Chen Hui is no ordinary petty trader


A difficult childhood and illness did not stop this single mum from becoming a now famous author.

EVERY morning, 43-year-old Chen Hui will push her modified cart full of groceries to a marketplace in a small Chinese town called Liangnong, in eastern Zhejiang province.

The single mother is no ordinary petty trader. She is popular among the locals who call her nu zuojia (lady author).

People she has met in the last 17 years inspired her to be a writer and she has authored two books in three years.

One is about a woman who left her lover to marry another man at her father’s will.

Another is about a coppersmith who quit smoking after being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Her latest publication, The People of this World, scored a rating of 9.1 on douban.com, a social networking forum where the public share information and views on books, music, dramas and films.

In this book, Chen shares her thoughts, childhood and interesting stories of the people around her, such as family members and neighbours, as well as those she met at the market.

“These people of different backgrounds come and go; using her earnest pen, she recorded the feeling of helplessness, dignity, shame and pride in life,” according to the introduction in the book.

Chen gained fame after the book made it to the must-read list recommended by the Zhejiang provincial publicity department in May.

She has inspired many others, encouraging them to chase their dreams.

For Chen, life is full of obstacles, but she faces them head on.

Born in the Rugao city of Jiangsu province, she was given away at the age of three to another family and only returned to live with her biological parents 10 years later.

After failing the Senior High School Entrance Examination, she enrolled in a vocational high school to learn fashion design.

“The course title sounded so high class, but it’s just tailoring,” she said.

Upon graduation, she worked in a tailor shop and a year later, opened her own sewing and alteration business.

But it only lasted two years.

She was forced to close it down after suffering a serious illness that has her on medication for life.

She refused to reveal her illness.

Her aunt, who married a man in Liangnong, insisted she accompany her home for a holiday, hoping that a quiet village life would help improve Chen’s health.

It was at the mountain village that she met her Mr Right and settled down in 2004.

Soon after her son was born, Chen opened a street stall to earn a living.

“After 8pm only will I have time to do some reading, which is my hobby since childhood. I can read the same book again and again,” she told local media in separate interviews.

Chen became a blogger in 2010, using a second-hand computer she got at a market.

“My friends said the articles were interesting and encouraged me to write more.

“In just a few years, I wrote several hundred stories,” she said, pointing out that writing helped ease her loneliness.

Chen opens her stall before 6am and returns home when the bustling marketplace quietens down five hours later.

After lunch, she spends two to three hours working on her stories before heading to the wholesale market where she looks for products to sell.

Through her writing she managed to meet like-minded people who helped send her articles to local newspapers and magazines which later published a few.

In 2018, Chen selected 33 published articles for a book compilation entitled No Matter How Long, Your Guardian Angel Will Come One Day.

The locals are proud of having an author in their village but Chen still sees herself as just a vendor.

“Writing is just my part-time job. I am a vendor selling groceries. I would not say I love this job, but since it is how I make a living, I have to do my best.

“People won’t buy goods from me because I am a writer; they buy because I sell my products at a reasonable price and they like me,” she added.

Chen and her husband divorced in 2018, and she now lives with her teenaged son.

“He is in high school now, independent and helps me out with some house chores like doing the laundry, boiling water and preparing simple meals,” she said.

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