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A Dickensian Life in today’s Beijing

Within 24 hours of publishing a 7,000-word autobiographical essay on social media, migrant worker Fan Yusu became China’s most sought-after writer, whipping up a huge storm in her life. When the dust settled a week later, Fan talked with ChinaReport about her life, family and literature
Fan Yusu takes care of a baby in an employer’s home
Photo courtesy of the interviewee
The Picun Community Cultural Activity Centre, where Workers’ Home is based, nourishes the diverse culture of migrant workers in Picun
Photo by cfp

Fan Yusu

The sandstorm that swept Beijing for days in early May was gone at last, but that evening Picun Village was struck by an unexpected power outage. Fan Yusu walked past the villagers in the darkness, and sat down on a stone step by the roadside. The silence of the night was repeatedly torn up by the thunder of lowflying aeroplanes. “My ears have long since got used to such a roar. I don’t find it noisy any more,” Fan told ChinaReport.

The 44-year-old nanny used the term “sandstorm” to describe her recent and sudden fame. On April 24, NoonStory, a public WeChat account that publishes original works by professional and amateur writers, posted Fan’s 7,000-word autobiographical essay, titled “I Am Fan Yusu.” The essay chronicles the Oliver Twist-like struggles of a rural woman trying to build a life in the big city over three decades. It also touches upon thorny issues such as the widening gap between rich and poor, the urban-rural divide, discrimination towards migrant workers and the government’s violent seizure of farmland.

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About China Report

The Belt and Road forum held in Beijing in May heralds China's strategy of globalisation 2.0. How much China has invested in the BRI? How can other countries along the routes join in and benefit from the opportunities? (p.20-25) Technologically China has often been perceived as playing the catch-up game. Not in Artificial Intelligence, which the country's tech giants are spearheading with some success. (p. 34-43) A migrant worker has taken the country by storm in her Dickensian essay about her hard life in modern Beijing. (p.52-55)