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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 famous 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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 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.

  3. Pingback: A Beautiful Essay Critiquing the “Fake Lives” of Beijingers is Blocked After Lighting Up Chinese Social Media • Manya Koetse

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China Comic & Games

KFC China’s Psyduck Toy is a Viral Hit

As Psyduck goes viral, KFC Children’s Day toys are deemed “too childish for children but just perfect for us adults.”

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American fast-food chain KFC recently introduced three new Pokémon toys to go with its kids’ meals in various regions across China, with one of the toys, in particular, becoming a viral hit: Psyduck (可达鸭).

The new Pokémon toys were introduced on May 21st to celebrate Children’s Day (June 1). As reported by Shanghai Daily, the toys are randomly distributed in Children’s Day meals and will be released in different regions at different times.

Psyduck is a yellow duck-like Pokémon that is known to be confused because it’s bothered by headaches. One of the reasons why the Psyduck toy might be more popular than its fellow (Pikachu) toys, is because it dances, with its arms going up and down, and because of the catchy tune that starts once it starts moving. Psyduck is also a bit more dopey and ‘uncool’ than Pikachu, which makes him all the cooler (remember the Peppa Pig craze?)

Since its release, many people have been going crazy over the KFC toy. Psyduck fans have been hunting for the KFC treasure, and some have even turned it into a side business: they offer their services in getting as many KFC meals as necessary before grabbing the Psyduck toy – you’ll have to pay for their meal – and they’ll send the toy to their ‘customers’ later on.

The #Psyduck hashtag saw the first spike on Weibo on May 21st, the day of its release, when it received nearly 135 million views.

Although the toys were released for Children’s Day, most of these Psyduck fans are not kids at all. In one interview moment that went viral, an older man was asked about the Psyduck while he was standing in line at KFC. “I’m only here because my son wants it,” the man says. When he is asked how old his boy is, he answers: “He’s over thirty years old.”

A popular comment about the craze over the kids’ meal toys said: “This toy is perhaps too childish for children, but it’s just perfect for us adults.” The comment received nearly 20,000 likes.

If you buy a set meal including the toy, you will spend in between 59-109 yuan ($9-$16), but the reselling price of Psyduck has reportedly been as high as US$200 for just the Pokémon figure alone. KFC China has stated that it does not support this kind of reselling.

Illustration about the Psyduck crazy by New Weekly (@新周刊).

Especially among students, it has become popular to stick messages to the arms of the dancing Psyduck with motivational or humorous messages. Some students say the Psyduck keeps them company while they are studying.

Since short funny videos featuring Psyduck are going viral on Weibo and Douyin, a lot of Psyduck’s appeal relates to its social media success and joining in on the hype. People post videos of themselves unboxing their Psyduck, introducing it to their cat, imitating it, or they use the Psyduck in various creative ways.

This is not the first time for KFC toys to become a national craze. Earlier this year, KFC came out with limited edition blind boxes in a collaboration with Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. To get one of the dolls, customers needed to buy a 99 yuan (US$15.5) family set meal.

But the blind box sales also sparked criticism from China’s Consumer Association for promoting over-purchasing of its food and causing food waste. In order to get all of the six collectible dolls, including the rarest ones, customers would start buying many meals just for the dolls. As reported by SCMP at the time, one customer went as far as to spend US$1,650 on a total of 106 meals to collect all six dolls.

KFC is the most popular fast-food chain in China. People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland.

As explained in the book written about KFC China’s popularity (“Secret Recipe for Success“), its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Some reasons that contributed to KFC’s success in China are the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste, and its successful marketing campaigns.

Now, Psyduck can be added as one of the ingredients in KFC China’s perhaps not-so-secret recipe for success.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via @Baaaaaaaaal, Weibo.com

Image via Weibo

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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