The online essay chronicling the dismal plight of millions of Chinese has turned its unassuming author into an overnight literary sensation
As a girl, Fan Yusu looked to Charles Dickens for an escape from her life of rural poverty, immersing herself in the travails of Oliver Twist as he fled a Victorian workhouse and set off for the big smoke.
But it is the story of Fans own flight to the big city that has captured hearts and minds in her native China after an online account of the migrant workers struggles made her an overnight literary sensation.
According to Chinese media reports, more than one million people have read an autobiographical essay in which Fan charts her attempts to build a life in Beijing since last week when it was published on the social network WeChat.
But the fame of 44-year-old Fan one newspaper has dubbed her Chinas hottest writer has continued to spread, so much so that she has abandoned her home in a hardscrabble migrant village on the outskirts of Beijing in order to evade the hordes of journalists hoping to interview her.
Im hiding, she told one reporter, according to Xinhua, Chinas official news agency.
The story of Chinas newest literary star begins in a village in central China in the early 1970s, as Chairman Maos tumultuous Cultural Revolution drew to a close and his country was plunged into a new era of social and economic upheaval.
Fan, one of five children born into a deprived rural community, was forced to start work at 12 and dreamed of moving to one of Chinas suddenly booming cities.
She was also a bookworm: as well as Dickens Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, she reportedly devoured the works of Daniel Defoe, Jules Verne and Maxim Gorky as well as Chinese authors such as Jin Jingmai.
Aged 20, Fan travelled to Beijing hoping to find work and see the big wide world.
Instead she fell into an abusive marriage with a man from north-eastern China with whom she had two daughters. He became drunk and violent. I couldnt bear his domestic violence any longer and decided to take my two kids back to my hometown, Fan recalls in her essay, which goes on to chronicle her return to the Chinese capital where she found work as a nanny for the illegitimate child of a millionaire.
My life is like a miserable and touching book, Fan reflects. Fate has bound me in an utterly clumsy way.
Zhang Huiyu, a literature professor who volunteered at a writing course for migrant workers attended by Fan, said his former pupil was a literature fanatic whose sincere and simple words had struck a chord with ordinary people. These days people are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life but Fan Yusus story shows us the beautiful and romantic side of life.
Those sentiments were echoed by the Communist partys official newspaper, the Peoples Daily, which said readers had been moved by her matter-of-fact yet thought-provoking prose.
She is like an anthropologist who, by observing people from all walks of life in the city, has offered readers a new perspective, one critic was quoted as saying.
In interviews before going into hiding, Fan struggled to explain her sudden success. Asked by one reporter to explain why her work had resonated with readers, she replied: Ive no idea. Do you?
I have no talent, Fan added in another interview, scotching the suggestion she hoped to pursue a career in writing. I have never dreamed of changing my destiny with a pen.
Fan described herself as a woman struggling to survive at the bottom of society and said books had helped her deal with the challenges of being a member of Chinas exploited underclass. When life was extremely difficult, I read to stop thinking of the hardship.
Since being catapulted to literary stardom, other examples of Fans writing have surfaced, including a poem called Monologue of a Migrant Mother.
I only dare to weep in the depths of night/ I am a migrant, and so are my daughters, it reads. If possible, let me alone face the plight/ Leaving my dear children only the happiness.
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen