Once Hailed as China’s Youngest University Student, Prodigy Now Content with Sitting Around

A former Chinese whizkid who entered university at the age of 10 and was already a PhD candidate in Applied Mathematics at 16, spends his days doing nothing and relies on his parents for money.

Zhang Xinyang had always been destined for greatness. At just two and a half years old, he learned over a thousand Chinese characters within three months, and by age four, he was already in primary school. Born into a modest family, Zhang benefitted from his father’s tutelage and managed to skip several grades. At age six, he was already in fifth grade, and by age nine, he was enrolled in the third grade of high school. When he was ten years old, Zhang Xinyang became China’s youngest university student, getting accepted at the Tianjin University of Technology and Education. His genius surprised everyone, but as he grew, his attitude started to change…


At the age of 13, Zhang began a Master’s program in Beijing, and while most other 16-year-olds were pondering what university to apply to, Zhang Xinyang was already pursuing a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and doing interviews with major news outlets. However, the media coverage wasn’t as positive as it used to be. Just a month into his stint at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) as a Ph.D. student, the prodigy made news headlines for giving his parents an ultimatum – either they bought him a Beijing apartment, or he quit his studies.

“My parents want me to stay in Beijing. Yet, if I did not have my own house here, I would be like those Beijing drifters. If I am like them, why then do my parents want me to get a Doctoral degree?” ” young Zhang said in a TV interview, adding that his parents “should take the responsibility of providing me with a good living environment.”

Zhang Xinyang’s parents had always struggled to keep him in school, and his request was virtually impossible to fulfill. Still, they couldn’t bear the thought of him abandoning his studies when he had already achieved so much, so they rented a Beijing apartment and lied that they had bought it. Zhang’s father had also been a gifted child and he could have been in the first generation of students in the MBA program at Renmin University, but his family couldn’t afford to tutor him. Now he hoped his son would achieve everything he couldn’t and more.


At the time, Zhang Xinyang’s attitude was criticized by the public, but that didn’t seem to affect him. If anything, he doubled down on his statements, claiming that he wasn’t the one driving them crazy, that they were doing it to themselves.

“My parents gave birth to me and imposed their dream on me, hoping that one day I would achieve what they wanted to gain in the past,” the 16-year-old said. “They planned my life for me, trying to make me think that what they were leading me to do was what I wanted to do.”

Zhang’s parents sometimes expressed regret for maybe pushing him too hard, but they hoped that his success would justify their actions. However, things didn’t play out the way they hoped…


Today, at 28 years old, Zhang Xinyang isn’t the man most expected him to become. He still lives in the Beijing apartment rented for him years ago and for which they continue to cover rent, but he has no job and spends most of his time sitting around doing nothing. He believes this simple way of life is the true expression of happiness and he is content with relying on his parents and the odd freelance job to support himself.

“They owe me this,” Zhang recently said about his parents. “The apartment they never bought me should be worth over 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) now.”

Zhang Xinyang’s story has divided the Chinese internet. Some criticize him for his arrogance and lack of respect for his parents, while others cite his case as a cautionary tale for parents who push their children too much when they should just let them enjoy their childhood years. Zhang Xinyang’s undergraduate teacher told reporters that he still has time to achieve great things if he puts his mind to it, but he has no intention of doing any work.


“There is no financial freedom when working for someone else, that’s a joke. At least now I don’t need to deal with the attitudes of others,” the 28-year-old said.