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Higher Prices, Bothered Passengers: Why Are Didi’s Prices Going Up?

It has been the question going around Chinese social media: why are the prices of China’s most popular e-hailing app service Didi (滴滴) going up? Users of the mobile taxi-calling app are not happy now that prices are increasing as much as 20%. Read the story of Didi Chuxing, its increasing prices, and what Chinese netizens are saying about it.

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It has been the question going around Chinese social media: why are the prices of China’s most popular e-hailing app service Didi (滴滴) going up? Users of the mobile taxi-calling app are not happy now that prices are increasing as much as 20%. Read the story of Didi Chuxing, its increasing prices, and what Chinese netizens are saying about it.

It is the question of the day on Baidu’s Quora-like question asking platform: why is China’s most popular car-hailing service Didi Chuxing getting more expensive? And also, more specifically: why is Didi Carpooling (滴滴顺风车), an alleged non-profit service provided by Didi Chuxing, raising its prices?1

News about Didi has been making headlines since the Chinese e-hailing giant acquired the international car-hailing firm Uber in August of this year, and its rising prices have become a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media.

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The Story of Didi

Nowadays it is hard to find an urban Chinese not familiar with these two simple characters: 滴滴 (Dī dī). Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) is China’s biggest taxi-hailing service, formed from the merger of rival firms Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache. The former competitors Didi Dache and Kuaidi were backed by China’s e-commerce giants Tencent and Alibaba, and both started in the summer of 2012. They were involved in a fierce competition for market share before finally announcing their merge in February 2012.

After the merge, the company was formerly known as Didi Kuaidi (滴滴快递), until it rebranded as Didi Chuxing in September 2015 with a fresh new logo and image.

Didi also launched a carpooling service called ‘Didi Shunfengche’ (滴滴顺风车, “Didi’s Favourable Ride”) in June 2015. Didi Shunfengche uses an app and advanced techniques to match car owners with customers looking for a ride. The service was allegedly a non-profit one, as Didi said it would offer it for free to “relieve the ‘pain point’ of urban traffic during rush hour, providing a public good and promoting green travel” (FT 2015).

didichuxing

Didi is also often referred to as “China’s Uber” outside the PRC. One year after the launch of Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache, American e-hailing giant Uber also entered the Chinese market (2013). But during its first years in China, Uber was not doing too well as it lost over $1 billion a year.

Uber China suffered greatly from Didi, its main rival, that was doing a staggering 10 million rides a day in China, while at the same time, Uber was doing 2 million rides a day worldwide.

In August 2016, Uber China finally gave up its Chinese e-hailing war with Didi, and merged with its rival.

Higher Prices, Bothered Passengers

Since the last couple of months, but especially since Didi acquired Uber China (优步), Didi Chuxing has been quietly increasing its prices. The topic of “Didi’s rising prices” (滴滴涨价) has been going around Chinese internet, and it is a source of annoyance for many Chinese car-hailing netizens.

Also for Didi’s Carpooling, prices are heightened 20% since September of this year. A 3 km ride starting price went from 10 RMB (±1.5$) to 12 RMB (±1.8$), and the per-kilometer price went from 1.3 RMB (±0.19$) to 1.5 RMB (±0.22$). It is the third time prices are raised within one year.

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According to a spokesperson quoted by Chinese media, the Didi Shunfengche prices have gone up because carpool drivers will have to take some detours and spend more time to pick up other passengers, for which they need more compensation. The sharp price increase thus is explained to “achieve reasonable cost-sharing, to encourage users to share their ride, and to help develop a healthy industry,” the spokesperson said.

On Chinese social media, netizens are not too happy about the rising prices, with some netizens saying they will switch back to normal taxis instead.

Many also say that it is not good for passengers that Didi now monopolizes the cab-hailing industry since its merge with Uber.

According to Shanghai Daily, China’s Ministry of Commerce is currently conducting investigations into the Didi Chuxing and Uber China deal according to China’s Anti-monopoly law.

“Make the Pig Fat Before You Eat It”

On Q&A platform ‘Baidu Knows’ (百度知道), the question “Why is market-leader Didi Shunfengche raising its prices?” [垄断行业的滴滴顺风车为什么涨价?] recently became the ‘question of the day’, with some netizens providing insightful answers.

One netizen just said: “It is simple: you have to raise and fatten the pig before you can slaughter and eat it” [“很简单,猪养肥了,可以宰了吃肉了”]. Another Baidu user said that Didi “used a long line to catch a big fish” (“放长线钓大鱼”).

What they mean is that the main reason why Didi’s e-hailing service has become so huge is because of the money it poured into subsidies for drivers and riders (“fattening the pig”). Most of Didi’s passengers initially started to use Didi because of its many discounts and low prices, while drivers also joined the e-hailing market for the profits.

In the early years of Chinese e-hailing apps, a survey showed that 55% of cab drivers had a monthly income increase of 10% to 30% since they started using them (Philips & Kim 2016, 241).

Didi kept its rates artificially low to push out competitors and dominate the market. Although new rules for e-hailing companies no longer allow these practices starting from November 1st 2016, Didi has already had enough time to win the “subsidy war”.

The “subsidy war” was played on both sides. Much like its rival, Uber China also kept prices artificially low to win over new customers. For example, a 30 km journey in Beijing that would be about 80 RMB (±12$) per normal cab, which already is relatively cheap, would be 40 RMB (±5.9$) with Uber – an amount that would have to cover not only the cost of the gas, but also that of the insurance, the corporate fees, taxes, and salary of the driver.

Although Chinese passengers were initially the big winners as they got incredibly subsidized rides, they will now be the ‘losers’ as prices are inevitably going up. While drivers and passengers previously had more money in their wallets, Didi and Uber were losing it – with the main goal of making money at a later time (“eating the pig”).

Now that e-hailing has become a normal part of everyday life for many Chinese commuters, it is time for Didi to start making money instead of giving it away. Because they have acquired a monopoly position within their market, riders have few other options left; passengers will pay more, drivers will make less.

What About Uber?

Chinese riders will still have the choice to either take Didi Chuxing or Uber in the future, especially now that ride-hailing companies like Uber have become officially legalized by the Chinese government (they previously were in a legal grayish area).

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They will keep a separate identity for Uber because, amongst other reasons, it provides a somewhat different service than Didi. When riders order a Didi ride through their mobile phone, the request of the ride and destination goes out to all the cab drivers in the area. Whoever wants to takes the ride can take it, and every driver has the right to take or refuse the request. After receiving a ride, passengers pay for it through cash or Alipay/WeChat pay.

uub

Uber, on the other hand, is more service-based. With Uber, passengers order a car without putting in the destination. The driver will only know where to pick up passengers, but not where they are going. They are therefore not able to refuse rides based on destination, whereas the normal Didi service cars can do this. Another big difference is the way of paying: all Uber rides will be deducted from your Uber account that is connected to your credit card, and passengers never pay the driver directly.

One thing that is not different is that Uber China is also getting more expensive.

Not All About The Money

On Sina Weibo, many netizens respond to the heightened prices, some with annoyance, others with a pragmatic view.

Many netizens share screenshots of their Didi bill, saying: “Ouch, this ride normally just cost me at most 15 RMB (±2.2$) and now it costs me 19.9 RMB (±2.9$).”

price

“No problem for me, go ahead and raise your prices, I’ll just stop taking your rides,” one netizen comments, along with multiple similar responses. “If the prices are raised, I’ll stop using these services. I only started using it because it was cheap. Of course, it is convenient, but for me, the price is key,” another Weibo user comments.

Some netizens are disappointed: “With these rising prices, e-hailing (网约车) will become a high-end service. And there’s nothing to do because there’s no competition now,” one netizen posts.

One Beijing male netizen says: “Didi’s moment of crisis will come. The drivers will walk off because they dislike the lower pay, the passengers will stop riding because they dislike the higher fairs.”

Many netizens are especially disgruntled because China’s Paypal-equivalent Alipay (支付宝), a very common way of paying for e-hailing, recently announced it will start charging users fees starting from October 12. “Didi prices going up, Alipay charging fees, what can I do?!”, one Weibo user wrote.

Another netizens remarked: “The fact that prices of e-hailing and e-banking are going up now shows that the cards are shuffled in the domain of e-commerce, and that capitalism is now taking over the internet.”

There are also voices saying now that unfair “subsidy wars” will soon become illegal in China, there will be more opportunity for competition to grow bigger. The Yidao (易到) car-hailing services, for example, might finally get a chance to expand. In 2010, Yidao was the pioneer of car-hailing apps, but since its prices were always higher than its competition, it did not become as big as Uber or Didi did.

yi-dao

But here, it might not be all about the money. When Chinese riders will get more used to paying higher prices for their e-hailing services, they might start focusing more on the ride quality than its price. This is another reason why companies such as Yidao have not yet lost the race. Chinese online entertainment company LeTV invested 700$ million in Yidao last year, as the company is likely to start focusing more on offering different services (films, tv) to customers to make their ride as enjoyable as possible.

They have also joined hands with restaurants, hotels and other consumer sites to expand their business model. Passengers riding with Yidao could, for example, get coupons or vouchers for restaurants and vice versa.

Some Weibo netizens also feel that money is not the sole factor in the recent Didi developments, and they are more than prepared to pay the heightened prices: “This has nothing to do with money. A couple of years ago when Beijing did not have Uber or Didi yet, you would wait by the side of the road to hail a cab, and while it rained and stormed you would wait in the rain for 40 minutes with your kid by your side, and still not one car would stop. Did you forget about that?”

Many netizens, however, are not convinced: “I won’t ride Didi anymore.”

– By Manya Koetse

References

Philips, Roger A. & Eugene P. Kim. 2016. Business in Contemporary China. Routledge: New York & London.

1(垄断行业的滴滴顺风车为什么涨价?)

©2016 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, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

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  1. Jon

    September 14, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Pay wall to read this? Fucking lame. Nope! Byeee!

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Backgrounder

The Anti “Halalification” Crusade of Chinese Netizens

Discussions on the so-called ‘halalification’ of China have flared up after delivery app Meituan introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries this week. Many netizens see the growing prevalence of halal food in China as a threat to a unified society and feel that featuring special services for Muslims is discriminatory against non-Muslims.

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Discussions on the so-called ‘halal-ification’ of China have flared up after delivery app Meituan introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries this week. Many netizens see the growing prevalence of halal food in China as a threat to a unified society and say that featuring special services for Muslims is discriminatory against non-Muslims.

The “halal-ification” (清真泛化) of food products in China has been a hot issue on Chinese social media over the past two years. Discussions on the spread of halal food in China broke out again this week when food delivery platform Meituan Takeaway (美团外卖) locally introduced a special halal channel and separate delivery boxes for halal food.

What especially provoked online anger was the line used by Meituan to promote its new services, saying it would “make people eat more safely” (Literally: “Using separate boxes for halal food will put your mind at ease.”)

The image of Meituan’s promotional campaign for halal food that went viral on Chinese media: “Make you eat more assured.”

Many netizens said the measure discriminates against non-Muslims. They called on others to boycott Meituan and to delete the app from their phone. In response, the topic ‘Is Meituan Going Bankrupt?’ (#美团今天倒闭了吗#) received over 3.7 million views on Weibo, with thousands of netizens discussing the issue under various hashtags.

 

RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT ISLAMIC DIETARY LAW

“China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws.”

 

In 2016, halal products were already at the center of debate on Chinese social media when officials called for national standards on halal food (definition here).

A popular Weibo imam called Li Haiyang from Henan wrote a post in March titled “Raising Awareness about Islamic Dietary Law” (“关于清真食品立法的几点认识“), in which he discussed the importance of national standards on halal food in China.

Li Haiyang, who is part of China’s Henan Islam Society (河南省伊斯兰教协会), wrote that all Muslims should follow the classic rules and abide by their beliefs, of which Islamic dietary laws are an important part, and that the PRC cannot discriminate against Muslim ethnic groups by refusing to legally protect Muslim halal food.

At the time, the imam’s post was shared over 500 times and besides much support, it also attracted many comments strongly opposing the imam’s views. A typical comment said: “China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws!”

Despite backlash, there are multiple accounts on Weibo dedicated to informing people about halal food, such as ‘China Halal Food Web’ (@中国清真食品网 3100+ fans) or ‘Halal Cuisine Web’ (@清真美食网, 3950 fans).

 

“HALALIFICATION”

“Halalification is not good for national harmony and not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”

 

In Chinese, the word for ‘halal’ is qīngzhēn 清真, which also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim.’ The two characters the word is composed of (清 and 真) literally mean ‘clean’ and ‘pure.’ The various meanings of the Chinese word for ‘halal’ somewhat complicate discussions on the matter.

In the halal food debate on Chinese social media, the term qīngzhēn fànhuà (清真泛化) is often used – a new term that popped up in Chinese media in 2016. It basically means ‘halal-ification’ or ‘halal generalization,’ but because qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization.’

And that is precisely what is at the heart of the discussion on the spread of halal food on Chinese social media: those who oppose the spread of halal food in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam. The spread of ‘Islam’ and ‘halal food’ are practically the same things in these discussions through the concept of qingzhen.

Another issue that plays a role is the idea that ‘qingzhen‘ stands for ‘clean and pure’ food. This distinction between halal and non-halal food implies that while the one is clean food, non-halal food is ‘unclean’ and ‘dirty,’ much to the dismay of many net users. Some people suggest that the name of ‘halal food’ should be changed to ‘Muslim food.’

On Baike, Baidu’s Wikipedia-like platform, the page explaining the term qīngzhēn fànhuà 清真泛化 says: “The term [halalification] originally only referred to the scope of the specific diet of [Muslim] ethnic groups, and has now spread to the domains of family life and even social life beyond diet, including things such as halal water, halal tooth paste, and halal paper towels.”

Advertisement in Ningxia public transport for halal paper towels.

The Baike page explains that halal products are hyped by companies that are merely seeking to gain profits. It also says that halalification is “not good for national harmony” and “not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”

Although there are no official government records of how many people practice Islam within the PRC, it is estimated that there currently are around 23 million Muslims in China, which is less than 2% of the total population. According to Pew Research (2011), because China is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.

 

HALAL WORRIES

“State-financed products should not be religious.”

 

Most Chinese food ordering apps now have a special halal section; Chinese supermarkets provide a wide range of products labeled as ‘halal’ and there are ample halal restaurants in Chinese cities.

But many people on Chinese social media feel that the spread of halal products is going too far. Legal service app Ilvdo (@律兜) published an article on Weibo this week that mentions that many Chinese consumers might buy halal products such as halal ice cream or milk without even knowing it: “You perhaps drank [halal] water and indirectly funded Islam religion – because the companies that have halal certifications have to pay Islamic organizations for them.”

On Weibo, there are some popular accounts of people opposing the spread and normalization of halal food in China. An account named ‘No Halal’ (@清真发言) has over 143.500 followers. The ‘No Halal Web’ (@非清真食品网) account has nearly 90.000 fans. These accounts regularly post about halal products in Chinese shops and restaurants and link it to the spread of Islam religion in China.

The account ‘No Halal Web’ recently posted a photo taken at a Shanghai restaurant that shows a table with a sign saying “Reserved for Halal Customers Only.”

“Table reserved for Halal customers only.”

The ‘No Halal Web’ account wrote: “This already is Muhammed’s Shanghai.” They later stated: “In the Islam world, the demands of Muslims are not as simple as just wanting a mosque, they want their environment to be Islamic/halal.”

Verified net user ‘Leningrad Defender’ (@列宁格勒保卫者, 254465 fans) posted photos of a segregated ‘halal’ checkout counter at a Jingkelong supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang area, wondering “is this even legal”?

‘Halal’ checkout counter at a supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang area.

A Weibo user named ‘The Eagle of Great Han Dynasty’ (@大汉之鹰001) posted a photo on July 20 showing a bag of infant nutrition from the China Family Planning Association that also has a ‘halal’ label on it. He writes:

“What is the Family Planning Committee doing? Why is this halal? This is Jilin province, are we all Muslims? What is behind this, can the Committee tell the public? This is financed through the state, the public has the right to know!”

Infant product by the Family Planning Committee that is labeled ‘halal.’

Others also responded to the photo, saying: “State-financed products should not be religious.”

 

THE MEITUAN INCIDENT

“Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as an undivided family.”

 

Although there is much opposition to the spread and regulation of halal food in China, the halal food industry also provides many business opportunities for companies who are eager to serve the millions of customers wanting to buy halal.

Popular food delivery platform Meituan faced furious backlash this week when it introduced its special halal food services. The so-called ‘Meituan Incident’ (美团事件) became a heated topic of debate on Weibo and Wechat.

One of the key arguments in the debate is not so much an opposition to halal food in itself, but an opposition to a normalization of ‘halal food’ (with the complicating factor that the Chinese qingzhen also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘clean and pure’), which allegedly discriminates against non-Muslims and increases social polarization. Many netizens said that if there are special boxes for food for Muslims, there should also be special boxes for food for Buddhists, Daoists, atheists, etc.

One well-read blog on Weibo said:

“National identity, in the end, is cultural identity (..). What is needed for the long-term stability of a country is integration [of the people] rather than a division [of the people] – let alone isolation. The national law should [therefore] turn ‘halal food 清真食品’ into ‘Muslim special food 穆斯林专用食品.’ This would make sure that Muslims don’t eat anything they shouldn’t eat, and it also liberates those (..) who aren’t religious. The law could confirm that there is a special kind of food designed for Islamic religious people to eat, instead of asking non-religious people to eat it as well. (..) There are more and more atheists. We should no longer distinguish people by saying he is a Daoist, he is Buddhist, that’s a Muslim or a Christian..in the end we shouldn’t even distinguish people as being Han or Zhuang or Miao or Hui or Manchu. Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as a harmonious and undivided family.”

The blog, that was viewed over 88.000 times, received much backing from its readers. One person wrote: “As there is now a national resistance against Islamization and religious segregation, how could the Meituan incident not cause anger amongst the people?”

It is not the first time that the separation of facilities/services for Muslims versus non-Muslims triggers online discussions in China. In September last year, the introduction of special “Muslim-only” shower cabins at a Chinese university also provoked anger about alleged “Muslim privilege.”

 

TRIVIAL MATTER OR SOCIAL SHIFT

“Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next?”

 

On Thursday, Meituan Takeaway officially responded to the controversy through Sina Weibo, saying that the promotion of halal delivery boxes was a local and unofficial activity by one of its agents in Gansu province. It also said it would strengthen supervision of its agents and their promotional material.

But not all netizens believed Meituan’s explanation. One person said: “I am located in Inner Mongolia, and your Meituan [here] also promotes the two separate delivery boxes.”

Other netizens also posted photos of Meituan’s food delivery rival Eleme also using special “Halal only” delivery boxes.

Image of food delivery box that says “special use for halal food.”

Among all the negative reactions and the resistance against the spread of halal food, there are netizens who praise halal food for being tasty and who do not get what all the fuss is about. A female netizen from Beijing wrote:

“Why are so many brain-dead people opposing Muslims these days? How does Meituan’s separation of halal food hinder you? What do you care if your yogurt is halal? If you don’t want to eat it, don’t eat it. There are plenty of people who will. Use your brain for a bit. Not all Muslims are extremists; just as not all people from the Northeast are criminals.”

But there are many who think Meituan’s separate boxes are no issue to disregard. One young female writer says:

“(..) Under the current national policy of protecting ethnic minorities, Muslims enjoy special privileges in the name of national unity. If this continues for a long time, the inequality inevitably will spread to other domains of society. Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next? Segregated neighborhoods? Trains? Airplanes? It might seem like a trivial matter, but if you ignore this, then those who are privileged now will go on and get greater privileges. The distancing of Muslims will only grow. I’m not saying this to alarm you. It’s self-evident that unequal benefits and the privilege of an ethnic group will eventually create conflicts between the people.”

Amidst all ideological arguments, there are also those who say it is all about the money. In the article published by Ilvdo, the author says about the Meituan incident: “Why do the boxes need to be separated? Because in general, Muslims feel that what we eat is “dirty” … but the product increase cost is shared by all the customers – so not only does it make us feel “dirty”, we also spend more money.”

They later say: “What we want is national unity, not religious solidarity. (..) You have your freedom of religion, which app I use is my freedom. Separate boxes and other special services will ultimately be reflected in the costs, and I do not want to pay religious tax. Luckily I have the freedom to delete this app and stop using it.”

By Manya Koetse

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

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Backgrounder

Behind the Rise and Fade of China’s Literary Sensation Fan Yusu

Beijing migrant worker Fan Yusu became an overnight sensation when her autobiographical essay “I Am Fan Yusu” went viral on Chinese social media in late April 2017. The author has since gone into hiding and her essay has been removed. What’s behind the sudden rise and silent disappearance of China’s biggest literary sensation of 2017?

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Beijing migrant worker Fan Yusu became an overnight sensation when her autobiographical essay “I Am Fan Yusu” went viral on Chinese social media in late April 2017. The author has since gone into hiding and her essay has been removed. What’s behind the sudden rise and silent disappearance of China’s biggest literary sensation of 2017?

Fan Yusu was the name on everybody’s WeChat in late April and early May of this year. An essay titled “I Am Fan Yusu” (“我是范雨素,” full translation here) spread like wildfire over Chinese social media, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

In some ways, the popularity of the essay in China is comparable to the recent hype over Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave” on Western social media; this non-fiction story about ‘Lola’ Eudocia Tomas Pulido from the Philippines, who lived as a modern slave with an American family for 56 years, went viral on Twitter and Facebook in May. It gripped its many readers for exposing poignant problems in modern-day society that usually stay behind closed doors.

Fan Yusu’s account, in its own way, also revealed the harsh realities of an ever-changing society. China has an estimated 282 million rural migrant workers. The autobiographical tale focuses on the difficult childhood and adult life of one person amidst these 282 million – Fan Yusu herself.

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

“I Am Fan Yusu” was first published on Noonstory.com, an online literary platform by Shanghai news outlet Jiemian. A year prior to its publication, one of their journalists (Dan Bao 淡豹) headed out to Picun for an interview. Picun is a migrant village on the outskirts of Beijing, not far from the capital’s airport. It was here that Jiemian learned about the local literary club and its many poems and essays. One of these works titled “My Brother’s Dream” particularly stood out to them. It was written by the 44-year-old Fan Yusu, and the editor soon decided to publish her first story (“农民大哥”) in May of 2016.

A year later, Jiemian published a second essay by Fan, not expecting that it was this piece that would soon hit three million views and go viral across the country.

 

HER STORY

“Am I living in the Qing dynasty or is this new socialist China?”

 

In “I Am Fan Yusu“, Fan recounts her impoverished childhood in a rural village in Xiangyang, Hebei. Fan came to Beijing at the age of 20. Being a clumsy waitress with low expectations for her future, she rushed into an unhappy marriage with an alcoholic husband and had two daughters. When her marriage turned violent, she returned to her hometown for help. It was here that she discovered she was “merely a passer-by” in the village where she was born and raised. Her brothers could, but were not willing to help; her mother wanted to, but could not help.

Being the youngest of five siblings, Fan already learned at a young age that men have the final say in China’s countryside. Although her mother was a powerful local politician for more than forty years, she resigned from her official post the moment Fan’s oldest brother objected to his mother’s work.

The twenty-something Fan then returned to Beijing and took on a job as a nanny in a rich family, leaving her own two daughters behind in the village of Picun, where many other children grow up without a mother. She writes about life as a babysitter for the child of her boss’s mistress, while his dressed-up young wife waits on the sofa every night for her husband’s return: “I wondered if I was living in the Qing dynasty or if this was new socialist China.”

Gate at village of Picun, Beijing.

Despite her low educational background, Fan always had a thirst for knowledge and became a well-read person with a love for writing and literature. “If a person cannot feel happiness or satisfaction in life,” she writes: “they simply aren’t reading enough novels.”

 

ONE VOICE OUT OF MILLIONS

“We are all Fan Yusu.”

 

Thousands of netizens shared Fan’s essay shortly after it was published online. They responded to it with praise, saying it was a “unique piece of work” and even “Nobel-Prize worthy.” Why did specifically this essay become so hyped on Chinese social media?

The answer can be found in both the person of Fan Yusu herself as in her essay. The piece appealed to people because it uses simple yet powerful language. Some called it “unpolished”; a reflection of Fan’s own life and society at large.

The fact that Fan Yusu is in her forties, a single mother of two, and a migrant worker who has had a difficult life, makes her story carry more weight. She represents a voice that is generally lost in a media environment that is dominated by the middle class.

The popularity of this account also shows that a migrant worker with a low educational status can still be a successful writer. At a 2015 social gathering, Fan already mentioned that “‘migrant worker’ is not a derogatory term, just as ‘artist’ is not an elite one.”

“I Am Fan Yusu” also touches upon numerous issues such as domestic violence, divorce, gender inequality, the poor and rich divide, and a lacking healthcare system. These being issues that a lot of people have to deal with, the catchphrase “We are all Fan Yusu” (“我们都是范雨素”) soon made its rounds on WeChat and Weibo.

 

A NEW LITERARY MOVEMENT?

“Many in China’s elite literary circles do not touch upon society’s pain points the way Fan does.”

 

Fan Yusu’s account comes at a time when there is a surge of stories that tell the individual stories of ordinary people. An essay on Beijing’s crazy housing market titled “Housing Madness” (“房疯”) by an author named Chongzi (虫子) also saw its fair share of success in April of this year.

There is a growing appetite for these types of stories, and non-fiction websites such as Noonstory or Guyu Story provide a platform for them.

The popularity of such stories seems to relate to a growing weariness with established literature. On Weibo, many people shared their overall discontent with China’s literary circles in response to Fan’s essay. Many said they think of Chinese literature as being elitist and out of touch with ‘real life.’

Renowned author Zheng Shiping (Yefu) praised Fan’s writings in a recent interview.

This idea was backed by renowned novelist Zheng Shiping (a.k.a. Yefu 野夫), who applauded Fan’s writing in an interview in May. He criticized Chinese modern literature, saying that many in those “elite circles” never touch upon society’s pain points in the way Fan does.

Some Weibo netizens responded with sarcasm, saying: “Literature is literature. No matter if it touches upon society’s pain points or not, it always needs to follow the ideology of the Propaganda Department.”

 

ROOTLESS WOMEN OF CHINA

“A married daughter is like water that has been poured.”

 

Another major factor that has contributed to Fan’s sudden success, is that her account shows the disadvantaged position of women in China’s countryside. Rural women are often caught in a vulnerable position, facing various economic and social obstacles that hinder their emancipation.

“A married daughter is like water that has been poured,” is a saying about countryside women who go out to marry. They often leave the house empty-handed. Fan addresses this ‘floating life’ of rural women in her essay. Women from the countryside are ‘rootless’ because their status, location, and economic rights change depending on the role they have as daughter, bride, wife, daughter-in-law, or mother. All land ownership is generally in name of the fathers, husbands, and sons (Also see this article on China’s ‘rootless women’).

When a woman marries outside her hukou (household registration permit), she usually has to give up any benefits or rightful land ownership she had in her previous household. No matter if a woman gets married into a different household or joins China’s mass urbanization, she often is bound to end up in the lowest layers of society.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO FAN YUSU?

“Why is Fan Yusu censored?”

 

Only three days after Fan Yusu’s essay went online and viral, the text disappeared from its original source [editor’s note: the essay is still available on some websites]. Different Chinese media reported that Fan Yusu, overwhelmed by the media’s attention, had gone into hiding in a mountainous village.

It was not just Fan’s essay, but also its reviews that were soon “harmonized” (被和谐, meaning ‘censored’). One popular Weibo blog titled “Why I Like Fan Yusu” was no longer accessible as of May 6 for “violating the rules” on Weibo. The sudden disappearance of the essay and its direct reviews also made many netizens wonder: “Why is Fan Yusu censored? (范雨素怎么被和谐了?)”

Although the real reasons are not exposed, there is ample speculation. In her account, Fan writes about her problems with social anxiety. The sudden attention for her personal life may have been so overwhelming that some suggested it is Fan herself who wanted her essay removed. Especially since there were also journalists who went to her Hebei hometown to interview her mother – something that she dreaded. “I’ve run into a sandstorm,” Fan Yusu reportedly told her friend about the flock of journalists swarming into her village.

But there were also those who said that reasons for censorship perhaps related to the fact that the account revealed details about the personal life of her former boss, a rich and powerful man who may have put a halt to online publications.

Another plausible option is that the publication was removed due to its criticism on Chinese society and politics. “Sharp criticism is just not allowed,” some people commented: “She is very realistic, and exposes some gloomy aspects [of society].” Although Chinese state media initially lauded Fan’s essay, it is possible that the hype surrounding it just grew too big too fast.

The sudden rise and disappearance of Fan Yusu has some resemblance to the hype surrounding Chai Jing and her documentary “Under the Dome” in 2015. This self-funded documentary on China’s pollution problem originally was supported by Chinese state media. It received over 200 million views before it was abruptly removed from Chinese websites a week after its release.

At the time, Greenpeace East Asia’s Calvin Quek told Bloomberg that it might had to do with the timing, just before the start of China’s plenary sessions: “It’s a reflection of some kind of political infighting that they chose to shut it down. The government censored the film because it got 200 million views, and they did not want it to dominate the twin conferences,” he said.

In Fan’s case, the hype came just before the Beijing One Belt, One Road Summit, a very significant event during and around which Chinese media emphasized the idea of China as a responsible and harmonious global leader.

Although Fan Yusu’s ‘sandstorm’ has gradually blown over by now, she still has not returned to her Picun home according to the latest media reports. Fan might have disappeared from the limelight for now, she is not forgotten.

Worker’s culture home in Picun (by Southern Weekend / 南方周末).

Fan Yusu is the voice of a social class often ignored; she is a shining example that migrant workers can influence and shape the world of Chinese literature today. The heightened media attention for “the writers of Picun” (article in Chinese) is just one manifestation of how Fan Yusu has already made her mark – an unerasable one.

– By Manya Koetse

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

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