Words and pictures

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-29 18:23:01

Former factory worker finds calling in writing and photography

Wang Lili last updated her personal blog in 2009, a time when she was known as a writer. "Penguin purchased the English copyright of my Chinese novel My Tears Will Not Fall," Wang wrote in the last post. "According to an established US book critic, 'the book strikes me like a leash.'"

The feed, tagged "Lie of the Day," was a fabrication. International publication and publicity never came, and the book, once the attention of local media, is hardly talked about anymore. But Wang has achieved her dream of becoming a writer and photographer against the odds.

Wang giggled as she reflected on her "silly strives for fame" when speaking to the Global Times. It was in Xintiandi where Wang held 11 public reading sessions in 2006. Writing was never a frivolous pastime for her, but rather the passion that pulled her out of a life of servitude.

Writer and photographer Wang Lili, who escaped life as a factory worker and came to Shanghai to pursue her art Photo: Liao Fangzhou/GT

The write stuff

Born and raised in a village in Henan Province, Wang went to Shenzhen in 1994 after graduating from a technical school. She worked at a series of factories, among them an umbrella factory and a textile factory, working her way up from assembly laborer to saleswoman and then office worker.

By 1998, Wang had saved up 20,000 yuan ($3,222), and she quit her job to write about the hardship she had experiened. Being a writer had been her dream profession when she was a child.

Living as frugally as she could and writing as much as 5,000 words per day, she spent two months on her semi-autobiographical novel My Tears Will Not Fall.

"I just wanted everyone to know the story of female workers," Wang said. She talks of hideous conditions and outrageous unfairness, including workdays of up to 16 hours, a tiny dormitory accommodating a dozen workers, and sexual molestation by bosses.

Wang paid multiple visits to publishing houses with her manuscript, and endured continuous rejection. Eventually, she had to return to factory work to make ends meet. The turning point came in 20o1, when Changjiang Literature and Art Press, a leading publishing house, published My Tears Will Not Fall.

Making turns

Media outlets such as the People's Daily described her as a "worker writer." She moved to Shanghai in 2002, and soon after began to think of herself as an "independent writer." Her new writings did not linger on her past. The Sunshine is On Me, a novel published by Shanghai People's Publishing House in 2006, concerns a wealthy man who tries to woo a sleeping beauty by incepting 12 dreams in her in which the woman incarnates real and fictional high-profile women.

Over these years, Wang was something of a celebrity. She gave lectures on being a writer at Fudan, befriended literature professors and critics, and was invited to all kinds of exhibition openings, consular events and parties.

But the modest financial gains made Wang want to quit.

"I spent so much time and effort on writing, but the payback was just a few tens of thousands of yuan," Wang said. "Moreover, writing is very tiresome - I suffered from pains in my spine and neck, and the process also caused me to suffer from anxiety."

New viewpoint

Wang picked up a new hobby, photography, during the many parties she attended. At first, she was asked to take group pictures of the guests, and all she had to do was frame the image and click the button. After receiving many compliments from photographers regarding her work, she thought about photography as a serious profession.

She was at ease making new friends, and talked about her new career with a European collector at an exhibition opening. The collector gave her a camera in exchange for her book.

Wang never learned more than the basics, but she found her ability sufficient. She has snapped photographs at Shanghai Fashion Week, and has been dubbed the "Fashion Week Lady" for the eccentric costumes she made out of plastic bags and the like. She has done street photography and photographed events for public relations companies.

More recently she has been offering portrait photography at 100 yuan for 10 shots.

Wang believes her documents are unique because she does not rely on image processing, which she sees as an increasingly rampant procedure in portrait photography.

She also suggests that her clients do not wear colored contact lenses, fake eyelashes, or heavy makeup.

For her, it is all about authenticity.

Word of mouth

Her clients, mostly people she has met at various events including her own mini photography exhibitions that she puts on in cafes, eagerly help spread her name on WeChat.

One female client said Wang is an artist with personality and sensitivity. "She has an eye for primitive, simple beauty," she said.

Refusing to reveal how much she earns these days, Wang said her income is "unstable" and scarcely covers her expenditure. She always cooks at home and has not bought new clothes for a few years.

She exchanges her books for clothes from fashion store owners who she knows. "Yet, it makes a living more easily than writing," Wang said.

She wishes to be identified as a writer rather than a photographer, even today. While she calls her photography meaningless in comparison to what she considers masterpieces of the art, she believes she makes for a powerful novelist.

"Someday when I am carefree, I would want to go back to writing - about this society," Wang said.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, About Town

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