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Age of creativity knows no boundaries for writer amid growing fan base

By Wang Ru | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-25 10:54

Yang Benfen's new book Douzi Zhima Cha, a work of nonfiction about the destiny of several people she met. CHINA DAILY

At the tender age of 83, Yang Benfen has recently published her fourth book, Douzi Zhima Cha (Bean Sesame Tea), a work of nonfiction about the destiny of people she has met in life, including her neighbor, classmate, colleague and family members.

Yang, who has been a farmer, an accountant, and a worker at an automobile transportation company, managed to make a living and support her family for much of her life, without having the time to realize her dream of reading books and getting more education.

But when she retired two decades ago, she decided to write stories about her mother as a way to cope with the grief of losing her. She uploaded what she wrote online, and her stories attracted widespread attention. At 80, she saw the publication of her popular first book Qiu Yuan, which has a rating of 9 points out of 10 on the review site Douban.

Following its success, she published Fu Mu (Floating Wood), Wo Ben Fen Fang (I Was Fragrant) and the latest Douzi Zhima Cha, all works of nonfiction about the lives and deaths of ordinary people she has met in the course of her life.

The books have won her a dozen literary prizes, and almost 1 million copies of the first three books have been printed.

According to Yang, bean sesame tea is a traditional drink in her hometown in Central China's Hunan province and is always offered to guests. The new book is like a cup of bean sesame tea she wants to offer readers, she says.

Yang autographs copies of her book for readers at its launch in Miluo, Hunan province, in September. CHINA DAILY

"A netizen once told me that no one wants to hear stories of ordinary people, and only celebrities or people of high social status can leave their stories behind. But I don't agree," she said at the launch of the book in Miluo, Hunan, in September.

"What I am interested in are just stories of ordinary people, who seem to be nameless. They have struggled in the torrents of life, come into this world and left in a silent way. These people include my mother, father, siblings, neighbors, and myself," she says.

The new book is divided into two parts. The first contains stories of three women — an elderly woman who likes picking up garbage, a worker who wanted to run away from domestic violence but didn't make it, and a farmer who lost her husband at a young age.

"These women are so easily ignored in society that novelists may not pay attention to them. But I want to describe them since they represent the true life of ordinary Chinese women. … They are vibrant and resilient, shaped by countless hardships. They are far from perfect, but such imperfection touches people," says Yang.

The second part is about the deaths of Yang's mother and older brother.

She vividly recalls the last 26 days of her mother's life and how she and her bother helped their mother support their impoverished family when they were young.

"Their deaths mean a part of myself leaves as well. Death not only takes away life, but when your beloved ones pass away, they take away a part of you, too. When I'm writing, I feel I am overextending myself trying to retain those I love, and dispel the desperate feelings (of loss)," says Yang.

After a failed surgery on her knee several years ago, Yang has been tortured by frequent pain. Only for a few days in a month, when the pain eases, is she able to seize the time to write something. Since the painkillers she takes have a side effect on her eyesight, they also make it difficult for her to write.

But she still insists on writing, and now she is writing about pain. "Pain comes with growing old. It is horrible and lengthy. It makes you feel helpless, but you have to bear it," says Yang.

"Putting away the feelings of pain and growing old is a way of resisting. I know human beings are destined to fail in such resistance, but by trying so, they display their value and willpower."

Yang at her home in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. CHINA DAILY







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