CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
should be an age associated with sunshine, flowers, laughter and all
kinds of sweet things. But for Ma Yan, a girl living in Zhangjiashu,
a small village of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China,
it was totally another story. She had to struggle desperately for
life, especially for her education: she starved for two weeks to save
money for a ball-point pen; she could only have a bowl of rice a day
to survive, with meat, vegetables, and fruits being absolutely a luxury;
she might only get 1.5 yuan (1 yuan is worth approximately 12 cents
in American currency) of pocket money, but she saved her money for
school supplies; she had to take a weekly walk for more than two hours,
traversing steep ravines, taking the risks of encountering bandits,
to save one yuan’s tractor ride from the boarding school to
home or from home to school at weekend. Even so, she had to quit school
when the harvest became terribly bad. This was what recorded in The
Diary of Ma Yan, a moving tale about the young girl who wanted
to overcome her impoverished life. But it was not bleak at all. Instead,
Ma Yan’s words are sparkled with hope. She never gave up her
dream of a good education and a decent job, even when the food she
brought from home ran out and she could only stare at others eating
during meal time. Her reflection of life is not only about herself
but also the people around her. She showed great concern for her folks,
for her mother’s stomach illness, for her grandparents’
hardship. She even bought some apples for a poor old lady with her
extremely limited money only because the lady reminded her of her
poor grandmother. Ma Yan was just like a sapling growing in the track
of rocks, desperately in need of water and soil, but still managing
to survive and prosper.
The greatest merit of The Diary of Ma Yan is that it gives a voice to millions of voiceless grass-root peasant children whose one year school fee, while less than the cost of a piece of toy owned by kids in big cities, is still more than they can afford. Thanks to Ma Yan and the book, Chinese mainstream media now tend to keep an eye on those who have long been neglected by Chinese economic development. Ma Yan was featured three times on CCTV, the most influential media in China. A documentary film set in the village where Ma Yan lives was made to focus more attention on education issues in rural areas. When the book’s Chinese version was published in October 2003 in Beijing, it caused hot discussion among the social elite about the extreme poverty hidden underneath the prosperous surface and the social and political reasons behind that situation.
The Diary of Ma Yan is divided into two parts. The first part runs from September 2 to December 28, 2000 when Ma Yan is 13 and in grade five. The second part is from July 3 to December 28, 2001. The break is due to the loss of her notebooks, some of which had been taken by her illiterate father to wrap cigarettes. Because it is written from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl, the words are quite simple, or in other words, not polished. But it exactly forms the style of the book: simplicity and truth, the greatest beauty. It not only authentically represents Ma Yan’s difficulties and frustrations, but it also gives readers a glimpse of real rural life in China: girls’ inferior position both in family and society, children’s strong sense of indebtedness and paying tributes to parents, parents’ firm belief of never sparing the rod, et cetera.
Reading a book like this, you’ll find yourself more than once in tears for the suffering of this bright teenage girl. You may also be greatly touched and cheered by her stubborn spirit and strong will when encountering challenge. Read it if you are in a condition as poor as Ma Yan. It will definitely give you strength to fight the difficulties. Read it also if you are in a well-off condition far beyond Ma Yan’s imagination. It will cause you to cherish what you have now.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.