Drawing circles - literary dreams in a migrant workers' village

Updated 2017-05-01 11:31:04 Xinhua

An obscure village on the outskirts of Beijing is the center of a literary storm, since a short memoir somehow went viral on Chinese social media.

"Do you know that Fan is famous now? Very famous! Our yard is crowded with journalists." Migrant worker Fu Qiuyun from Picun village is gossiping on her phone with a friend.

The Fan of whom she speaks is Fan Yusu, 44, from central China's Hubei province, now a baby-sitter in Beijing who used to live in Picun. Her article "I Am Fan Yusu" began circulating on WeChat earlier this week and was read more than 100,000 times only in a couple of days.

"My life is a book which was bound in such a clumsy way," begins the 8,000-character autobiography.


A quiet woman with short hair who usually wears subdued colors, Fan stopped her studies during middle school, but clung on to her literary dreams.

Fan started reading novels at the age of six or seven. As a teenager, she read all the books and magazines that she could find in her village. She loved the romances by popular Taiwan writer Chiung Yao so much that, at 12, she changed her name as "Yusu" to sound like heroines of the novels.

At the age of 20, she left for Beijing "to see the bigger world."

She married a man from northeast China. They had two daughters before Fan divorced him for domestic violence.

"In the years when I was away from home, I found it difficult to trust anyone," she wrote. "Sometimes I was even afraid of saying 'hello.' I read self-help books to try to cure myself."

She told Xinhua that one of the reasons she liked Beijing was she "could find many books to read here."

"I am very familiar with the Capital Library of China and the National Library," she said.

In 2014, she joined a literature group in Picun. "I attended classes for a year," she said. "When life was extremely difficult, I read, to stop thinking of the hardship."

"Her life was not easy," said Zhang Hua from her home town in Hubei, Xiangyang. "More than 20 years ago in our village we believed that a married daughter was like water poured out that could never be retrieved. Few people chose to divorce. Her sisters were in poor health. She raised two daughters alone in a city far away."


Picun, which literally means "rubber village," is just a few kilometers from the Capital International Airport. A trip to the nearest town in the neighboring province of Hebei takes about an hour, while a bus ride to downtown Beijing takes about two.

In the village of 20,000 people with planes forever zooming over the red brick bungalows, only around 1,000 residents are native to Beijing. The rest are migrant workers like Fan.

Picun was famous once before. A "cultural club" was founded in 2002. The migrant workers had a theater, a library and a museum showing how China's rural laborers eked out a living and fought for their rights in cities during 30 years of reform.

The organizers felt the club was not meeting the spiritual needs of the migrant workers and after discussion, they came up with a solution: writing.

The literature group was founded in October 2014. Fu Qiuyun, then 22, was one of the founders. They posted an online notice to find a writing teacher. "At first a magazine editor contacted us, but soon gave up because the village was too far away. Then came Zhang Huiyu, a professor with the Chinese National Academy of Arts."

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