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“I Am Fan Yusu” – Beijing Migrant Worker’s Writing Takes Chinese Internet by Storm

A moving essay by a Beijing migrant worker has gone viral over Chinese social media this week. Although the article named “I am Fan Yusu” is currently the best-read article in China, the 44-year-old author, who has become famou overnight, just hopes she can live her life in peace.

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A moving essay by a Beijing migrant worker has gone viral over Chinese social media this week. Although the article named “I Am Fan Yusu” (我是范雨素) is currently the best-read article in China, the 44-year-old author, who has become China’s literary sensation overnight, just hopes she can live her life in peace.

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.”

Fan Yusu on April 25, 2017. Photo by Sina Finance.

“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.

Photo of Fan Yusu’s mother, provided by Fan to Chinese media (Noonstory/Weibo).

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.”

She continues:

“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.

– By Manya Koetse
Thanks to Diandian Guo

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Daisy

    April 28, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Oh Manya, I love that you covered this story. Stories like this to arrive at the far reaches of the world can remind us how similar we all are. It reminds me of Ayi. While her husband is not an alcoholic, the heart aching story of how her children long for her still resonates with me (the one where she told her son she would be home as soon as the corn was ready to be picked, and from then on, he watered them 3x a day in hopes she could return sooner).

    Love,
    Daisy

  2. David Savage

    April 28, 2017 at 5:53 am

    Thanks for telling this beautiful story. I hope you can follow up Yan Fuzu while respecting her privacy. Maybe you can start a support group to assist her financially in some way, however small.

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China Arts & Entertainment

China’s TV & Film Companies Join Hands to Boycott Huge Salaries in Entertainment Industry

Is this the end of the exorbitant pays for Chinese actors and actresses?

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Chinese television series 'Empress of China' starring Fan Bing Bing.

After authorities put restrictions on high pays for Chinese actors and actresses, nine of China’s most prominent entertainment companies have now come forward with a proposed boycott on excessive wages for stars in film and tv dramas.

On August 11, nine of China’s biggest entertainment and streaming sites, including iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent video, issued a joint statement on boycotting excessive high wages for actors and actresses.

The statement, titled “Resisting Unreasonable Pays & Rejecting Unhealthy Industry Trends” (‘抑制不合理片酬,抵制行业不正之风’) says that actors and actresses should not get paid more than one million yuan (±US$146,000) per episode and not more than 50 million (±7,3 million US) for an entire drama show or movie.

The relatively high pay of actors and actresses in China, especially in the TV drama industry, has been making headlines for years. Previously, Chinese authorities already sought to rein in high salaries for actors, which can take up a significant percentage of a production’s budget.

In 2016, Beijing Review reported that Chinese stars’ salaries were under fire for being excessively high. At the time, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Sun Baoshu, stated that since casting takes up such a large part of production funds, producers have to cut budgets for things such as scriptwriting, stage setting, and sound recording. This leads to poorer productions, Sun said, harming the development of China’s entertainment market.

In September of 2017, the China Alliance of Radio, Film, and Television (CARFT), a non-profit organization that works under the government, ordered China’s production agencies to limit the expenses for cast salaries to no more than 40% of the total production costs for online/TV drama series. Within this percentage, the salary of the show’s leading actors reportedly could not exceed 70% of the total salary paid to all actors, arguing that top-earning stars’ high fees are harmful to a ‘healthy development’ of China’s entertainment industry. The same rule was reiterated by the Chinese tax authorities this week.

Today’s statement, for the first time, puts a cap on the fixed amount actors and actresses in the Chinese entertainment can receive per project – not based on percentages of the total budget.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the statement comes at a time when a tax evasion scandal involving China’s highest-paid actress Fan Bingbing is making headlines in China. The actress reportedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she allegedly only declared 10 million to authorities.

The scandal has attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, with many bewildered reactions over the exorbitant pays in the entertainment industry.

Posts publishing the boycott statement have gone viral on Weibo this weekend; some received over 58,000 likes per thread, and the hashtag “boycott high pays” (#抵制天价片酬#) was viewed more than 16 million times at time of writing.

The companies signing the statement are:

iQiyi (爱奇艺), also dubbed ‘the Netflix of China’, a leading online entertainment and streaming service.

Youku (优酷), one of the biggest online video companies in China, sometimes referred to as the Chinese YouTube.

Tencent Video (腾讯视频), the hugely popular Chinese video streaming website owned by Tencent.

Daylight Entertainment (正午阳光), one of China’s most respected production companies.

Huace Film & TV Co (华策影视), well-known TV program production and distribution company.

Linmon Pictures (柠萌影业), a Shanghai-based Chinese film & TV producer and distributor.

Ciwen Media Co (慈文传媒), a Beijing-based film and television company.

Youhug Media (耀客传媒),a media and entertainment management company headquartered in Shanghai.

New Classics Media (新丽传媒), a renowned TV content and film producer.

Among the thousands of people responding to the new boycott on Weibo, there are many who find that the maximum pay is still way too high: “A million yuan per episode?! My god!”, many write, with some wondering why actors are making so much more money than doctors and scientists.

Others comment that they think it is funny none of the big actors and actresses on Weibo allegedly have reposted the popular statement.

“I’m supportive of the boycott,” a typical comment read: “These high fees really were an unhealthy tendency.”

Others write: “It’s good! They should have done it years ago.”

By Manya Koetse,
with contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Why Disney’s Christopher Robin Is Not Released in China (And It’s Not Just Because of Winnie)

Recently, many foreign media reported that Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) will not be released in China due to an alleged “nationwide ban” on Winnie. But there is more to this than meets the eye.

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Disney’s latest film Christopher Robin will not be released in Chinese cinemas. Many English-language media claim it is for the fact that the movie’s main star, Winnie the Pooh, is regarded too politically sensitive in the country. But these reports are clouded by misconceptions: Winnie is not banned in China, and it is common for Western films not to be released in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explains.

 
With contributions from Luka de Boni
 

Christopher Robin, denied Chinese release, is the latest victim in China’s war on Winnie the Pooh,” writes Vox. “China gives Winnie the Pooh the enemy-of-the-state treatment,” says a recent New York Post headline.

Over the past days, the fact that Disney’s new 2018 film Christopher Robin will not premiere in mainland China has made headlines in many English-language media, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Most sources allege that the movie, inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, will not be released in the country’s theatres because “Chinese leader Xi Jinping is prickly about comparisons between him and the lovable cartoon character, who has become a symbol of the resistance there” (Vox).

Film poster for Christopher Robin (Disney 2018).

BBC linked the film’s absence from Chinese movie theatres to Winnie and the supposed “nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.”

But to what extent are these allegations true? There seem to be some misconceptions in many media about the scope of censorship on Winnie, and the release of non-Chinese films in mainland China.

 

What’s up with Winnie?

 

Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has, at times, been used as a political and satirical meme on Chinese social media, first becoming a target for China’s online censors when netizens compared Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who met at the California Summit, with Pooh and Tigger in 2013.

In September of 2015, an image of Pooh became trending again on the day of the military parade. During the Beijing Parade that commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII, President Xi Jinping drove around in a car (image), inspecting the troops.

When someone watching the parade then posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car on Weibo, it was shared 62.000 times in little over an hour. Online responses included: “As I watched [the parade], I told my mother and father the similarities [between Pooh and the President] were uncanny.” The post was then soon deleted from Weibo.

This image of Pooh was censored in 2015.

The same happened in February of 2018, when images of Winnie the Pooh as a king emerged on Weibo after the end of China’s two-term limit on presidency was announced.

Although the censorship of Pooh at these specific moments are reason enough to call the bear some sort of “symbol of defiance against censorship,” it is not reason enough to assume the bear is at the epicenter of “a nationwide clampdown,” as BBC suggested.

 

“Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline.”

 

Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline. The bear is quite popular, just as in many other countries, and people walk around wearing Pooh t-shirts and accessories in Chinese cities every day.

A current search on Chinese search engine Baidu for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (“小熊维尼”) generates 8.5 million results. Taobao sells countless Winnie items on its e-commerce platform, and on social media site Weibo, thousands of Chinese netizens post photos of their Winnie-themed merchandise or favorite characters.

Random selection of Winnie-related posts on Weibo today (compilarion What’s on Weibo).

Disney’s Christopher Robin is also discussed online; not just by netizens but also by state media.

The moments that Pooh was censored on Chinese social media in the past, were times that China’s censorship machine was going at full-speed already. Any time that President Xi is taking part in an important meeting or event, whether it is a BRIC summit, military parade, or bilateral meeting, social media is more controlled than usual.

Because netizens were using the image of Pooh in a way that was meant to make fun of these high-profile political occasions and figures at particularly these times, they were censored. In other words: the Winnie images were censored along with many other things at particularly sensitive times for mocking a political event or figure.

Although it makes sense to say that Winnie the Pooh is perhaps more ‘sensitive’ than other cartoons (although Peppa Pig and Rage Comics had their share of censorship, too), it is questionable if this sensitivity is enough of a reason to ban Disney’s new blockbuster Christopher Robin.

 

Chinese Summer: Not a Time for Western Films

 

But if not for the bear itself, what would be a reason not to release a promising Disney movie? China’s strict foreign film import quota may play an important role.

Since the 1990s, China has a ‘foreign film quota.’ In the early years, this meant that just a small quote of foreign films were allowed to be imported into China, and in 2012, this was increased to 34 foreign movies per year. The amount of revenue that foreign producers can take from these movies is restricted to 25% (Latham 2007, 185; Ma 2017, 193).

Although Hollywood lobbyists have been negotiating with Chinese film authorities to allow more foreign films to be imported under revenue-sharing terms, there’s been little progress for now – the ongoing looming trade-war has not benefited the situation.

Besides the longstanding cap on foreign films, China also has unofficial ‘Hollywood black-out periods’ in which Hollywood blockbusters are prevented to enter the market so as to boost sales of local productions, a phenomenon dubbed “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).

The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years (read more here). As a consequence, it is common for big American productions to not be released in China during the summer months, the period where cinemas make the most revenues. 

In 2011, for example, the Harry Potter blockbuster of the year was premiered in China five weeks later than it was in the rest of the world. Last summer, both Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming had their release dates delayed by several months, most probably to give the patriotic, local production Wolf-Warrior 2 a boost in sales. 

These black-out periods can also serve another purpose. According to CNBC, they can also be used to give Chinese film authorities additional bargaining power in their negotiations with US lobbyists. With these negotiations increasing in importance lately, as a result of deteriorating US-China trade relations, it might make sense that Chinese authorities would want to put themselves in the most favorable bargaining position.  

Each year, it is unclear when the ‘black-out period’ starts and ends. Generally, it can start as early as mid-June and finish as late as late-August.

 

Goodbye, Christopher Robin?

 

With many netizens and various state media (including China Global Television Network) posting about the release of Christopher Robin on Weibo and beyond, it is unlikely that political sensitivity over Winnie is the (only) reason why the film will not be shown in Chinese cinemas this summer.

Whether or not the film will definitely not come out in China is also not clear. The process of translation and censorship checking for films can take a long time and will sometimes mean films come out much later in the PRC.

Even when not reaching the big screens, most Hollywood blockbusters will eventually be available for viewing on online channels such as Youku or iQiyi.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), another movie focusing on the story of Winnie the Pooh, is available for viewing on iQiyi and other (paid) streaming sites in China.

Many netizens would welcome a delayed release of Christopher Robin in China. The movie’s hashtag (#克里斯托弗·罗宾#) has already been viewed nearly three million times on Weibo.

While for many, the bear has no political connotations, there are also those who are still trying to post pictures of President Xi Jinping as Pooh – those will soon be deleted.

“I just wanted to see if it would be deleted,” the Weibo user says: “But actually, I really do think he’s cute.”

For more on this, check out today’s feature on BBC World Update (video by What’s on Weibo).

By Manya Koetse, and Luka de Boni

References

Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Oxford: ABC Clio.

Ma, Winston. 2017. China’s Mobile Economy: Opportunities in the Largest and Fastest Information Consumption Boom. Cornwall: Wiley.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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