Poetic dreams of a disabled peasant woman




Photo taken on January 17, 2015 shows Yu Xiuhua talking about writing poems during an interview

with Xinhua reporters.   Photo by Cheng Min 




Poetic dreams 

of a disabled peasant woman 



By Bai Xu and Yu Jian




Yu Xiuhua types on a computer keyboard with only one finger of her left hand

whenever she wants to enjoy writing her poems.   Photo by Cheng Min 



Living with cerebral palsy, Yu Xiuhua, 39, may struggle to walk, but in the world she creates through her poetry she could “Cross half of China to accost you”.

This line, taken from the a piece with the same name, is one of the most acclaimed poems by the peasant woman from Zhongxiang City, in central China’s Hubei Province, who rose to fame after her verses went viral on social media.

Yu was born in 1976. A lack of oxygen during her delivery left her with permanent brain damage. Growing up, the dream of walking unaided seemed an unattainable.

“Whenever we had guests, she would crawl along the ridge of the field,” her father Yu Wenhai recalled. “I always imagined that she was trying to prove something.”

To enable her to attend school she was carried by her parents or supported by her younger brother. It was during her schools days that she found solace in writing poems.

In a piece she wrote in middle school, which won her a school award, she compared herself to an obscure star in the sky. Reflecting on it many years later, she said: “I don’t envy those who live ‘better’ lives than me. I won’t resign to adversity.”

She left senior high school one year before graduation and later got married to a man whom she “didn’t choose out of love”. They soon separated and the only legacy of the unhappy union was a son, who is now in university.

Every day, after tending to farm animals, she sets pen to paper and escapes into her internal world.


In one piece, she writes about her hometown of Hengdian Village:


When the Mochou Lake becomes dry,

A map of Hengdian will appear at its bottom,

In the shape of a butterfly.



She also pictured love that she never had:


In half of the big China, everything could happen,

Drained rivers, volcano eruption;

The ignored prisoners and refugees on the run,

The elks and red-crowned cranes under the gun;

Through the storm of shots and shells,

I am coming to accost you.


So far, she has penned more than 2,000 poems.

“I am only truly complete, quiet and joyful when I am writing,” Yu said. Yu describes poetry as her crutch, which she turned to “when faltering in the reeling world”. Some people have begun to affectionately refer to her as the Chinese Emily Dickinson.

“She is a sensitive woman and the verses flow out of her heart naturally,” said writer Zhu Min.

Zha Wenjin, a fellow poet, said that although Yu’s work was of varying quality, “they were worth savoring”. Taking Cross Half of China to Accost You as an example, she said: “It sounds wild and bold, but you can feel the bitterness between the lines.”

Of course, there are those unmoved by her poems, such as poetry critic Han Mo. “She is only famous because of media hype,” he said. “We should forget that she is a peasant with cerebral palsy, and rate her work by pure literary merit.”

Yu said she doesn’t want her illness to attract attention either. “If I was not disabled, I could visit more places and write better poems,” she said.

Some of Yu’s poems have been published by magazines and newspapers.




Yu Xiuhua looks over her earlier handwritten poems in  the bedroom.   Photos by Cheng Min  


Yu Xiuhua poses for photos in front of her house.   Photo by Cheng Min


Yu Xiuhua collects hay for her rabbits in the field nearby.   Photo by Cheng Min



* Source –  http://www.icrosschina.com/profile/2015/0128/8277.shtml









She crosses

big China

to accost you



By Wang Yiqing



She attained fame overnight, almost rudely. But then she is no ordinary poet (poetess, to be politically incorrect), for she has been serving the three muses of poetry, Calliope, Euterpe and Erato, for 16 years.

Yu Xiuhua is a farmer and all of 39 years old. She lives in Zhongxiang of Central China’s Hubei Province, and has been called by the media as the “poetess with cerebral palsy (a condition characterized by movement problems)”. Yu broke through social media WeChat recently after poetry magazine twitted her poem, Crossing big China to sleep with you.

Many media outlets have talked about her and her poems but their approach has been somewhat complicated. They have indeed praised her poems saying they carry real feelings and the power to move hearts. But, unwittingly or otherwise, their focus seems to be on her physical and social conditions, with one media outlet describing her as “a countrywoman who composes poems”.

The woman described by some media outlets as “China’s Emily Dickinson”, the famous American poet, dropped out of senior high school, has lived the life of a farmer since and does suffer from cerebral palsy.

But none of her physical traits, or the lack of them, have anything to do with her ability to compose poems. In the world of poetry, the only things that matter are words, and the feelings and meanings they carry. And her poem, Crossing big China to sleep with you, conveys that feeling, full as it is with passion: “Across China, all is happening: volcanoes are erupting, rivers are running dry…I pressed nights into a dawn to sleep with you, I gathered all I am to sleep with you”.

That she became famous overnight mainly because of media hype, rather than on the basis of her works, is a reflection of the times we live in. By using offensive epithets such as “poetess with cerebral palsy” or “countrywoman who composes poems”, media outlets have succeeded in catching the eyes of readers and viewers.

Yet the irony is, without the media offensive, Yu Xiuhua the poet and her works would have remained unknown to ordinary readers. Media reports contrasting Yu’s physical disability with her creative mind have moved, even inspired, many people.

True, John Milton overcame his blindness at 43 to be acclaimed as a great English poet and W.B. Yeats, despite his undiagnosed learning disorder, reached the wuthering heights of poetry. But they were different people living in different times. Today, a poet needs more than the medium of poetry to be heard by readers, which speaks volumes about the state of the arts, poetry included, in contemporary society.

The 1980s are regarded as the golden age of modern poetry in China, when many poets enchanted readers with their excellent creations. But the fact Yu’s works have touched many people’s hearts today is proof of her poetic power. As literature professor and poet Zang Di has said in an interview, she uses her language as her body. Perhaps the sincerity and purity of thought expressed in Yu’s poems, which today’s society seems devoid of, have drawn readers to her poems.

The last word, in this regard, rests with John Keats, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” — that is all: Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. If the combination of truth and beauty which Yu seems to represent rekindles people’s passion for poetry, media hype or not, so be it.



* Source –  http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2015-01/23/content_19383586.htm

The author is a writer with China Daily.   wangyiqing@chinadaily.com.cn








A soul on wings


By Raymond Zhou


China’s Emily Dickinson takes the online reading public by storm with her insights and sincerity, and also with her handicap and literary genius, writes Raymond Zhou.

It is an understatement to say Chinese poetry is not in its golden age. The few poets who caught public attention in the past decade are seen as jokes by most – for the sheer lack of poetic sense.

The new year, however, has given rise to a new poet some call “China’s Emily Dickinson”. She first stood out for her cerebral palsy, and then even critics joined the chorus of praise. “As someone who suffers from this handicap and cannot work as others do, she possesses a gift for the language that others do not. The love without abandon and the hurt piercing the heart have endowed her language with gravitas and power just like grains that are ripe,” effused an editorial in China’s most eminent magazine for poetry, titled Shi Kan (Poetry Periodical).

That was last September, and its publishing did not gain wide dissemination until it got onto social media. By that time, the new discovery in Chinese poetry, Yu Xiuhua, had been writing for 16 years.

Yu suffered a difficult birth when she was born in 1976 on a Hubei farm. Because she depends on her parents for daily upkeep, she did not go on with her education after graduating from high school. While in high school, her teacher had already noticed her unusual talent in writing.

At the age of 19, her parents married her off to someone she was not in love with. This experience left her with painful memories – and a son who is now in college. In 2012, she traveled to another province to search for a job. Because she was slow with work, not only did she fail to make money but she could not even recoup her traveling expenses.

Yu reads and writes poems in the same way that her fellow villagers play mahjong. She takes on some light jobs, such as shushing away chickens from the barn floor, but she invariably turns inward, as is shown in this poem: “After the birds and chickens left, the sky’s blue shortened/In this village deep inside central Hubei/The sky forces us to gaze at its blue/As our ancestors force us to gaze at our innermost narrow void/Forces us to enter September’s abundance/We are comforted by our smallness, and hurt by it/Such living sets one at ease.”

While she has accepted her physical limitations, she does endure physical pain, which is entwined with mental agony. In I Please This World With My Pain, she writes: “When I notice my body, it has gotten old and beyond recovery/Many parts ache in turns: the kidneys, the arms, the legs, the fingers/I suspect I have done evil in this world/I have spoken ill of blooming flowers. I suspect I have fallen for the night/And ignored the morning/Fortunately some pains can be omitted, deserted/And collected by loneliness and longtime desolation/These I’m ashamed to mention: I have not been/Good enough to them.”

In the eyes of her neighbors, Yu has a bad temper, which she attributes to her discomfort in her living environment. She is not understood by her family or her fellow villagers and those who get to know her online would leave once they see her in person. Gradually she starts to use a form of brutal honesty as a defense mechanism.

Maybe because she did not have an audience – until recent weeks, that is – she vents her frustrations, including sexual ones, in her lines. The poem that startled many is the one titled Cross Half of China to Sleep You, which is her fantasy of online dating, using “sleep” as an ungrammatical verb for fly-by-night sexual relations. “Actually it’s not that different I sleep you or you sleep me, but just/Two bodies clash with a ferocity that opens up a flower/Which simulates a spring that misleads us about the reopening of life.”

Like Emily Dickinson, the American recluse who scribbled a large body of poems and never published them, Yu writes for herself, baring her soul and employing the language in ingeniously idiosyncratic ways. She describes her father whose “gray hair dare not grow out of his scalp” partly because he looks younger for his age and partly because he has the responsibility to take care of her. (She got only 60 yuan, or $9.60, a month from a government subsidy for the disabled – before royalties started trickling in lately.)

With her sudden fame, press and local officials have trekked to her door, showering her with attention. Her first collection of poems will be published in February. Some netizens express hope that Yu will not lose herself in this maelstrom of publicity. More significantly, the part of her she had so far covered up, willy-nilly, will be revealed to a large readership. Lines like “How much worldly dust can cover up a woman/And her emotions that are bloody yet still shining” could be an irony once she is lured into the writing establishment.

Yu Xiuhua has, for her adult life, used poetry writing as “a crutch that someone walking unsteadily would use in a wavering crowd”. But in the eyes of her adoring readers, it provides the wings for her soul to fly.



* Source – http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2015-01/28/content_19430532.htm

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn








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* Source - http://www.icrosschina.com.cn/rw/201501/t20150127_10492.html










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  Cross Half of China to Accost You
























BLOG EDITOR:  MIAO HONG   @http://www.readchina.net.cn https://wereadchina.wordpress.com/










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