He cooks, writes and sews: How an armless Chinese man lives a richer life than most

An armless man inspires millions in China with videos showing how he farms, cooks, writes and even sews with his own feet.
PHOTO: Douyin

From chopping wood to writing delicate Chinese calligraphy, 33-year-old Fan Yutian has shown millions of people on mainland social media that a person without arms can live a full life by using their feet instead.

Fan, who lost both arms in an accident at the age of three, has earned respect and received support after sharing videos online demonstrating how he uses his feet to cook, farm, write Chinese calligraphy, and even sew garments.

“I wanted to tell others that with my feet, I could do anything that others do with their hands,” he told the South China Morning Post.

Born and raised in a poverty-stricken family in Fuchuan county of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in southern China, Fan has proved that disability and poverty have not defeated him. Instead, he can be better at certain things than able-bodied people.

Since childhood, Fan has won awards in various competitions including swimming, calligraphy, dancing and public speaking.

His inspirational videos on Douyin, mainland China’s TikTok, have attracted 263,000 followers and 3.4 million likes.

“You’re awesome. I felt bad about myself, but after seeing you, I found there is no obstacle I can’t overcome,” one admirer wrote.

In one video Fan threads the eye of a small needle, ties a knot and then repairs a T-shirt that had come unstitched using just his mouth and feet.

Fan manages to farm the land where he lives. PHOTO: Weibo

He acquired his sewing skills at just eight years old, when he saw his grandmother mending rips and tears in clothes that were donated to the family or picked up from rubbish bins, he said.

“I wanted to help because due to old age, her hands shook when sewing. She tried to stop me, advising me not to ‘embarrass’ myself, but I insisted and I made it,” Fan recalled.

He learned most of the other skills during childhood too, including cooking, swimming, fishing and all kinds of farm work.

“Many people looked down upon me when I was a child because of my physical disability,” he recalled.

“But after I learned to do everything with my feet, they started using me as an example to educate their children. Some teachers and parents would say to them: ‘Look at that armless child, even he is better than you’,” he said.

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Because of his family’s poor financial situation, he was unable to continue with his schooling after nine years of compulsory education.

But he often appears in different schools now where he is frequently invited to give speeches to inspire students.

Repeated practice has changed him from a quiet person to a talkative one.

“When I first learned public speaking six years ago, I was so shy I would sweat when talking to people, especially girls,” he said.

After two years of practice, he won third prize in a public speaking contest for youths in 2018.

Public speaking and selling calligraphy have become Fan’s major source of income.

Talking about the future, he was frank about his ambition to be famous.

“I want to promote myself, make more people know me and like me. Then I’ll be able to help villagers sell local farm produce online,” he said.

“It’s also my dream to go to every school to tell every student to be strong,” he added.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.