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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.

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.

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.

3 Comments

3 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.

  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 Celebs

Chinese Social Media Users Stand up Against Body Shaming

Manya Koetse

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Recent photos of famous actress Gong Li that showed her curvier figure have gone viral on Sina Weibo, receiving over 850 million clicks. With Gong Li’s weight gain becoming all the talk on Weibo, the public’s focus on her appearance has sparked an online wave of body positivity posts, with web users rejecting the all-too-common phenomenon of body shaming on Chinese social media.

First, there was the ‘A4 Waist‘ hype, then there was the ‘iPhone6 Legs‘ trend, the ‘belly button backhand,’ and the online challenge of putting coins in your collarbone to show off how thin you are (锁骨放硬币). Over the past five years, China has seen multiple social media trends that propagated a thin figure as the ruling beauty standard.

But now a different kind of trend is hitting Weibo’s hotlists: one that rejects body shaming and promotes the acceptance of a greater diversity in body sizes and shapes in China.

On August 26, Weibo user @_HYIII_ from Shanghai posted several pictures, writing:

Reject body shaming! Why should we all have the same figure? Tall or short, thin or fat, all have their own characteristics. Embrace yourself, and show off your own unique beauty!

The post was soon shared over 900 times, receiving more than 32,000 likes, with the “body shame” phrase soon reaching the top keyword trending list of Sina Weibo.

 

Gong Li Weight Gain

 

The body positivity post by ‘_HYIII_’ is going viral on the same day that the apparent weight gain of Chinese actress Gong Li (巩俐) is attracting major attention on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin.

The 54-year-old actress, who is known for starring in famous movies such as Farewell My Concubine, To Live, and Memoirs of a Geisha, was spotted taking a walk with her husband in France on August 24. The photos went viral, with media outlets such as Sina Entertainment noting how Gong Li had become “much rounder” and had put on some “happy fat” (幸福肥).

By now, the hashtag page “Gong Li’s Figure” (#巩俐身材#) has received more than 850 million (!) views on Weibo, with thousands of people commenting on the appearance of the actress. In the comment sections, there were many who lashed out against the focus on Gong Li’s weight gain.

“She just has a regular female body shape. Stop using ‘white / skinny / young’ as the main beauty standard to assess other people,” one commenter said, with another person writing: “Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?!”

 

“Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?”

 

Some people suggested that the COVID19 pandemic might have to do with Gong Li’s weight gain, with others writing: “If she is healthy is what matters, skinny or fat is not the way to assess her beauty.”

What stands out from the discussions flooding social media at this time, is that a majority of web users seem to be fed up with the fact that a skinny body is the common standard of women’s beauty in China today – and that accomplished and talented women such as Gong Li are still judged by the size of their waist.

 

Say No to Body Shaming

 

In light of the controversy surrounding Gong Li’s recent photos and the following discussions, posts on ‘body shaming’ (身材羞辱) are now flooding Weibo, with many Weibo users calling on people to “reject body shaming” (拒绝#body shame#) and to stop imposing strict beauty standards upon Chinese women.

The pressure to be thin, whether it comes from the media or from others within one’s social circle, is very real and can seriously affect one’s self-esteem. Various studies have found an association between body dissatisfaction and social pressure to be thin and body shaming in Chinese adolescents and young adults (Yan et al 2018).

The main message in this recent Weibo grassroots campaign against body shaming, is that there are many ways in which women can be beautiful and that their beauty should not be merely defined by limited views on the ideal weight, height, or skin color.

Over the past decades, women’s beauty ideals have undergone drastic changes in China, where there has been a traditional preference for “round faces” and “plump bodies.” In today’s society, thin bodies, sharp faces, and a pointy chin are usually regarded as the standard of female ideal beauty (Jung 2018, 68). China’s most popular photo apps, such as Meitu or Pitu, often also include features to make one’s face pointier or one’s legs more skinny.

This is not the first time Weibo sees a growing trend of women opposing strict beauty standards. Although the word ‘body shaming’ has not often been included in previous trends, there have been major trends of women opposing popular skinny challenges and even one social media campaign in which young women showed their hairy armpits to trigger discussions on China’s female aesthetics.

Especially in times of a pandemic, many netizens now stress the importance of health: “Skinny or fat, it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh, as long as you’re healthy – that’s what counts.”

Also read:

 

By Manya Koetse

 

References

Jung, Jaehee. 2018. “Young Women’s Perceptions of Traditional and Contemporary Female Beauty Ideals in China.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 47 (1): 56-72.

Yan, Hanyi ; Wu, Yingru ; Oniffrey, Theresa ; Brinkley, Jason ; Zhang, Rui ; Zhang, Xinge ; Wang, Yueqiao ; Chen, Guoxun ; Li, Rui ; Moore, Justin. 2018. “Body Weight Misperception and Its Association with Unhealthy Eating Behaviors among Adolescents in China.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15 (5): 936.

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China Arts & Entertainment

China’s New Hit Drama ‘Nothing But Thirty’ Thrives in the “She Era”

Chinese latest hit drama ‘Nothing but Thirty’ has 20 billion views on its Weibo hashtag page.

Yin Lin Tan

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China’s latest TV drama hit Nothing But Thirty is flooding Weibo discussions. With over 20 billion views on its hashtag page, the show is one of the most popular shows of the season and demonstrates that China’s ‘she era’ (ta shidai 她时代) dramas are all the rage. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin Tan explains.

“Have you heard of ‘independent at the age of thirty’ (sān shí ér lì 三十而立)?” Wang Manni asks, her hair pulled back neatly and white shirt cleanly pressed. “I hope that, before I’m thirty, I’ll be promoted to supervisor.”

Riding on the wave of female protagonist (‘heroine’ 大女主) shows that have been taking over China’s entertainment scene, Nothing But Thirty (三十而已) is a 43-episode drama by Dragon Television that follows the challenges of three different women who have reached the ever-important age of thirty.

In a society where women are often expected to be married by their late twenties, a show like this, which tackles women’s present-day struggles, both in their personal and professional lives, has resonated with many.

In fact, the show is so popular that at the time of writing, the show’s hashtag (“Nothing But Thirty”, #三十而已#) has over 20 billion (!) views on Weibo.

 

Depicting the struggles of China’s thirty-something women

 

Nothing But Thirty revolves around the lives of three female leads from different walks of life. Gu Jia (Tong Yao) is a capable businesswoman turned full-time housewife; Wang Manni (Jiang Shuying) is an independent, career-oriented sales assistant; and Zhong Xiaoqin (Mao Xiaotong) is your run-of-the-mill office lady.

For Gu Jia, the birth of her son was what truly transformed her into a full-fledged housewife. In many ways, she seems like a perfect wife and mother: well-educated, capable, and thoughtful. But, eventually, she too has to face life’s challenges.

Driven and hardworking, Wang Manni is confident in both her looks and abilities. Her immediate goal, at least at the start of the show, is to achieve professional success. Throughout the show, her resilience is put to the test, personally and professionally.

Zhong Xiaoqin is described by many netizens as the most “average” or “normal” character. She is kind-hearted -sometimes to the point of being a pushover -, and has spent years at the same company without rising the ranks. Though her story might seem mundane at first, this peace is disrupted when her marriage takes a turn for the worse.

 

A story that resonates with the masses

 

“The show attracted wide attention, and it strongly resonated with female audiences. Many thirty-something working women saw their own lives reflected in the show,” Xinhua recently wrote about the show.

Nothing but Thirty currently carries a 7.6 out of 10 rating on Douban, an online reviewing platform.

Though some reviewers criticized how the later episodes of the show were unnecessarily draggy, most praised it for its portrayal of strong female characters, good acting, and largely realistic depiction of women above the age of thirty.

“I saw myself, and also saw the friends beside me,” a reviewer notes.

In China, women are, more often than not, burdened with expectations of getting married and settling down by the time they are in their late twenties. If you’re single and thirty, that’s made even worse.

Those who fall into this category carry the derogatory label of “leftover women” (剩女), a term that reflects how single women above the age of thirty are seen as consolation prizes or even unwanted goods.

Thirty is thus an incredibly important number, especially for women — something that’s clearly reflected in the show’s concept trailer.

Aside from societal expectations of starting a family, some women now also take it upon themselves to build their careers. In fact, you can chase after professional success without burdening yourself with the idea that you must be married – a notion exemplified by the character of Wang Manni.

Nothing But Thirty also showcases the sheer diversity of experiences for women above thirty: you don’t have to be married, you don’t have to be super capable, and you don’t have to be thinking about having children. Each woman goes through her own unique struggles and isn’t necessarily endowed with the so-called “protagonist’s halo.”

Ultimately, the popularity of the show is driven by the three female leads and the actresses who bring these strong characters to life.

By telling a story that is relatable and touches on relevant social issues, namely on expectations of women in society, Nothing But Thirty was able to achieve widespread popularity and is adding another notch on the trend of China’s ta shidai (她时代) dramas. 

 

The rise of ta shidai shows

 

Ta shidai literally translates to “her era” or “the ‘she’ era.”

Ta shidai shows explore what it’s like to be a woman in China today. The female characters are diverse when it comes to both their backgrounds and character arcs; they might have different jobs, different levels of education, or different personalities. These shows mostly center around a strong female lead and/or a main cast that is primarily female.

More importantly, they often feature capable women and how these women overcame the odds to achieve success.

Recent shows like The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊) and Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐) also fall under this category, as do somewhat older hit shows such as Ode to Joy (欢乐颂) and Women in Beijing (北京女子图鉴).

The Romance of Tiger and Rose is set in a society in which women are in charge and men are subordinate, in a daring reversal of gender roles. Though the show has been criticized for using social issues to attract attention, it gained a decent following for tackling topics like gender inequality and women’s rights.

The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊)

A reality TV competition that swept the Chinese entertainment scene, Sisters Who Make Waves attempted to rebuke stereotypes of women over 30 as “leftover women.”

The show brought together female celebrities above the age of 30 (the oldest competitor was 52), and had them go through a series of challenges, culminating in a girl group formed by the final competitors.

Nothing But Thirty is just another example of a show that’s attempted to depict the realistic struggles of women in modern-day China.

More Chinese dramas that feature women — specifically, their struggles and the expectations that society places on them — are slated to be released in 2020.

Over the past few years, more attention has been focused on women’s rights in China. As feminism becomes an increasingly important topic of discussion in China, strongly facilitated by social media and not without controversy, companies are likely to hop on the bandwagon and continue producing shows that fall squarely in the ta shidai category, given the genre’s rising popularity.

Though we can’t expect every single show to perfectly, accurately, and realistically portray women’s struggles, the fact that more stories like these are being produced already helps bring such conversations into the mainstream. 

Hopefully, the trend of ta shidai shows is a sign that these issues won’t just be tackled on camera, but in real life as well. 

 
Read more about Chinese TV dramas here.
 

By Yin Lin Tan

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