Over the past two days, an essay written by a female migrant worker living in Beijing has gone viral on Chinese social media. The article, simply titled “I Am Fan Yusu” (我是范雨素, translation here) tells about the life and family of the 44-year-old Fan from a village in Xiangyang (Hubei) who has moved to Beijing where she does housework.
In her spare time, Fan, who quit school at the age of 12, loves to read and write. Last year, one of her essays titled “Peasant Brother” (农民大哥) was also published online by Beijing media outlet Noonstory.
The Beijing migrant worker has not had an easy life. Coming from a small impoverished village, she moved to Beijing at the age of 20 and married a man who turned out to be a violent alcoholic. After getting divorced, Fan Yusu is now a single mother of two daughters.
Although the writings of Fan Yusu are simple, her message is powerful. Within a timeframe of 48 hours the essay “I Am Fan Yusu” was shared in thousands of WeChat groups and went viral on Weibo.
Her essay starts like this:
“My life is like a book that’s dreadful to read – fate has made its cover very messy. I am from Xiangyang in Hubei, and started to do private teaching at the local village school when I was 12. If I wouldn’t have left, I would have continued to teach and would have become a proper teacher. But I couldn’t bear to stay in the countryside and view the sky from the bottom of the well, so I came to Beijing. I wanted to see the world. I was 20 years old at the time.”
“Things were not easy after coming to Beijing. It was mainly because I was lazy and stupid, and because I was not skillful with my hands and feet. What other people could do in half an hour, I couldn’t even finish in three. My hands were too slow, slower than most people. I worked as a waitress at a restaurant and would drop the tray and break the plates. I just made enough money to keep myself from starving. I wasted two years in Beijing and couldn’t see the bigger picture. I then rushed myself into marrying a man from the Northeast of China.”
“Within a time frame of just five or six years, we had two daughters. But their father’s business was doing worse and worse, and he started to drink heavily every day and became aggressive. I simply couldn’t bear the domestic violence and decided to take my daughters and go back to my village in Xiangyang and ask for help. He never even came looking for us. I later heard he went from Mongolia to Russia. He’s probably lying drunk on some Moscow street now. In my hometown, I told my mother that I would go and raise my two daughters myself.”
Fan Yusu goes on to tell about her childhood and the story of her mother. Born in 1936, Fan’s mother was asked to become the director of the local Women’s Federation at the age of 14 because she was a good speaker and problem-solver. “She started doing that in 1950 and stayed in power for 40 years, even exceeding the reigning time of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi,” Fan writes.
In her essay, Fan tells about the pressures of village life and the patriarchal social system, and how her mother – raising five children in an unhappy marriage – suffered from it and eventually had to leave her job because of it.
Fan was born when her mother was forty, and was the only healthy daughter of their family. While growing up, Fan developed a passion for literature and started reading every book she could get her hands on.
But at the age of 12, Fan ran away from home during a school holiday to “see the world,” and stayed away for three months exploring the southern parts of China. When she returned home, she was rejected by her father and brothers and became the talk of the town. Fan did not return to school and took on a teaching job. Her mother was the only one who never turned away from her, from when she was a child until her adult years.
“When I had returned home to Xiangyang with my two daughters after leaving the violence in my home and my alcoholic husband, my mother was calm and collected and told me not to worry. But my brother avoided me like the plague and wanted me to leave and not cause him any problems.”
“At this moment, I realized I no longer had a home. For us as poor rural people, it is very hard to get by in life, and the affection between family members naturally is not that deep. I did not resent my brother, but I understood that I was now merely a passer-by in the village where I was born and raised.”
In the final part of her essay, Fan tells about her life as a single mother and migrant worker in Beijing, and the mother’s love she received despite all hardships – which she hopes to return to society.
On Weibo and WeChat, the essay, which spread like wildfire, has gotten thousands of reactions over the past few days. “My friends sent this to me through our chat group,” one netizen says: “Many praise it, some denounce it, but I actually still don’t know the original source of the article.”
Despite the massive craze over Fan’s work, there are also those who say her writing is plain.
But the majority of people say the essay by Fan has moved them to tears, and that it has made them realize that literature is not an unattainable art. Her work is praised for telling a meaningful individual story that also shows the multi-layered problems of society.
The topic “Migrant Worker Fan Yusu Becomes Famous” (#农民工范雨素走红#) was viewed over 1.5 million times on Weibo today.
As her writings are taking social media by storm, Fan Yusu commented to the press that she had never imagined becoming famous and that it was not her intention: “It makes me scared,” she says. Over the past few days, she has given countless interviews and has been overwhelmed with attention.
“Although I barely get by, I do have enough to eat and live,” she told local media, saying that she does not write to change her life, but just writes to satisfy a “spiritual need.”
On April 26, several media reported that Fan is so overwhelmed with her sudden fame that she has gone into hiding in a mountain village and is no longer available for interviews.
“I hope we can respect her personal life and that we will leave her in peace,” one Weibo commenter said.
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