In 1962 at the height of the great famine in China, an extraordinarily gifted child was born in Xinxian, a small town in Henan province. Cao Yong's family, struggling to find enough food to eat, was suspected of disloyalty to the government. A great-great grandparent once owned land, real estate and banks, and a great grandparent was a warlord. In the Cultural Revolution, this singled the family out for harsh treatment by the Chinese authorities. The family were ostracized, denied food and residency permits.
At age five , he nearly lost his life while carrying heavy baskets of gravel at a construction site. The rock pit caved in, crushing the small boy under the rubble.