The Chinese Factory Workers Who Write Poems on Their Phones

Excerpt from this article:

Today the most famous migrant worker poet is 24-year-old Xu Lizhi who committed suicide in 2014. He worked at Foxconn city, the electronics mega-factory in Shenzhen famed not only for manufacturing all our Apple products, but for a spate of suicides in 2010 that exposed the sinister myth of opportunity and social mobility on the assembly line: “To die is the only way to testify that we ever lived,” wrote one blogger at the factory. (Foxconn subsequently erected netting to prevent not the despair but the death toll.) But when Xu threw himself from the 17th floor of a building four years later, having published much of his work online, it was not his death that made headlines, but his skill as a poet.

Time magazine published his brief life story alongside his work under the headline: “The poet dying for your phone.” In China, the host of a national culture show innocently marveled at the depths of this uneducated worker’s feelings. In giving shape to his experiences through poetry, Xu highlighted our own automated disconnect from the people who manufacture the clothes we wear and the electronics we consume, as conveyed in the final lines of his poem “Terracotta Army on the Assembly Line”:

(. . .)  these workers who can’t tell night from day
wearing
electrostatic clothes
electrostatic hats
electrostatic shoes
electrostatic gloves
electrostatic bracelets
all at the ready
silently awaiting their orders
when the bell rings
they’re sent back to the Qin

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