Zou Bin participates in the competition of bricklaying during the 43rd Worldskills competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug. 12, 2015. (Xinhua/Xu Zijian)

by Xinhua writers Wang Xinyi, Yuan Ruting and Qiang Lijing

CHANGSHA, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Seven years ago, when 18-year-old Zou Bin picked up his father's trowel for the first time, he had no idea that he was building not just a house, but his own dream and the dreams of many others.

"It is to me both an honor and a responsibility to speak out for my brothers and sisters," Zou said ahead of the third session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature, which opened in Beijing on Friday.

From the breadwinner of his own family to an advocate for a larger community, Zou the bricklayer had never envisioned himself sitting one day in the Great Hall of the People until he was elected as a grassroots NPC deputy in 2018.

Born in a remote village in central China's Hunan Province, Zou's way to China's national legislature was paved step by step, as he built one house after another with brick and mortar, in sweaty vests and on muddy grounds.

A fresh starter but eager learner, Zou toiled on construction sites, first as an apprentice of his father and then of veteran workers. Quite often, he was caught practicing alone during lunchtime.

Day by day, his "magic little trowel" spiked in value to become the "knife and fork" at the family dining table as he continued to accumulate experience, polish his skills and rise in the ranks.

Zou believes that the sky is the limit for anyone who dares to dream, so there is always a new trail to blaze even in his small field of masonry.

In 2014, as a construction worker, he was crowned champion in a bricklaying competition organized by his company. A year later, he competed on behalf of China in the 43rd WorldSkills Competition held in Brazil, where he set a record for China in this field.

Back home, Zou was soon promoted as project inspector of his company, leading a team and coaching other bricklayers. He started to realize that his trowel meant far more than "knife and fork," but "responsibility on my shoulders."

During an inspection, Zou asked a colleague to rebuild a wall after spotting an ill-laid brick. When confronted, he showed the older worker a video of a previous accident, warning him of potential danger.

"There is a saying in our business -- quality first, value added," he said. "Bricklaying is no joke when it comes to the safety of us all."

It was this stubborn attention to detail that won him influence as a true "craftsman" among construction workers, from where he carried on this spirit to every job he did, including speaking out for fellow migrant workers, a sizable group whose voices are less heard historically. He said this was "the highlight" of his life.

A senior bricklayer but a fresh NPC deputy, Zou remembered he sat in  the Great Hall of the People for the first time, excited yet uneasy, reviewing his legislative proposal.

Not long after he came back from his first NPC meeting, he received feedbacks from authorities and several vocational schools regarding his proposals, and invitations for him to serve as a judge of bricklaying competitions.

Prior to this year's postponed NPC session, Zou visited two local construction directors and two workers who participated in the building of two makeshift hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, the hardest-hit city in neighboring Hubei Province. He asked them for any appeals that they would like to see included in his proposal.

"Probably better pay and welfare," a migrant worker told him, while one of the two directors hoped there would be more vocational training and social security for industrial workers.

Zou noted down each of their words.

Calling himself "a true beneficiary of the country's rigorous reforms over the past years," this 25-year-old is more confident in his work. "I've found my self-worth in bricklaying," he said.

Zou valued his chance, as an NPC deputy, to advocate for more chances that could turn industrious blue-collar "craftsmen" into skillful technicians powered by a sense of accomplishment and dignity.

This time, Zou is much more at ease with the meeting, ready to "be the voice that makes a difference."  ■

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