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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.

Manya Koetse

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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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 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

Famous Chinese Nursery Song “One Penny” Inflates to “One Yuan”

One penny becomes one yuan in this children’s song. What’s next – changing it to QR codes?

Manya Koetse

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Famous Chinese children’s song “One Penny” (一分钱) has changed its penny to a Chinese yuan ($0.15).

The lyrics to the song are now published online and in children’s books with the different lyrics, Chinese news platform City Bulletin (@都市快报) reports on Weibo.

The altered text in a children’s book.

The classic song, in translation, says:

I found a penny on the street,
And handed it over to Uncle Policeman.
The Uncle Policeman took the penny,
And nodded his head at me.
I happily said: “Uncle, goodbye!

The song, by Chinese composer Pan Zhensheng (潘振声), is known throughout China. It came out in 1963.

Apparently, in present-day China, nobody would go through so much hassle for a penny anymore, and so the text was altered (although it is very doubtful people would go through the trouble for one yuan either).

The penny coin (0.01) in renminbi was first issued in 1957, and is somewhat rare to come across these days. “It’s probably even worth more than one yuan now,” some netizens argue.

Chinese media report that composer Pan Zhensheng said the song is just an innocent children’s song, and that it should not be affected by price inflation. Sina News also quoted the composer in saying that changing the text is “not respectful.”

Although some Chinese netizens think the change in the song is just normal modern development, others do not agree at all. In Hangzhou, some say, all you can find on the streets nowadays is QR codes rather than coins. Surely the song should not incorporate those new developments either?

Some commenters on Weibo say the song would never be realistic in China’s current cashless society anyway: “Kids nowadays are not finding cash money at all anymore!”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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