Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Body, Disability, and Creativity in the Poetry of Yu Xiuhua

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Body, Disability, and Creativity in the Poetry of Yu Xiuhua

Article excerpt

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Yu Xiuhua ... has almost overnight become a sensation in the world of Chinese poetry. Yu Xiuhua self-identifies as a female poet from the village of Hengdian in rural Zhongxiang County, Hubei Province, China. She has also indicated that she has cerebral palsy (CP), which impacts both her mobility and speech. As a writer from the countryside, her poems often feature village landscapes with frequent reference to trees, plants, fields, and streams. This interest in nature, coupled with an interest in binary oppositions and balanced opposites, suggest an understanding of and interest in Daoism.

Running through Yu's writing is a discussion of the body, primarily her own body, and its unique properties, physical conditions, and passions. As a creative writer with impairments, Yu makes frequent reference to her specific corporeal condition. She notes that she leans to one side as she walks, walks unsteadily, and speaks unclearly. She often refers to her body as broken or fragmented. And yet these conditions, though challenging, leave room for enlightenment and epiphany and do not limit her agency to act for herself. Her writing thus represents a refreshing, multidimensional exploration of the female disabled body.

The notion that the disabled body is a relevant, even crucial topic for discussion has become a major thrust of research in the fields of disability studies and the humanities. In 1995 pioneer disability studies scholar Lennard Davis noted that "there has been virtually no liberatory rhetoric-outside of the disability rights movement-tied to prostheses, wheelchairs, colostomy bags, canes or braces," or in other words, to disabled bodies and the assistive resources they utilize.1 While the work of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson2 has suggested there have been developments in the field of fashion, to which I would add the fields of performing arts and even mainstream broadcast media, that suggest change is occurring, there is still a pronounced need in China as well as elsewhere around the world, including North America and Europe, for "unseating the dominant assumption that disability is something that is wrong with someone."3 Disabled author Nancy Mairs argues that the able-bodied "ascribe limitations (some accurate, others wildly wide of the mark) to those with disabilities; and since the views of these people have conventionally predominated, even among the disabled themselves, their ascriptions take on considerable force."4 In other words, for a disabled person, an impairment is misconstrued as "[having] something wrong with them,"5 which Mairs forcefully rebuts when she states "my disability itself is not a sickness. It's part of who I am."6

The impaired body, and more particularly the impaired female body, is thus constructed as not only stigmatized and devalued, but also deprived of hope, opportunity, and meaning. According to Garland-Thomson, who applies feminist theory to disability studies, disability is in fact part of a "pervasive cultural system that stigmatizes certain kinds of bodily variations."7 Women with impairments are doubly marginalized, first as women in a world that still favors men, and second as being disabled in a world that favors the able-bodied. "Western thought," observes Garland-Thomson, "has long conflated femaleness and disability, understanding both as defective departures from a valued standard," the male and the able-bodied.8 Likewise, in Chinese society, disabled women are also twice marginalized and have more limited educational and social mobility than their male counterparts. As Aggie Hu notes, "Girls and women with disabilities in China are vulnerable to a double prejudice that favors men and able-bodied individuals."9 This impacts their access to education, employment, as well as dating and marriage opportunities.10

In the case of Chinese culture and Chinese-language literature, Yu Xiuhua through her poetry provides this voice for women with disabilities. …

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