Writer-turned-lawmaker's pursuit for better rural China

Xinhua Updated: 2024-03-27

YINCHUAN -- Growing up amid the rugged beauty of Ningxia Hui autonomous region in Northwest China, Ma Huijuan had little inkling that one day her spontaneous musings on rural life would evolve into compelling stories that could captivate readers' hearts and minds, and even become published books.

Born in the 1980s in Xihaigu, once dubbed "the most barren place under the sky," Ma's schooling halted at 16 due to poverty, resigned to a fate that her future would be "a repetition of my father's generation, just tending to the land."

The turning point came in 2000. Amid the local government's poverty alleviation efforts, her family was relocated to the Hongsibu district, which is relatively more habitable.

"This drastic change instilled in me the belief to realize my self-worth," Ma reminisced.

With better living conditions and more working opportunities, Ma Huijuan saved 500 yuan (about $70.4) to buy her first cellphone in 2008. Through this small device, she discovered a world beyond her village, where many knew little of her hometown.

That was when she decided to use her phone as an authoring tool, sharing her life experiences and observations in the rural area on Qzone, a Chinese social networking website.

As her posts gained traction, netizens captivated by her rustic charm submitted her works to literary magazines, where they were accepted immediately, kick-starting her career as an author.

Across more than 10 worn-out devices, Ma has penned millions of characters. Dubbed affectionately by her readers as the "writer of thumbs," in a nod to her composition tool of choice, Ma now boasts six published books, each authentically portraying her hometown's evolution.

"I admit that we were in poverty back then, but I want to tell everyone that despite the barrenness and hardships, in our lives, we still have happiness and positive things," she said.

Beyond her literary pursuits, Ma champions rural welfare, particularly for women.

In 2018, Ma became a national lawmaker as she was elected to be a deputy to the National People's Congress, the national legislature. In 2023, she was reelected.

A familiar sight in her community, Ma regularly engages with locals to understand their needs, and, of course, she takes with her a notebook.

"Within casual chats and discussions often lie important ideas. Jotting them down allows me to turn them into valuable suggestions later," she said.

As a national lawmaker, Ma has monitored the intellectual and cultural progress of women in rural areas. In 2018, she set up a reading club in her community for women. She also gives lectures addressing the rights and interests of women as well as domestic violence.

Sun Juanjuan, a local, reflects on the influence of Ma's initiatives. "I was busy taking care of the kids at home, and it felt like the entire day revolved around them and cooking, with not much else to do. After participating in the reading club, I realized the profound value of books and knowledge."

"At our gathering, we often say that we are not just wives or mothers; instead, we are individuals with our own identities. We can start our own business, contribute to the country, and fulfill our own aspirations," said Ma.

At the recent session of the national legislature earlier this month, Ma championed cultural enrichment in rural areas.

Rural culture is a vehicle by which villagers pursue beauty, inquire into history, and aspire to intellectual fulfillment, said Ma, emphasizing its importance for the country's rural revitalization drive.

Her advocacy is underscored in her recent literary endeavors. She published a book for children earlier this month, recording Hongsibu's transformations over the past decades.

Ma also authored a book recording her experience working as a national lawmaker, which has broadened her horizons and deepened her understanding of various sectors and industries.

"It is not only a learning process, but also a journey of personal growth. Thanks to the experience, my writing has transcended narrow boundaries." 

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