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A farmer from rural China with cerebral palsy is not a likely candidate for fame – but when Yu Xiuhua’s poetry went viral online, she was suddenly touted for great success. Brutally visceral, her poetry is born from grappling with disability, a loveless marriage, and her relationship with China’s eroding pastoral interior. This sympathetic doc lays bare the disjunction at the heart of Yu's life between physical circumstance and inner expression.

“As to how to be a happy woman, I don’t have any experience. I can’t tell you.” Yu makes no secret of the difficulties she has faced in life. With a resigned stoicism, she has had to face a host of troubles throughout her life – her physical shortcomings, her early and soon regretted marriage, and a grinding existence in China’s vast rural interior. Yet throughout her weary years she has managed to nurture an innate form of expression that is both raw and haunting, and which has kept her going: “Poetry makes me understand that it's important to live on. It supports me,” she tells us. “Without poetry, life is empty.”

Although immensely popular, her work is not without its critics. On a TV interview, a presenter asks: “Your poems talk about sex openly and widely. Will that be misread as lewd and vulgar?” These accusations are partly rooted in her first hit poem, titled ‘Cross half of China to sleep with you’, but Yu shows her indifference towards the critics as she replies: “They even say it’s slut style. So what? So I’m a slut, so what?”

It is clear, however, that her work is not vulgar but defined by a wistful romanticism bred from unrealised love. “Love is so far away from me. Precisely because it is far away, I can’t make peace with myself,” she laments. “True love, flesh and soul - I’ve never experienced it.” Yu’s openness, blunt yet refreshing in its honesty, only serves to highlight the innate truth of her poetry.

Her rise to international acclaim is a story that defies all the odds. Despite her self-professed tragic existence, Yu is a remarkable and inspirational woman and her story ​inspires hope and wonder.


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