Zhejiang city mourns 'Breakfast Nanny'

By MA ZHENHUAN in Hangzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-26 06:47
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"Breakfast Nanny" Mao Shihua provides food to children in Huangtankou township, Quzhou, Zhejiang province, in 2016. PAN JIE/FOR CHINA DAILY

When 90-year-old Mao Shihua died on Dec 18, netizens from around the country joined the people of Mao's hometown in Zhejiang province to mourn her passing.

For 27 years, Mao was a permanent fixture for the residents of Huangtankou township in Quzhou, a city in Zhejiang, selling breakfast to schoolchildren daily from her simple stall meters away from the Huangtankou Primary School.

Fondly nicknamed "Breakfast Nanny", Mao served food that was both nutritious and cheap. Each item cost just half a yuan (7 US cents), and the price was never raised.

Mao's "day" began at 2 am, when she would start preparing the breakfast items such as egg cakes, sticky rice cakes and soybean milk. She was picky about the quality of food. The eggs would always be the best she could find, and the soybean milk would be fresh.

Around 5:30 am, Mao would ride a tricycle cart to her stall to sell the breakfast to her customers, and there she would remain till 7:30 am. Mao often said that she loved children and wanted to ensure none of them went hungry. Many of the students she served came from poor families and left home very early to reach school on time.

Despite spending hours to prepare and then sell the breakfast, Mao barely made 50 yuan or so a day. She would often need to dip into her pension to cover costs. Even owners of neighboring stalls would admit that Mao made no money out of her business.

However, Mao didn't care. She was always more than willing to spend her pension money to provide a nutritious breakfast for the children living in the mountainous area.

She found immense satisfaction hearing the sound of the children reading aloud in the classrooms. Having them greet her every morning gave her joy, and the hours she spent serving food to them was the happiest part of the day for her, Mao often said. The work was hard, but the love of her customers kept Mao going.

Ye Tingting, Mao's granddaughter said: "The work was too exhausting. Even though I was young, I could not keep up with her. I don't know how my grandmother persisted for nearly 30 years. She had inexhaustible energy."

Netizens expressed their admiration for Mao and grief over her death, and praised her as an "ordinary hero".

"Many children grew up healthy thanks to the care provided by grandma Mao. She conveyed the kindness of traditional Chinese culture with her actions," said a netizen on Sina Weibo.

Shao Lixian, who works at a local volunteers' public service center in Quzhou, said the work Mao did for so many years was extraordinary.

In 2019, inspired by Mao, the public service center established the"1-yuan caring breakfast" store. From 7 to 8:30 am every day, the store provides 20 to 30 breakfast sets priced at 1 yuan for special groups such as sanitation workers and elderly people.

The "Breakfast Nanny" may have passed away, but her legacy remains alive in Quzhou.

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