On March 12, someone had posted a blog message titled “Touching!  Nan-Chang female beggar ‘borrows light’ to read for almost 3 years” onto a Chinese website.  Within 2 days, over 6 million page views and 20 thousands netizens discuss about this woman online.  So here comes the birth of another Chinese internet celebrity, “Sister Novel” 小说姐– right after “Brother Sharp“.   Newspaper and TV reporters hound around her ever since.

“Sister Novel” is a 35 years old homeless woman who is seen reading books with “borrowed light” from the door-steps of a business in the evening after hours.  She does not really read anything profounded but just novels, especially the martial arts novels written by the famous Hong Kong writer Jin Yong.  People seemed to be touched by her persistence to read with “borrowed light” despite misfortunes and hardship.

“Sister Novel’s” real name is Chen Mui.  She had lived in a happy family until she was 10– when her father had indulged in gambling, lost everything and disappeared.  She was forsaken by her mother when she was 12.  Her grandmother had passed when she was 14 with no relatives left to support her.  Chen had left her village and begins her “wandering” or homeless life.

Chen had married when she was 18.  She gave birth to a girl.  The couple made a living by scavenging.  But the husband took away her life-savings and ran way with her daughter.  Her second husband did the same thing to her– ran away with her savings.

The worst thing of being homeless is not hunger or cold weather but when to expect sexual assault coming.  It happens to her every year.  “I had resisted assault  in the beginning.  But I dare not resist later or I’ll be beaten up.”  Said Chen.

Chen does not like people calling her “beggar”. “I’m a wanderer, not beggar.” She does not beg and refuse taking money from people.

Chen’s happiest time is when she reads in the evening.  During the day, she picks up empty mineral water bottles to make enough money to pay for her book rental and nothing more.   If there is no money for food, she will pick up left-over food from garbage cans.  She does not want to have any saving for fear of being swindled again.

People are deeply touched by Chen’s inner-strength and simple happiness–  being homeless for 21 years due to father’s gambling and mother ran away, dumped and swindled by two busbands and under the threat of sexual assault– yet she refuses handouts and money from people, subsists on her meagre income and finds happiness through reading with “borrowed light“.  She only had a grade 5 (primary school) education.

What can we learn from “Sister Novel”?

Ken Lai

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