Caring for the Poor, an Immigrant’s Story

His grandfather was a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. His mom and dad were both physicians. Even his brother was a doctor.

When Ming Wang was born in Hangzhou, in the Zhejiang province of China, his destiny seemed to be all but determined.

However, dictator Mao Tse-tung had other ideas. Though Ming made all A’s in school, he had the misfortune of attending school during the “Cultural Revolution.” During that time, the government had a “forced education” program for the youth, which meant the government decided Ming’s future occupational trajectory. Mao shut down colleges, ending the education of Chinese children after high school.

Ming, if the dictator had had his way, would have been a farmer in a remote peasant village for the rest of his life.

Ming’s parents believed in education, but were afraid that if they sent their son to high school he would be deported like other youths. So, when he was only fourteen, his parents took him out of school. At thirteen, his education was over and the only job available to him in his province was janitorial work.

Instead, he had an idea.

He knew that the Communists needed professional musicians for use in their propaganda efforts, so he began playing a traditional Chinese stringed instrument called the er-hu.

“I picked up the er-hu, not as a hobby but to survive,” Ming says. Every day, he sat down in his home and practiced for fifteen hours a day. Since his family had no heater, he’d get frost-bite on his fingers due to excessive practicing during the cold months. However, the government swooped in and destroyed that dream as well.

Once they learned that teenagers were learning musical instruments to avoid deportation, they made a sweeping proclamation not to accept any musicians from Ming’s city.

Ming’s dad illegally taught his son medicine, by sneaking him into classes he taught at a local college. Though there was no chance that his son could ever become an actual physician, his father believed that knowledge for the sake of knowledge was important. After a year, however, the government caught wind of his illegal activities and expelled him from classes.

Just as his parents were about to relent and accept Ming’s fate of hard labor, Mao died.

For the first time in years, colleges were opened up and Ming had a chance to get in by cramming all of the years of missed education into two short months. Miraculously, he pulled off this stunt, got accepted into the “MIT of China,” impressed a visiting American professor, and ended up in America. Business Leader sums up his educational trajectory:

On Feb. 3, 1982, Wang arrived at the National Airport, Washington DC, with $50 and a Chinese-English dictionary in his pocket, knowing no one in this vast new country but carrying a “big American dream” in his heart. He worked very hard, realizing how precious in life such an opportunity is for learning, and how close he once was to giving up all hope for studying and for a better life. Five years later, Wang graduated with a doctorate degree in laser physics and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Wang then went on to receive his second doctorate degree — this time in medicine — from Harvard Medical School and MIT, graduating with an MD (magna cum laude). His graduation thesis received the award as the best thesis of his graduating class from Harvard that year. He then received his training in ophthalmology at three of the nation’s top four ophthalmic institutions — Harvard Medical School in Boston, Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia (ophthalmology residency), and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami (corneal fellowship).

Dr. Ming Wang now works in Nashville as a corneal refractive surgeon who believes in the American dream, limited government, and helping the poor. How does he balance his belief in small government and liberty with his desire to help the poor? Through volunteer medical care within a system that helps facilitate that care. He wrote about his approach in a recent Tennessean article:

Ten years ago we established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit sight-restoration foundation. It provided a system to identify indigent patients and make the arrangements to get them to the appropriate doctors. The foundation consists of three parts: a team of eye doctors who donate their services, a group of medical companies that contribute supplies and a board of philanthropic leaders in our community who donate financially and assist in fundraising. To show that this system does indeed work, I will share one recent example.

Last year at the foundation’s annual gala — the EyeBall — attendees were captivated and deeply moved as Christian missionaries Steve and Lynn Hendrich shared the story and photos of Maria, a 15-year-old blind girl whom they had found in an orphanage in Moldova. Maria was born prematurely and had a retinal detachment in her left eye that resulted in total blindness, and an end-stage cataract and uveitis in her right eye that left her with only light-perception vision.

To make matters worse, since Maria was 15, she had only one year left before she would have to leave the orphanage. Lacking the skills to survive, she would most likely be forced into human trafficking and prostitution, a devastating fate that has fallen upon many Moldovan orphan girls. The foundation decided to take Maria on as our next patient.

After a year of challenging efforts, Maria finally received her visa and made the long trip to America. Maria’s first visit was to our clinic for a complex and high-risk cataract surgery, which, by the grace of God, went miraculously well. When the patch was removed, Maria was able to see herself and the world around her for the very first time! Maria was then sent by the foundation to another doctor, Dr. David Shen, who provided optical care.

Want to see a video of Maria seeing herself for the first time? When she realized the girl looking back from the mirror was actually herself, she exclaimed, “I’m so pretty!” in Romanian.




Dr. Wang’s approach successfully reduces the financial and logistical challenges of caring for the poor, while protecting our freedom and choices. Ming, who has seen government oppression with his own eyes, said “There are simply not enough financial resources available to care for the poor, but if we don’t want a bigger government and higher taxes, we need to be proactive and take more responsibility ourselves in helping devise solutions.”

By the way, Ming still remembers how to play the instrument of his youth.

“I learned to play er-hu as a way to escape poverty then,” he says. “But now I play it for an entirely different reason. Today I play the er-hu, with its soulful, gentle and beautiful sound, to truly appreciate the music itself, to appreciate God’s blessings, and the opportunities that He has given me to learn, and to help others.”

Nancy French — Nancy French is a three-time New York Times best-selling author and a longtime contributor to National Review Online.

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