. He was the mainstay of the family. After he died, I felt like it was the end of the world."
The death of Zhao Yang plunged the whole family into deep grief. And as the saying goes, it never rains but it pours. Wu Xiujun had no idea that more shocking news was to come. While she was still in mourning, strangers paid visits to her home.
"They said they were my husband's friends and that they had came to give their condolences. But later I learned they were Zhao Yang's creditors and that their real intention was to get their money back. I also received phone calls every day from unknown creditors."
From their conversations, Wu Xiujun learned that her husband Zhao Yong had contracted some construction projects and borrowed heavily to invest in them. Due to defaults on the construction costs he was unable to pay either workers' wages or the costs of materials, let alone repay his debts. With his death, Zhao Yong’s creditors worried that they would never see their money.
Sensing the doubts and worries of the creditors, Wu Xiujun thought she should first determine how much her husband owed.
"I took out all the accounting books and checked them carefully. It took me several days to sort out the accounts. I was frightened by the result-- my husband owed a debt of 2.7 million yuan. The amount was so huge that I was afraid I could never pay it off in my lifetime, or even in my sons' lifetime."
Wu Xiujun had good reason to be shocked. The amount of 2.7 million yuan, about US$ 300 thousand, is an unimaginable amount to a rural resident such as Wu Xiujun. Relatives and friends tried to persuade her to deny the validity of the debt, and give her husband's death as an excuse, but Wu Xiujun was determined to pay every penny back.
"I couldn't do anything like that because it would make me feel ashamed and unworthy of living in the world. It seemed to me that if someone could lend all that money to my husband, they must have trusted him. My husband was indeed an honest and trustworthy person, so I think I should live up to his good reputation. What's more, it's also my belief that we should pay what we owe. I am a woman from the countryside without much education but I do know what's right. "
Within a month, Wu Xiujun paid visits to all the creditors and told them she would pay the money back on her husband's behalf. But most of them thought she was making an empty promise. To reassure them, Wu Xiujun wrote new receipts for the debts, signed with her own name, saying that if she didn't shoulder the responsibility for her husband, they could sue her with these receipts as proof.
Of course, Wu Xiujun's promise was not grounded on nothing. Besides her principle of being honest, she held the notes for the three million yuan of defaulted construction payments that project investors owed to her husband. This gave her a ray of hope. But Wu Xiujun knew it would not be easy recover the arrears.
"I left home very early in the morning to ask for the money back, but was refused once and again by those who defaulted on the payments. Nobody wanted to bear the responsibility and give me the money. I felt so lonely and hurt on my way home that I couldn't hold back my tears. But no one knew my suffering. I didn't want my parents-in-law and children to be disturbed by these troubles. So I had to hide my sorrow at home."
Those days were difficult for Wu Xiujun. Whenever she managed to receive a sum of money, she would immediately give it to her creditors. As time went on, Wu Xiujun turned more and more debt notes into receipts signed by her creditors.
Luan Zhongfa is the owner of a brick factory who sold Zhao Yong 50,000 yuan;s worth of bricks on credit. He said after hearing about Zhao Yong's death that he didn't expect his money to be repaid, so he did not mention it to Wu Xiujun. To his surprise, Wu Xiujun came to him one day to hand him the money.
"I was really moved at that moment. I have never seen a person who would go so far to keep her word. She is really an extraordinary and admirable woman. People say money can buy anything. But I think her honesty is beyond price. Her spirit seems extremely valuable in today's commercial society."
Despite her efforts, Wu Xiujun still found it almost impossible to obtain all the construction costs owed to her husband. Fortunately, her efforts and creditability helped her find a way out. More and more people began to understand Wu Xiujun and offered to help her. People who had worked with her husband managed to find construction projects for her to undertake as a means of making money.
With the help of kind-hearted people and workers who previously worked for her husband, Wu Xiujun began to make money through these construction projects. Meanwhile, more and more organizations and enterprises signed contracts with her based on trust in and respect for her.
In the past five years, Wu Xiujun has kept her promise by earning money to repay her debts. So far, she has repaid US$250,000. As the debts subside day by day, Wu Xiujun now feels more at ease. Looking back at those hard days, Wu Xiujun says she has no regrets.
"I'm resolved and confident that I can pay off the debts. I know I have chosen a tough road, but I never regret it. No one can gain a foothold in society without credibility and integrity. If you have a good reputation, people will be willing to cooperate with you and give you a helping hand. After the debts are all settled, I can say to my husband and myself that I'm leading a life with dignity and integrity."
The past five years were the most difficult time in Wu Xiujun's life. But her behavior has shown the public the true meaning of honesty. Her actions have won her high respect and admiration among local residents and also attracted the attention of the media nationwide. Since 2006, her efforts have been reported in many newspapers and on TV stations and websites. In addition to being awarded a number of honors, Wu Xiujun was selected from hundreds of nominees in the nationwide National Moral Models campaign launched in July 2007.
Wu Xiujun, the name of an ordinary rural woman, is now considered a synonym for honesty and credibility in China. Wu was elected as NPC deputy in 2008.
"I started writing my diary when I arrived in Beijing yesterday (Monday). I'll write down my feelings about the people's congress as a memento of this precious experience," Wu said in an interview during the 2008 NPC session.
(Source: yyubar.blogbus.com, chinadaily.com.cn)