"Writing Help" Shop Fades Into the Past

         "Writing Help" Shop Fades Into the Past

    At No.43 Old Park Front Road in Shantou, there is a small shop with works of calligraphy pasted all over it. A man over seventy is waving a brush in his right hand and writing a big Chinese character – “chan” which means “zen,” on white paper. When he finishes writing, he makes a wood chop. He dips the chop in red ink and stamps the lower right corner of the paper. Two red characters show “Qiu Hu” clearly.

    Qiu Hu is the boss of this 6-square-metre shop. In the front of his shop, there is a one meter high board with three big red characters – “Dai Xie Chu.” It means something like “Writing Help Shop,” a place that helps people write letters, couplets, correspondence, contracts, applications, agreements of both marriage and divorce, and so on. A variety of service contents are listed at his shop.

    “It is the only writing helping shop in the old city of Shantou,” Qiu said.

    Writing help shops were common in China throughout an era when many people could not read or write. In 1949, illiterates and semi-literates consisted of 80% of the population. Today, with development of education and modern technology, the use of writing shops has dropped off. Still Qiu sees value in offering writing help.

    “Why did I want to open this shop? The most important reason was that I wanted to use my own advantages to help people, especially the poor ones,” Qiu said, “And of course, I can make money from my writing – it means that I am still useful.”

    Qiu was born in 1931, and he has been retired for more than 17 years. When he was young, he went to Hainan for some years, then worked in a very poor rural town in Sichuan in construction. When Qiu was 60 years old, he retired and returned to Shantou.

    Though Qiu was retiring, he still wanted to use his knowledge to help people. The first idea that came to mind was—”Dai Xie.” That was because Qiu loved calligraphy very much and he had had some publicity experience in his work unit. At that time, there were few “Dai Xie” shop in Shantou.

    Every morning, Qiu comes to his small shop at about nine o’clock and awaits customers.Ten years ago, Qiu was very busy. Many people came to his shop asking him to help write letters; some came to him for legal indictment help. Qiu’s standard charge was no more than sixty yuan; some jobs were even free. His service was much cheaper than asking an expert for help.

    Before Qiu opened his shop,he didn’t have much knowledge about the law, so he bought some books and taught himself. Many books such as “How To Write A Couplet,” “Legal Instruments,” “How To Have A Good Name” and so on sit on Qiu’s bookshelf. Qiu said, “When I encounter something I don’t know, I will read the books to find the answers. Then I ask for professional opinions – it makes me think more and learn more.”

    Today, fewer people come to the Writing Help shop, but sometimes Qiu is still busy as before.

    “A few days ago, many people came to ask me to help them fill out the application form of the low-income groups in Shantou city. They were mainly middle-aged people; they did not know how to fill them in, so they came to me for help. A long queue was up the street. I didn’t even have time for a meal,” Qiu said with a smile.

    Qiu’s family has lived in the Little Park since Chinese liberation in 1949, so Qiu opened his shop in front of his house at the very beginning. Because of the transformation of Little Park, he has to spend 200 yuan per month to rent this small shop to continue his business. With an eight-hundred yuan pension per month, Qiu can feed himself even if the writing shop does not draw business. He can foresee a not-too distant time when his writing-help days will end.

    “‘Dai Xie’ is coming to an end because of the development of technology. The communication equipment and the computer technology have developed so superbly and is so widespread that people will no longer need to write by paying someone. You can just search on the computer. It is very convenient,” Qiu said. “I am 78 years old already, and I don’t have enough energy to continue with this shop. At most, another two years, I think – then I will close this shop, and ‘Dai Xie’ will fall into history.”

    Vicki Wong