Yu Jianrong was born in Hengyang , Hunan province in September, 1962. His childhood was scarred by the Cultural Revolution. His father, who had been a Communist guerilla fighter, was falsely accused of having fought for the Nationalists and detained. Yu, his mother and elder sister were stripped of their urban registration and became 'black people'. 'We had no rights to anything, we did not have grain coupons, cloth coupons, nothing,' he said during a seminar on the petition system in Hong Kong on Friday. 'We were chased after and beaten, for no reason. Between the ages of six and 14, we had to move from one place to another every year because we had no registration.' In 1970, a family friend helped Yu register at a school. On the first day, the head of the class denounced him as a 'black person' who had no right to attend. His father found him hiding at the back of school, and wept. But Yu was an outstanding student and, at the age of 16, passed the exam for Hunan Normal University, where he studied commercial law. 'I was determined to find out why and what made me a 'black person'. Some people have had the same terrible experience but, when they become powerful and famous, they do not fight for the deprived. They became preoccupied with buying property.' He had a successful legal practice for eight years but decided to return to academia, earning a doctorate in law from Huazhong Normal University in 2001. He has been a visiting scholar at Chinese and Baptist universities in Hong Kong and at Harvard. He has written many books and articles. 'He is respected and well regarded,' said Dr Edgar Yuen, professor of international journalism at United International College in Zhuhai and a columnist for Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper. 'He is very knowledgeable on the grass roots and rural society and the stratification of society. He goes to demonstrations to find out how they are organised. He gives advice to the government. Through him, it learns what is going on. Local officials do not report the truth, so the government relies on him.' Friends say that the hardships of his childhood have given him a sympathy and understanding for farmers, workers and those at the bottom of society, with whom he talks easily with them during his reporting trips. 'Because of my childhood experiences, I have a special feeling for the poor. I am concerned that people in society live in fear because there is no bottom line on what could go wrong,' he said. One of his best-known books is The Plight of China's Working Class: Annals of Anyuan, most of it written while he was a visiting scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Institute in 2004. Over four years, Yu did hundreds of interviews with the people of Anyuan, a small town in Jiangxi province famous for its long history of coal mining. He recorded their revolutionary past and their frustrations and difficulties during the years of reform. In the preface to the book, Professor Elizabeth Perry described it as the 'Chinese counterpart of E. P. Thompson's masterful study of the English working class. It was 'a revealing journalistic report and an impassioned interpretation of the plight of the contemporary Chinese working class'. Perry is director of the institute and Henry Rosovsky professor of government at Harvard.