Blind World Magazine

Blind masseur shows the way to break down barriers.

January 26, 2006.
China Daily - China.

Zhang Hongtao is like any other entrepreneur.

Having already established a successful business, he has now created a website to promote the Beijing firm.

And despite all this, he is looking to apply his ever-growing business skills to other areas.

But what sets Zhang apart from many other businesspeople is that he is blind.

His massage room in a basement apartment near the bustling Chaoyangmen area employs three blind massage therapists.

Zhang vowed to give his parlour a competitive edge over others in the capital. He recently took a major step forward by marketing the small business on the Internet, making it somewhat international.

The 24-year-old's website,, contains details in both Chinese and English on massage service items, prices, and basic information on massage.

The parlour currently generates a net profit of about US$400 each month, mostly from patrons in the neighbourhood.

"With this website I hope we can attract more young people and ex-pats living in Beijing. We can provide a visiting service, and I believe that rich business people will appreciate the value of Chinese medical massage in relieving physical and mental stress," said Zhang, who made the website through special screen-reading software.

Unlike some massage websites that try to call for sympathy for people with blindness, Zhang's focuses solely on the services it provides.

Although it is too early to tell the effects, Zhang believes it is the right way a blind man should take to express his entrepreneurial spirit.

"This is a business, and the correct way to make a business respected is to provide a good service instead of trying to create sympathy," Zhang said.

Zhang has had poor eyesight since childhood. With his vision worsening seriously while at middle school, he enrolled in the special education college of the Beijing Union University (BUU), majoring in Chinese medical massage.

The native Beijinger is not completely blind now. Objects appear to him as a blurry outline but he cannot make out features.

He had not always planned to be a masseur. Believing that blind people could do more, he was recruited by an IT company when he graduated in 2003, to answer the customer service hotline.

Although colleagues in the company recognized his good performance, Zhang gradually became bored.

"No matter how well I did, I would have no chance to move to other jobs such as technical support or sales because my eyes didn't work, and that feeling was frustrating," he said.

Zhang quit the job in early 2005 and became involved in the massage business, an area he had originally wanted to avoid.

"But I got to understand there would be opportunities as long as I did it well, because it's my own business," he said.

"He is one of the few disabled students I've seen who are highly entrepreneurial," said Wang Wenming, a teacher with the BUU special education college.

"Such entrepreneurial spirit is particularly valuable at a time when disabled people are still disadvantaged in many ways."

His college offers tailored courses to disabled students, such as massage for blind people, and art and design for deaf people.

Wang said most of the jobs available to disabled people are in niche areas, despite the law's guarantees on providing disabled employment.

But Zhang remains calm about the situation. "It's not about whether our society cares for the disabled," he said.

"It takes time to improve the economic and technological infrastructure before there are opportunities for the blind to be doctors, lawyers and professors in China as blind people are doing in the United States today."

Aside from the massage website, Zhang already has bigger dreams to sell mobile phone-based screen-reading software in China.

The software has been developed by a Spanish company and can read mobile phone messages in Chinese.

There is no such tool in China for the blind, according to Zhang, who believes introducing it to China will significantly facilitate the communication of millions of blind people in the country.

Zhang is in negotiation with the company and he said he hoped to win its approval to sell it in China.

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