Legless ‘Iron Man’ Beats the Odds

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The hashtag “elderly man uses his hands to walk for over 40 years” has been trending on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, and it has astonished netizens, with praises pouring in for Xi. 

  • Toiled for 40 years with bare hands
  • Cared for family, worked on farm
  • Exemplary courage and perseverance 

At age 60, some people are already retired and enjoying life while others are probably looking forward to it. Not so for Xi Tiangen who hails from Henan Province in China.

What’s really astonishing is that Xi has no legs, which he lost in an accident when he was about 20 years old. Yet, he has still been able to carve a living for the last 40 years – literally with only his two hands.


Sans legs, even the simplest of tasks such as getting out of bed, going to the toilet, or just moving around, would have been extremely difficult for him. However, forced to cope with his permanent disability, he learned how to ‘walk’ with his hands.

With the aid of a pair of gloves to protect them, he worked alongside his father on the family’s farm to eke out a living for the entire family.


In 1986, he lost his father; and Xi was left to continue taking care of his elderly ill mother and a younger brother who is mentally disabled. Without his father, he had to take on more tasks on the farm – including hoeing the fields and cutting wheat.

Aside from the farm work, the brave man also learned to cook meals and did the laundry for his family. His fastidious care of his family members continued right up until his mother passed away in 2006, followed by his brother in 2015.


Xi’s cousin invited him to move in for better care, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to work on the farm as he prefers to be independent – despite his fingers becoming permanently curled from 40 years of toiling the soils of the earth.

Touched by Xi’s story, some locals have started making small donations which have enabled him to get a monthly stipend of about RMB130 (USD18).


Many netizens also commented that they hoped the courageous Xi could retire soon as they felt he deserved to take time off after 40 years of selfless dedication to his family.

And inspired by his optimism, Netizens on Weibo have given him the nickname ‘Iron Man’. One account user, @rouroudeerbai said: “Looking at the elderly man, we have no reason to not work hard.”