The poetic dreams of a disabled peasant woman

Jan. 28, 2015 19:58:00


Yu Xiuhua  (Xinhua)

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 the central province of Hubei, 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.


Yu Xiuhua (Cheng Min/Xinhua)

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".


Yu Xiuhua's poems (Cheng Min/Xinhua)

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. 


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