A sanitation worker’s pursuit of literature

Huang, who grew up in the rural area of Hunan province, loved writing since a young age. She always wanted to go beyond her village and see the world.


Huang Xinsheng, a 51-year-old sanitation worker, cleans the sidewalk along a street in Changsha, Hunan province. [Screengrab/cctv.com]

January 5, 2023

BEIJING – Huang Xinsheng, a 51-year-old sanitation worker living in Changsha, Hunan province, has written more than 300 poems and novels over the past four plus years.

Every morning at 6:00 am, Huang would show up to Yuehua road in Changsha. The distance from there to the east gate of the Third Xiangya Hospital of Central South University is a one-kilometer street that she is in charge of cleaning.

When Huang returns home after work, she would switch to her other identity – a writer. With pen and papers in hand, she would go on to cleanse her mind and spirit with poems and literature.

Huang, who grew up in the rural area of Hunan province, loved writing since a young age. She always wanted to go beyond her village and see the outside world.

However, she suffered a heavy blow when she failed her national college entrance exam and had to make a hard decision. In order to provide for her two younger brothers’ education, Huang gave up the option to repeat her grade and chose to work in the city to support her family.

Huang Xinsheng, a 51-year-old sanitation worker, studies in a library in Changsha, Hunan province. [Screengrab/cctv.com]

During her days working odd jobs in the city, Huang’s passion for writing and literature persisted and became habit. In her spare time, she would write poems on waste papers and her writings would often be passed around by her co-workers, who really enjoyed reading her work.

“In my home village, many people felt satisfied with just having enough food to eat, but I did not want to stop there. I was yearning for a job, and to have my own study room, bookshelves, and a desk. After work, I want to be able to sit quietly at my desk and read books. At the time I firmly believed that I will have the opportunity to realize this dream in the future, and I will make it,” said Huang.

Huang eventually went on to get married and had children, and in 2014, Huang moved to Changsha and became a sanitation worker after her husband passed away due to an accident.

At this point in her life, reading and writing were not only Huang’s tools to realize her dream, but also her medicine against gloom and misfortune.

Huang’s home is full of books. She treated books as nourishment for her spirit and made it her mission to read every day. She was thrifty with her spending but was never stingy when it comes to buying books, and a visit to the library every month became new routine for years to come.

Huang Xinsheng, a 51-year-old sanitation worker, reads a book at home in Changsha, Hunan province. [Screengrab/cctv.com]

In 2019, Huang Joined an online group chat by chance. All of the group members are sanitation workers from around the country and they all have one thing in common – their love for reading and writing.

Huang’s works were published online by editors in the group chat and many readers showed their appreciation and love of Huang’s writings.

“I suddenly found that I was never alone and I was never without merit. My original intention stays strong and true, and I will continue to work hard to chase my dream. As I wrote more, my mind moved onto a better place. More and more people came to me with job offers, and I started to make a better living,” said Huang.

Later in the year, with the encouragement of her friends, Huang applied to take junior college exams for the self-taught and chose to major in Chinese language and literature. In the following year, she passed exams in the course on her first try and continued her studies.

“I always admired students in universities, and now I can finally aim to become one myself. If I finish my junior college studies, I will apply to become an undergraduate. I want to keep on learning,” said Huang.

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