An adult man once hailed as a child prodigy in China has decided to depend on his parents and live his entire life without a regular job.
Rise of the “prodigy”: Born in 1995, Zhang Xinyang first gained acclaim as the “little prodigy” when he was 2.5 years old for being able to read over 2,000 Chinese characters.
At age 5, Zhang was enrolled in a primary school but was bumped to second grade in less than a month. He would continuously impress his teachers and eventually got accelerated to fifth grade in just six months.
Now unemployed at 28, he told Jiupai News in an interview that he has always perceived himself as an ordinary person, distancing himself from the “prodigy” label.
Despite early academic success, Zhang’s later struggles with standardized tests prevented him from attending China’s top universities. He entered university at the age of 10 and pursued a Ph.D. by 16, setting records as the country’s youngest doctoral student.
A flat in Beijing: Zhang made headlines in 2011 after demanding a 2-million-yuan ($280,000) apartment unit in Beijing from his parents before starting his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics at Beihang University, according to South China Morning Post. He even gave his parents an ultimatum that he would not pursue his Ph.D. and give up his master’s degree if they refused to buy him his apartment unit.
Despite Zhang’s insistence, his parents compromised by renting him a “large flat” during his Ph.D. program instead of buying him one. Zhang claimed that his insistence on a flat stemmed from a belief that the majority of families in Beijing and Shanghai provided their children with a residence from birth.
“When I came to Beijing and Tianjin when I was 10 years old, I could feel the differences between me and the local kids strongly,” Zhang said, according to Mothership. “If you don’t even have a house in Beijing, what use would the Ph.D. degree have?”
Parental dependence: After completing his doctorate in 2019, Zhang still felt he deserved a spending allowance of up to 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), the supposed current value of the flat that his parents did not buy him. He held a teaching job at Ningxia Normal University after graduation but resigned two years later in August 2021. While he said he accumulated around 50,000 yuan ($7,000) in earnings, he revealed that he had already spent it all.
Zhang said he now works on ad-hoc projects with his friends but admits he can get by with daily expenses from an allowance sent by his parents. Zhang regularly receives 10,000 yuan ($1,400) from his parents every two to three months for allowance and an extra 2,200 yuan ($307) monthly for his rent.
“I am really quite happy with my life right now, and I don’t have many desires. If I really need something, all I need to do is to call my dad. My parents still owe me a flat in Beijing, which would have cost more than 10 million yuan by now. From this perspective, as long as my spending is below 10 million yuan, I can do whatever I want.”
Zhang’s “frugal” lifestyle: Zhang expresses contentment with his current situation, emphasizing a lack of stress and the satisfaction derived from his chosen path. According to Zhang, he can keep his spending down by consuming expired food and buying only vegetable dishes. This approach has allowed him to avoid getting a full-time job.
“How would you achieve financial freedom by working for others? That would be an utter joke. For now, at least, I don’t need to be at someone’s disposal. Time has changed, and no one will starve to death nowadays. If you just sit around and do nothing, you can live a happy life. However, if you start a business recklessly, you can easily lose everything. I am quite satisfied with my current situation. No job, no stress.”