A Chinese Migrant Worker’s Story: “I Am Fan Yusu” 《我是范雨素》英文翻译

The autobiographical essay “I Am Fan Suyu” by Chinese migrant peasant author Fan Suyu caused a sensation when it spread across the Internet in China in April 2017.

Fan Yusu took part in a year-long writing course at a migrant worker’s school in Pi Village on the outskirts of Beijing where she lived that helped train budding writers.

According to a December 2016 Radio Free Asia report, that same migrant worker cultural organization, the Beijing Pi Village Workers’ Home  北京皮村工友之家 which Fan Yusu, author of the famous April autobiographical article “I Am Fan Yusu”, credits with helping her grow as a writer was as of this December 2016 report, being forced out of the rooms  they had rented by the local authorities, supposedly for a construction project that would involve tearing down their building, even though their lease has another two years to run. The authorities cut off their electricity and water to make their position  abundantly clear.

Fan Yusu’s story was relayed on many Chinese language websites both inside and outside of China in late April.  The text I translated below can be found is on Sina.com and many other websites.

Fan Yusu picture from web

Fan Yusu 范雨素

An Appreciation of “I am Fan Yusu”

April 25, 2017

Last year I published Fan Yusu’s essay “My Big Brother the Peasant”. Fan Yusu, a 44 year old junior middle school graduate, comes from Dahuo Village, Xiangzhou District, Xianyang City in Hubei Province. She is now a child caregiver in Beijing. In her leisure time, she has written true stories in manuscript totaling 100 thousand characters about her old and new homes.

She says that child care keeps her busy. She says that “I can never find the time, I am just too busy” to edit and enter those 100,000 characters worth of manuscripts into a computer. She does feel however, that “People need to more in life than just eating. She wants to satisfy some of her spiritual needs.”

She has a light and graceful literary style and an inimitable sense of humor. Sometimes her writing erupts with great force. She is like an anthropologist writing down stories about her village, her family, the Beijing suburbs, and life in the high rent districts to describe her personal views about destiny and self-respect. Today’s essay is her own story.


I am Fan Yusu 《我是范雨素》

by Fan Yusu

My life is like a book that cannot bear to read. Fate has given me a very clumsy binding indeed.

I am from Xiangyang in Hubei Province. I was 12 years old when I became a teacher in a primary school set up by local people. If I hadn’t left home and kept to it, I probably could have converted my position and become a regular teacher.

I couldn’t stand the dull rural life that was like being a frog living at the bottom of a well so I came to Beijing. I wanted to see the world. I turned twenty that year.

Things didn’t go well for me after I arrived in Beijing. The problem was mostly that I was lazy, awkward and dumb. A job that someone else could do in half an hour could work on for three hours and still not get it done right. My hands were awkward, more awkward than most people. When I went to a restaurant to work as a server, I would be carrying food and get distracted and break the dishes. I earned only just enough money to keep myself from starving to death.

I wasted two years in Beijing. I thought that I was a little person who would never be able to make her dreams come true. I made a hasty marriage with a man from Northeast China. I had two girls in a marriage that only lasted five or six years. Their father’s business got worse and worse. He drank too much and beat us every day. I couldn’t put up with all that domestic violence so I went with the two girls to my old home in Xiangyang to ask my mother for help. The man never came to look for us. Later I heard that he went from Manchuria to Russia. Now he is probably staggering falling dead drunk on the streets of Moscow.

I returned to my old home and told my mother that from now on I would bring up the two girls myself.

When I was little, Next Eldest Sister and I would lie together on the bed reading novels. Our eyes would get tired and then we would just talk. I asked Next Eldest Sister, “Now that we’ve read so many biographies of famous people, which famous person do you admire most?” Next Eldest Sister answered, “I can’t see or feel of the famous people in the books so I can’t admire them. The person I most admire is our second-oldest brother.”

When I heard her say that I couldn’t agree. Of course we can’t see or feel the famous people in the books. The person I admire most is my mother. No doubt at all that our second oldest brother is a child prodigy.

My mother’s name is Zhang Xianzhi. She was born July 20, 1936. When she was 14 years old, because she had the gift of gab and was good at resolving personal conflicts, she was chosen at the female leader of the village. She got that position in 1950 and held it for another 40 years. That was longer than many of the tough guys in politics like Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. That was not, however, the reason I admired my mother.

When my mother was only a few years old, my maternal grandfather arranged for her to be married the boy in the house next door — my father. Later my mother helped my uncle, her brother. F father was elegant and handsome as a young man but my parents never got along. They fought every day.

My earliest memories are of my father looming like the shadow of a tall tree. You can see it but it is not of any use. Father never spoke. He was in poor health and so couldn’t do any strenuous work. My mother had to take care of the five children all by herself.

My mother was born a village woman amidst all the great evils of the old society. She never went to school, not even for one day. Nonetheless she was the one who picked out the names of all five of us. Mother picked the name Fan Cloud (Fan Yun) for my big brother and Fan Flying (Fan Fei) for second brother. She hoped that her two sons would grow up to be fine men and move easily in the upper realms just like spiritual beings do. Mother was much more casual about the names she chose for we three girls. Big sister was Fan Laurel Girl (Fan Jiaren) meaning that she would bloom like a laurel tree into an adult. Nex sister was born when the plum blossoms were blooming and so she should have been named Fan Plum Girl (Fan Meiren) but unfortunately Plum Blossom Girl has the same sound as Mildew Girl and that would be unlucky. Mother then decided to call her Fan Plum Blossom (Fan Meihua). I, the youngest, was born when the chrysanthemums were starting to bloom so mother gave me the name Fan Chrysanthemum Girl [Fan Juren]. The year I turned twelve I read the most popular love story that year “Fire and Rain”. That novel was written by Auntie Chiung Yao. So I decided to change my name myself and had myself called Fan Rain [Fan Yusu].

Big Brother from early on loved to study on his own but was not a gifted student. He stayed up every night missing sleep to study but he flunked the university entrance examination. He study to take it the next year but failed again. Big brother got angry, saying that he wouldn’t be able to escape peasant life by passing the university entrance examination. Big brother wanted to become a writer and leave farming behind. Our family was very poor. Both my elder sisters were handicapped and were often sick through the years so our family was very poor. But big brother wanted to become a writer. People need to invest to become a writer. Big brother traded our rice and grain from money that he could us to buy literary publications and classical works. We didn’t have any grain so we ate sweet potatoes. Fortunately, none of mother’s five children became a hungry ghost who moved on to reincarnation in a new body and none of the children ever complained that they weren’t eating well enough.

Big brother read and wrote for many years. Although he never became a writer, he did cultivate a strong literary air about himself. He was slovenly and pedantic. In the village that kind of person is called someone who “drinks in culture”. Like Lu Xun’s character Kong Yiji he was despised.

But Big Brother was different from Kong Yiji in some ways. Big brother had a brave mother. Just because he had her for a mother, nobody gave big brother a disparaging glance.

Mother could really talk. All she had to do was to open her mouth and she could win anyone over. A longtime matchmaker, Xiangyang people called her “Red Leaf”. Mother didn’t charge anyone for her services as Red Leaf. She did it simply to help people. These days people would call her a volunteer. In the early 1980s, all the families in the village had a lot of children. When boys and girls grew up they wanted to find someone and get married. Everyone appreciated a talented person like mother.

Big Brother didn’t become a writer and so didn’t escape the village but that was not serious. Big brother wanted to get married. Now that was a serious matter. People like my big brother were called literary lunatics in our village so they weren’t thought of as possible matches. But my amazing mother she could convince people that black was white so she turned big brothers shortcomings into his strengths. Thanks to mother’s awe-inspiring gifts, our very poor family was still able to find a sincere and honest girl who was as beautiful as a locust tree flower in the springtime.

Big Brother was still overly dogmatic. He said to mother, even though village officials are very low-ranking, they still part of that mass of corrupt officials. He said that if he let mother remain a village official, he would lose face. Even though I was small at the time, I thought my brother was being stupid. Who ever heard of a corrupt official who eats sweet potatoes all the time?

Mother didn’t say anything. She quit her job as a village official after 40 years.

Five months after Eldest Sister was born, she got a high fever. It was meningitis. Transportation was poor in those days so mother had her brother, who could run fast, carry her 40 kilometers to the Xiangyang City Central Hospital. She stayed in the hospital but they weren’t able to cure Eldest Sister’s serious illness. Her fever went down but she had become mentally handicapped.

Mother said that it was because they had injected her with drugs that were too strong and the drugs poisoned big sister.

Big sister had become an idiot but mother didn’t give up on her. Mother had faith that she could change this reality. She believed in Western medicine, in Chinese medicine and in highly skilled physicians. She tried everything that had the faintest glimmer of hope. People would often come to the house and say that atop a certain mountain there is an Immortal with magical powers. Then mother would have father take big sister along with a talisman and beg for magical healing water. When they returned home with the talisman burnt to cinders, the water near it became magic water. Big sister drank it down. One hope after another. One disappointment after another. Mother never gave up.

Next Eldest Sister got polio when she was little. When she was twelve years old, she had an operation and then started to get better.

Mother had five children. She worried about all of them.

Fan Yusu mother

The author’s mother.  Photo provided by Fan Yusu

I used to be very proud of myself.

My mother gave birth to me at 40 — I was her only healthy daughter. When I was little, my mother was so busy she didn’t have time to pay much attention to me. When I was six or seven years old, I learned to read novels on my own. That wasn’t really anything to brag about. My big sister, Next Eldest Sister and I all learned how to read a big brick-sized book. The only that I was really proud of in my childhood was that by the time I was eight years old I was able to read the novel “Journey to the West” printed in traditional Chinese characters. Nobody noticed and nobody praised me for it. I was just proud of it myself.

At that age, it was very easy to be proud of myself. I had the best grades in my class. I never paid attention in class, I just went over in my mind the novels that I had read. One of them was Zhou Xiao’s “Plum Blossoms of the Twelfth Lunar Month” (Mei Layue). I must have gone through that novel a thousand times.

When I was a pupil in primary school, what literary publications printed the most of were stories of educated youth who had been sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Those stories taught you tricks like how to get onto a train without paying, steal vegetables from your fellow villagers, pick the apples from your fellow villager’s trees, how to beat the dog guarding a peasant household, and how to cook dog meat.

After reading those novels, I appreciated how lucky I was to be living where I could eat two sweet potatoes at every meal. I didn’t need to steal or rob, and I didn’t need to beat people up. Not only that, I got those two sweet potatoes and even had time for light reading!

My childish self drew a conclusion about this: if you don’t feel satisfied and fortunate in your life it must because you weren’t reading enough novels.

Not only did I read the literature of the intellectual youth sent down to the countryside, I also read “Robinson Crusoe”, “The Mysterious Island”, “Great Expectations”, “Oliver Twist” , Maxim Gorky’s “In the World”, “The Story of Uncle Lei Feng”, the story of a PLA soldier “The Song of Ouyang Hai”, and Hao Ran’s novel “The Golden Road”. Through novels I learned a lot about Chinese and world geography and about both Chinese and world history. If you told me a place name, I could tell you which continent it was on. If you gave me the name of a river, I could tell you which of the world’s oceans it flowed into.

I was only twelve years old and I was so proud of myself that I almost burst open. On blank paper in my room, I wrote my own “Walking to the Far Corners of the Earth Barefoot”. In the summer of my twelfth year, I took off without telling anyone. I went south to see the world.

I decided to head south because I had read a story in a magazine that came out in 1982. A kind woman in Beijing dedicated himself to taking in street kids. She took in a wandering boy in the winter. That child had in a cement pipe in the winter. His legs froze and they had to be amputated. That story made quite an impression on me. I knew that if I were to go north to Beijing to wander around, I might freeze my legs off.

I made good use of the seventy-two tricks that the educated youth novel had taught me and went to Hainan Island without paying for a ticket. Flowers bloom all year round in Hainan. Papaya trees and coconut trees grow along the road. I could lie beneath the trees eating papaya and drinking coconut juice. When I got tired of eating fruit, I raided trash cans to get things to eat. That is how the main character in my novel lived. My hair was short and I was so dirty — I never washed my face — that I looked just like a vagrant boy that nobody pays any attention to. Human traffickers couldn’t tell that I was a girl so they didn’t pay any attention to me.

But I got tired of that life. There was no school where I could study, no novels for me to read and no mother. After spending three months wandering around in Hainan, I decided to head home. I didn’t pay for any tickets on the way back. I went back to my village and returned to my mother’s side.

Once I returned home, mother was the only one who still looked at me with kindly loving eyes. Father and big brother hated me with a passion saying that I had let them down. The clan elders came to mother and said that I had disgraced the entire Fan clan. They wanted mother to beat me and kick me out.

Then at the age of twelve, I came to realize a few things. In rural Xiangyang, it wasn’t any big deal for boys my age could wander off for a few days and come back home. But for a girl to go off like that was tantamount to the crime of eloping like in the classical novels. A girl had never done that in our village. When I left home to wander, I became damaged goods and a disgrace to my relatives.

I was too ashamed to go out in public and too ashamed to go to school. Most important was that I wasn’t brave enough to be a vagrant. How could I survive? Everybody needs to survive.

Mother didn’t give up on me. By then my boy wonder Big Brother had graduated from his three year college. He had become a talented person who was both smart and good at working with people. Mother got my boy wonder big brother to find a job teaching in a locally run school at a faraway elementary school.

Time passed by little by little. All mother’s children had grown up and left home. My mother for twenty years searched for a physician and medicine that could cure Eldest Sister’s illness. The year my Eldest Sister turned twenty she ran a high fever. The treatment she got in the hospital didn’t work and she died.

After my Next Eldest Sister grew up, she taught Chinese language and literature at a rural middle school. While she was teaching there, Next Eldest Sister’s talented boyfriend when to Shanghai to seek his fortune. Next Eldest Sister, who had in her mind an internal storage card that contained thousands and thousands of ancient poems, said angrily “The only true poets are illiterate!” Next Eldest Sister took up with a young man who had never gone to school a day in his life and casually gave up on herself.

Big Brother was still in the village planting crops and working in the fields with hoe, pickaxe and shovel. His dreams of becoming a writer had been dashed. Now Big Brother was only working the earth living a hard life. No longer did he scratch his head and gaze up at the sky and wail about how unfortunate he was.

Second Brother who had enjoyed success as a young man got addicted to gambling the year he turned forty. Perhaps because he had enjoyed such good fortune as an official, when he went to the gambling parlor only one word applied to him — “lose”. Second Brother lost money and so took out big loans. Soon he wasn’t able to repay his loans. Every day he was darting from place to place hiding from his creditors. His lost his job as an official and human relationships being as variable as they are, soon he had no friends and no relatives. Second Brother at night would pace back and forth across the Hanjiang River Number Two Bridge.

Just then mother stepped forward. She was constantly consoling Second Brother. Mother said that her forty year old son was a good man. It wasn’t his fault. When Second Brother became an official, the other officials led him astray.

Mother said she was sorry that she hadn’t let Second Brother study another year for the college entrance examination when he was young. If he had studied another year for the university entrance examination, he would have gotten into a university in the big city and become a big city official. Big city officials has good moral character. They wouldn’t have led Second Brother astray. That way Second Brother would not have become an inveterate gambler. Mother said as long as there is life, there is still a chance to repay the debt. There is nothing to worry about. Just go on living. Bolstered with her mother’s love, he became determined to go on living.

I left behind the domestic violence of my home and my drunken husband and took the two girls back to Xiangyang. Mother didn’t complain. She just said don’t worry. Big Brother, however, treated me like the plague and wanted me to leave and not give him any trouble.

According to the traditions of Xiangyang villages, a grown daughter is water that has been sprinkled away. Mother had no right to help me. Mother was strong politically but she still didn’t dare to oppose five thousand years of the Three Cardinal Guides — the ruler guides the minister, the father guide the son and the husband guides the wife — and the Five Constant Virtues — benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and faithfulness. My loving mother told me, my big child, you can’t go to school. Don’t worry, mother will pray to the Old Man in Heaven for you and ask him for a way for you to make a living. I already knew by then that I didn’t have a home. The poor people of my village could just barely get by and they naturally had little family feeling for me. I didn’t hate Big Brother but I knew very well that I was just a temporary guest in the village where I had been born and raised. My two children were even more like duckweed floating helplessly in the water than I was. Mother was the only one in this world who loved me.

I took the two children to Beijing and found a job as a nurse raising other people’s kids. I had every Sunday off. My elder daughter was in Pi Village beyond the Fifth Ring Road where she took care of a her little sister in a rented room.

I was very lucky. The family where I was a nurse for a family that was one of the most wealthy and powerful in the area. The wife of my male employer had two grown children. I looked after the babies my male employer had with his mistress.

My male employer and his mistress had a boy and a girl. Their elder child, the boy, went to the nursery school of the International School. The baby girl was just three months old. The male employer hired a martial arts instructor who had graduated from the Shaolin Academy and dedicated a 300 square meter space in the office building that his family had built furnished with stakes in the floor, sandbags and single and double exercise bars for the son he had with his mistress.

In addition to the martial arts instructor, he also found a scholar graduated from People’s University of China to be his live-in personal tutor who would take him to and from school and supervise him as he did his homework. He not only helped the child practice his martial arts but also taught that six-year-old boy how to write computer programs.

I was responsible only for the three month old baby girl. The baby didn’t sleep regularly. She would often wake up in the middle of the night. I would feed her baby formula and coax her back to sleep. I would think then of my own two daughters in Pi Village. Would they have nightmares, those evenings when their mother did not sleep with them? Did they cry? I thought about them over and over as tears trickled down my cheeks. Fortunately no one saw me since it was the middle of the night. My female employer was 25 years younger than my male employer. Sometimes when I got up in the middle of the night to console the baby, I would run into female employer as she dressed herself carefully or was waiting on the sofa for her old man to come home.

Female employer was slimmer and more graceful than a model. Her face was more beautiful than the movie star Wang Bingbing. She was still however like a high-level imperial concubine you see in those TV dramas about palace infighting. She was assiduous in her service to the male employer and didn’t seem to have any self-respect. It was as if she were lying flat on the ground begging for food. Perhaps her early life had been very hard and she didn’t want to fight any useless battles. Whenever this happened, I would feel lost. I just couldn’t tell whether I was living at the height of the Tang Dynasty, or in the Great Qing Empire or in socialist New China. I don’t have supernatural powers though and I cannot jump through into those bygone times!

My elder daughter made friends with two children her age who did not go to school. One was named Ding Jianping and the other was named Li Jingni. Ding Jianping, from Tianshui County in Gansu Province, couldn’t go to school because her father was angry that her mother had left him. Her father said that public schools wouldn’t accept the children of peasant migrant workers. She could only go to the worker’s school. That school changed teachers many times during the school term and the quality of the education there was poor. Anyways, the school isn’t any good so I’ll just not send her to school and save the money.

The reason Li Jingni did not go to school was that ha her father had a wife and child back home but still deceived Li Jingni’s mother who gave birth to Li Jingni. After Li Jingni’s mother discovered that the father of the child had deceived her, she walked out in anger. Li Jingni’s father was a good man. He did not abandon her. But father said Li Jingni is a black child — a child who does not have a household registration. The worker’s schools in the city could not officially accept school for children who did not have a household registration. If she went to school there, the Ministry of Education would not recognize her studies and would not be allowed to take the examination for high school or university even if she returned to his old hometown. Li Jingni was a black child. There was no need for her to go to school only to be an unrecognized student and so become a doubly black student.

I thought to myself, the Ministry of Education is to blame for this misfortune. Who set down this policy that ruins the lives of the children of migrant workers? According to the newspapers, the Ministry of Education does this so that schools will not misreport the number of students enrolled in order to falsely claim an extra allocation of compulsory allocation funds. But why doesn’t the Ministry of Education just supervise schools closely and not abuse the children of migrant workers in this way?

Thanks to my mother’s prayers to the old man up in Heaven, my two children grew up healthy and happy. Three big children looked after a small child was not hard. The children were good every day. Every day the three children sang to the little girl “My Motherland is like a garden, the flowers in the garden have bright colors”. They sang cheerfully and played together very happily all day long.

Fan Yusu and daughter on trip to Lhasa

Fan Yusu and her daughter during their trip to Tibet. Photo provided by the author.

The village I lived in, Beijing’s Pi Village, was a very interesting place. All Chinese people know that the peasants on the outskirts of Beijing are millionaires. Their homes have long been worth a lot of money. The newly rich big shots like to show off, flaunting their cars, flaunting their watches, flaunting their pocketbooks, and flaunting their food and clothing. We in Pi Village don’t like that. In Pi Village what the people flaunt are their dogs and that they have more dogs than anyone else. In Pi Village I met a fellow worker named Guo Fulai from Wuqiao County in Hebei Province who did construction work in Pi Village and lived in a work shed. One villager took an army of 20 dogs out for a walk every day. When the dogs came near the worksheds, they would harass and humiliate the peasant migrant workers who lived in the work shed. Guo Fulai calmly wrote an article “The Dogs of Pi Village” that was published in “Beijing Literature” that conveyed the feelings of the migrant workers.

My landlord was the former secretary of the Pi Village Communist Party Committee. In Pi Village he was something like a former president. The landlord was a politician and didn’t like the dog armies. He only raised two dogs, a Scottish Sheepdog and a Tibetan Mastiff. My landlord told me that the Scottish Sheepdog is the smartest dog in the world and the Tibetan Mastiff is the bravest and fiercest. An alliance between the smartest and the fiercest dogs in the world can beat anything. My children, who lived beneath the president’s apartment, enjoyed the best security under heaven. My children and I felt very lucky.

After my elder daughter learned to read novels, I often went to the Panjiayuan Market, many used goods markets, and to recycling stations and collected over a thousand pounds of books for my daughter. Why buy so many? Two reasons — first buying them by the pound is very cheap and there were many new books that had been recycled from people’s trash. The plastic wrapping hadn’t even been taken off many of the books. A book that had never been read, just like someone who has never really lived, is a sorry sight to see.

I had never written an article before. Sometimes I would pick up pen and paper to write a novel. I would write about the pasts and presents of the people I knew. I had very little education and no confidence in myself. I wrote for myself. I thought up a title for my novel. It would be entitled “Meeting Again After a Long Separation”. The story was not made up. It was all real. Art comes from life and the lives we are living are absurd. Every person in the story can be verified. I have always wanted to do a better job with that novel that I was writing for fun.

A literature class was starting at the Pi Village “Workers’ Home”. I took it for a year. That year I had time because someone was looking after my younger daughter so I got a temporary job teaching at the worker’s schools at Pi Village and neighboring Yinge Village. The pay as a temporary teacher at the worker’s school was low, just 6000 RMB a month. Later, when my daughter got a little older, she could go to school, come home and buy some food all by herself. I stopped teaching and became a home nurse earning 6000 RMB a month. I came back once a week to see my daughter. I didn’t got to the “Workers’ Home” anymore.

Workers Home in Pi Village Beijing

January 7, 2015 The Beijing Pi Village Cultural Activities Center can be considered the headquarters of the Workers’ Home. Photo by AudioVisual China. 201517日,北京,皮村社区文化活动中心算是北京工友之家的大本营。来自视觉中国。

Writers' class is in the worker museum and library in the Pi Village Beijing

January 7, 2015 The Manual Laborers’ Art Museum and Worker’s Library are in the courtyard of the Beijing Pi Village district Cultural Activities Center. Photo from AudioVisual China.  201517日,位于北京皮村社区文化活动中心大院里的打工文化艺术博物馆和工友图书室。来自视觉中国。

Pi Village Workers Home Library Exhibit Workplace Injury Stories January 2015

January 7, 2015 The worker painting exhibit “Workplace Injury Stories”  at the Beijing Pi Village Manual Work Culture and Art Museum. Photo from AudioVisual China. 201517日,北京皮村,打工文化艺术博物馆里收藏的工友绘画作品《工伤故事》。来自视觉中国。

Fan Yusu reading her story written in the migrant worker writers class April 2015

April 2015 worker group class in Pi Village. Teacher Zhang Huiyu has each of the peasant migrant worker read their works aloud. Fan Yusu is reading her story aloud. Photo provided by the author.  2015年四月在皮村工人小组上课,老师张慧瑜让农民工学员朗诵各自的作品,范雨素在朗诵中。由作者提供。

Fan Suyu manuscripts

The author’s manuscripts. The author has continued to write essays and long documentary reports. 作者的手稿。她一直在写随笔和长篇纪实。

I have always thought of myself as a cowardly, apathetic person. I am always reading the newspaper but I am not content with just a superficial understanding of the news. If you think of the connections between several decades of news reports, you can discover that before peasant migrant workers came to the city to perform manual labor, that is before about 1990, Chinese village women had the world’s highest suicide rate. They cried, they made a scene and then they hung themselves. According to the newspapers, rural women aren’t killing themselves anymore. But you can find the oddball phrase “motherless village”. Village women aren’t killing themselves. They have all run away. In 2000, I read an article “Illicit Lovers are Easily Separated” that discussed that marriages formed between peasant migrant workers who met far from home are very fragile. Women who run away from their home village are just the kind of women who marry far away from home.

In an urban village like this in Beijing, there are many motherless migrant worker children like this. Perhaps it is because people gather together with people like them and like attracts like. The two children my elder daughter made friends with are both like that. They also will most likely suffer a terrible fate.

My daughter learned Chinese characters by watching the subtitles on television programs and leaned to read newspapers and novels. My elder daughter at age 14 when her younger sister no longer needed her care, started to do hard work. She learned many different things while working. Now twenty years old, she is a white collar worker who earns 90,000 RMB a year. Her two friends of the same age, Ding Jianping and Li Jingni, because they didn’t have relatives praying to the old man in Heaven for them, both became screws in the factory of the world. They sit arranged along an assembly line like funerary statuettes living the life of a puppet.

Anyone who has raised a cat or a dog knows how they protect their young. This goes for people since we are mammals too. All women who abandon their children go through life bleeding in their hearts.

From long years of doing odd jobs I had learned that I couldn’t trust other people. Everyone was just a nodding acquaintance. Sometimes I was even afraid to greet people. I compared what different psychology books said to try to cure my illness. All I could figure out was that I had “social anxiety disorder” sometimes also called “social phobia”. Soon it got worse and became “depression”. Only kindness can cure it. I thought of my mother’s love for me and how she was the only one in the world who loved me. I concentrated on that every day and so my mental illness stopped getting worse.

This year mother telephoned to tell me that our production brigade was taking land to build a train station for a stop on the Zhengzhou to Wanzhou high speed railroad line. The household registration of myself and my daughters as well as my big brother was in the village where we had land. Land was taken in the village for just 22,000 RMB per mu. This was unfair. The brigade leader sent out a notice asking that each family sent a rights protection representative to higher levels of government and fight for our rights. Big Brother had gone away to work outside the village so our mother was the only one who could be our rights protection representative.

Mother told me that she had gone with rights protection representatives to the township government, the county government and the city government. Wherever they went, they were shoved around by young social stability kids. The sixty year old brigade leader was the youngest in the rights protection group. The social stability kids broke four of his ribs. Mother was 81 years old and the young social stability people had a conscience. They didn’t push here. They just tied a rope to her arm and pulled her away. Mother’s arm was dislocated.

All the land went for 22,000 RMB per mu. There had only been a little bit of land per person to start with. How would people unable to work ever be able to survive? The people in power weren’t willing to think about that. Nobody was willing to think about those souls. Things like that go on in every nook and cranny of China. It was just our fate.

I thought about how my eighty-one year old mother was still braving the cold winds of January running around and fighting for the interests of her useless sons and daughters, while I was here writing down these words saying how guilty I felt. What more could I do?

What could I do for mother? Mother is a good person. When I was a child, most people would insult the refugees from Junzhou forced to relocate when the Danjiang Reservoir was built. They were now reduced to looking for crop stubble in the fields behind our home.

The most famous person from Junzhou was Chen Shimei who had been beheaded by the famous Song Dynasty judge Justice Pao. Junzhou had now sunk to the bottom of the water.

Mother as one of the strongest people in the village, a person at the peak of the pyramid, would often go out and stop people from insulting the immigrants. After I grew up, I went to the big city to make a living and I myself became one of the weak people at the bottom. Even though I was the daughter of a powerful person in my home village, city people would often look at me with disdain and insult me. When that happened, I would think, could it be that people get some kind of physical pleasure when they insult people weaker than themselves? Or was it something that was copied in their genes? From that time onward, I kept in my mind the thought that whenever I met someone weak like me I would always give them kindness and respect.

We all need to do something meaningful in life. I am an incompetent person. I am poor. But I can still do something!

I can embrace a handicapped exile on the streets of Beijing. I can embrace a person suffering from mental illness. In my embrace of those people I convey my mother’s love. I am reciprocating my mother’s love.

My elder daughter told me the every morning when she goes to the cultural company where she works, she bring along a bottle of Huiyuan juice. My elder daughter doesn’t drink beverages but every day after work she hands it respectfully with two hands to a wandering old woman she sees near the door of her building or picking through trash that people have thrown away.

— The End —

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated,with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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2 Responses to A Chinese Migrant Worker’s Story: “I Am Fan Yusu” 《我是范雨素》英文翻译

  1. Pingback: Chongqing: New Worker Art Troupe | 高大伟 David Cowhig's Translation Blog

  2. Christine White says:

    This was really interesting, a great insight into Chinese life, I could feel the hopelessness of the migrant workers. Fan Yusu, Fantastic she just writes. Take it or leave it.


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