It all started in 1972, when she found an abandoned baby girl while collecting rubbish.
Madam Lou Xiaoying said the girl would have died if she had not rescued her and taken her in.
She said: "Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness, and I realised I had a real love of caring for children.
"I realised if we had strength enough to collect garbage, how could we not recycle something as important as human lives?"
Madam Lou, now 88 and suffering from kidney failure, has been hailed as a hero after it was revealed that she had found and raised more than 30 abandoned babies from the streets of Jinhua, in China's Zhejiang province, over decades.
The Daily Mail reported that she made a living by recycling rubbish.
Madam Lou, who has one biological daughter, Ms Zhang Caiying, 49, said: "These children need love and care. They are all precious human lives. I do not understand how people can leave such a vulnerable baby on the streets."
Together with her husband, Mr Li Zin, who died 17 years ago, she kept four of the children and passed the rest to friends and family members so that they could begin new lives.
The youngest child, seven-year-old Zhang Qilin, was found in a dustbin by Madam Lou when she was 82.
"Even though I was already getting old, I could not simply ignore the baby and leave him to die in the trash. He looked so sweet and so needy. I had to take him home with me," she said.
She took the boy back to her home - a small house in the countryside - and nursed him back to health.
Her older children help to look after Qilin, who she said was named after the Chinese word for "rare and precious".
Word of her kindness has spread in China, where thousands of babies are abandoned on the streets by their poverty- stricken parents.
"She is shaming governments, schools and people who stand by and do nothing," said one of her supporters. "She has no money or power, but she saved children from death or worse."
Too many abandoned babies
"In the local community she is well known and well respected for her work with the abandoned babies. She does her best. She is a local hero. But unfortunately, there are far too many abandoned babies in China who have no hope of survival."
Last week, a baby was put into a plastic bag and thrown into a dustbin in Anshan City, in Liaoning province - after it had had its throat cut.
The baby girl, who survived, was thought to be a victim of China's one-child policy.
She was spotted and saved by a man who was throwing rubbish into the bin.
A resident who saw the baby being taken to hospital said: "She was still breathing and had a heartbeat. Blood from the wound stained the whole body."
Doctors said that the baby, which had turned purple, would have died of suffocation if it had been left in the bag a few minutes longer.
They said that the baby had been born premature - probably between 32 and 34 weeks old - and weighed just 1.4kg.
A medic said that if the cut had been just a millimetre deeper, the baby would have died.
This article was first published in The New Paper.