His hand had shoveled shit his whole life. Now it was being held by the president of China. In 1959, Shi Chuanxiang (时传祥) stood in the Great Hall of the People and shook the hand of Liu Shaoqi (刘少奇). “Your work as a collector of night soil makes you a true servant of the people,” said Liu. “And as the president, I am also a servant of the people.”
Flashbulbs popped, and the following day a picture of the meeting between China’s head of state and the night soil gatherer from Beijing appeared in the People’s Daily. Overnight, Shi Chuanxiang, the Night Soil King of Chongwen District, was famous around the country.
It was a shining moment for Shi, the culmination of a long malodorous march to respectability. But it came at a very high cost.