CHINA: By all accounts, Zhang Xinyang should have been primed for success. He won a spot in university when he was only 10 years old and, by the time he was 16, was already a PhD candidate in Applied Mathematics. But today, at age 28, he now says “sitting around and doing nothing is the key to lifelong happiness.”

Mr Zhang lives in a rented flat, has no full-time job, only has a few thousand yuan in savings, and still relies on his parents for support. So is he a victim of his own success?

In a report earlier this week, the South China Morning Post said that Zhang had once been famous for being his country’s youngest university and graduate student. When he was just 16, he was already a PhD student in Applied Mathematics at a top Beijing school, Beihang University. Previous to that, he had already won a number of gold medals in international competitions.

At 10, he entered Tianji College of Engineering, and at 13, he enrolled at Beijing University of Technology for his master’s degree.

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But in 2011, while doing his graduate courses, he shocked society by demanding that his parents buy a Beijing apartment worth 2 million yuan (US$275,000). He told them that if they refused, he would halt his master’s studies and turn down the offer for him to get his doctorate.

What his parents did, however, was to rent an apartment for him in Beijing, but told him that they had purchased it for him, said state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

CCTV quoted Zhang as defining success in its 2011 report as “Buying an apartment, finding a good job, and a Beijing hukou – and so becoming officially registered as a city resident.”

He told his parents, ”You expect me to stay in Beijing more than anyone, and you should try hard” to buy him an apartment.

In 2019, after he finished his doctorate, he worked as a lecturer at Ningxia University. But two years later, in 2021, he resigned. Since then, he’s been doing project-based freelance work and lives in a 2,200 yuan per month rental flat in Shanghai.

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Furthermore, the savings he put aside from his time of teaching at Ningxia University have been dwindling. He relies on his parents to help him out financially as well.

Moreover, his definition of success has now changed dramatically, preferring to sit around and do nothing to make him happy.

He told Jiupai News late last month that his parents “owe” him. “The apartment they never bought me should be worth over 10 million yuan (S$1.9 million) now.”

Mr Zhang’s story has divided netizens, with some characterizing it as the “downfall of a prodigy,” while others claim “His parents were obsessed with cultivating a prodigy and eventually he compensated for his missing growing process in another way.”

Another opined that Mr Zhang ”didn’t become an elder-gnawing adult all of a sudden. He had given up after trying to break free many times and failing”. /TISG

Netizens salute parents of 12yo SG whiz kid working toward advanced degrees in math & music