Portrait Project


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Linda Zhang

I am in Beijing, in the hush of the sterile hospital room.

I walk towards my grandfather, his shrunken figure battered by Parkinson's. The great statesman, once larger than life, now fights for the mere ability to speak.

What would you say to your granddaughter if you believed it might be the last time you'd see her? That you love her? That you wish her happiness? Taking my hand, he says with surprising clarity:

Don't forget that you are Chinese and have a duty to contribute to the people of this country.
Don't forget that you are a citizen of this world and must contribute to the good of humanity.

I never cried so hard as I did then. But instead of sadness, I remember that day with awe, because for a moment, he was once again larger than life. As those words settled heavily on my shoulders, I felt both the burden of his expectations and the power of his belief in me. It may be a cliché these days to say you want to leave the world better than you found it, but for me, that calling has become very personal, and as a result, never strays far from my mind.

My grandfather inspired me by appealing to my belief in something greater than myself, and I'd like to do the same for those I encounter in life — knowing they will inspire others in turn.

— Linda Zhang