“I swallowed a moon made of iron”. Xu Lizhi, Worker, Poet.

Xu Lizhi (1990-2014). Source: LibCom
Xu Lizhi (1990-2014). Source: LibCom

我咽下一枚铁做的月亮
I swallowed a moon made of iron
他们把它叫做螺丝
They refer to it as a nail
我咽下这工业的废水,失业的订单
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
那些低于机台的青春早早夭亡
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
我咽下奔波,咽下流离失所
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
咽下人行天桥,咽下长满水锈的生活
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
我再咽不下了
I can’t swallow any more
所有我曾经咽下的现在都从喉咙汹涌而出
All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
在祖国的领土上铺成一首
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
耻辱的诗
Into a disgraceful poem.

‘I swallowed a moon made of iron’ – 19 December 2013, translated by LibCom’s Nao


I came across the work of Xu Lizhi, and couldn’t stop reading. Xu was a worker at Foxconn, the company best known for producing products such as iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, Kindle, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Wii U in, let’s say, ‘controversial’ working conditions.

That I put the word in quotations is merely ironic. It refers to the heartless words we choose to use when labeling the obvious. For FoxConn is but an exemplary example of a never-ending beast we call Capitalism, a beast requiring an entire linguistic arsenal to paint it in whatever color we find soothing.

But I want to talk about Xu.

At the age of 24, on September the 30th 2014, Xu Lizhi committed suicide.

According to LibCom, Xu was born in 1990 in rural Jieyang, Guangdong province, in South Eastern China. Like so many other young Chinese men and women, he left his home in 2010, at the age of 20, to work at Foxconn in Shenzhen. A face among many, a name among many, an occupation among many, this was the life he describes as “stalled at the halfway mark”. But Xu wasn’t ‘just’ a factory worker. He was a poet.

“From 2012 until February of this year [2014], over 30 of his writings were published in Foxconn’s internal newspaper Foxconn People, including poems, essays, film reviews, and news commentaries {…} Xu posted the titles of these writings on his blog in a post called “The Maturation Given to Me by a Newspaper,” indicating his gratitude for this platform for his literary aspirations. The first time his friend Zheng (pseudonym) read Xu’s poetry, he was astonished to discover that this young man could be so talented. Henceforth, Zheng always looked for Xu’s writings in the newspaper.” (source)

In his poems, we find a man living in the real world. He knows where he is, and knows where he isn’t. He struggles, yes, it’s true, but he also accepts, reluctantly, as though he doesn’t see the point in struggling for long. He is described as shy, but society, we’re shown, is at fault.


他们都说
They all say
我是个话很少的孩子
I’m a child of few words
对此我并不否认
This I don’t deny
实际上
But actually
我说与不说
Whether I speak or not
都会跟这个社会
With this society I’ll still
发生冲突
Conflict

‘Conflict’ – 7 June 2013, translated by LibCom’s Nao


This global society which, by sheer (lack of) luck, placed Xu Lizhi in the spot he occupied for countless days and countless nights. Time lost its essence, the days and nights blurred, social life was pointless. He became docile. He forgot how to resist, and therefore how to exist.


Xu Lizhi. Source: BeijingCream
Xu Lizhi. Source: BeijingCream

眼前的纸张微微发黄
The paper before my eyes fades yellow
我用钢笔在上面凿下深浅不一的黑
With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black
里面盛满打工的词汇
Full of working words
车间,流水线,机台,上岗证,加班,薪水……
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages…
我被它们治得服服贴贴
They’ve trained me to become docile
我不会呐喊,不会反抗
Don’t know how to shout or rebel
不会控诉,不会埋怨
How to complain or denounce
只默默地承受着疲惫
Only how to silently suffer exhaustion
驻足时光之初
When I first set foot in this place
我只盼望每月十号那张灰色的薪资单
I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month
赐我以迟到的安慰
To grant me some belated solace
为此我必须磨去棱角,磨去语言
For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words
拒绝旷工,拒绝病假,拒绝事假
Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons
拒绝迟到,拒绝早退
Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early
流水线旁我站立如铁,双手如飞
By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,
多少白天,多少黑夜
How many days, how many nights
我就那样,站着入睡
Did I – just like that – standing fall asleep?

‘I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That’ – 20 August 2011, translated by LibCom’s Nao


But then again, if he forgot how to exist, who is the author of his realization? No one. Xu understood that the helplessness he felt was inhuman in its very nature. It didn’t have a face, a personality, a soul. How many of us could resist when faced with such monstrosity, such indifference?


一颗螺丝掉在地上
A screw fell to the ground
在这个加班的夜晚
In this dark night of overtime
垂直降落,轻轻一响
Plunging vertically, lightly clinking
不会引起任何人的注意
It won’t attract anyone’s attention
就像在此之前
Just like last time
某个相同的夜晚
On a night like this
有个人掉在地上
When someone plunged to the ground

‘A Screw Fell To The Ground’ — 9 January 2014, translated by LibCom’s Nao


Xu Lizhi deserved to be more than a screw. His fall deserves more meaning. If he was forced to be a “cog in the Capitalist machine” as George Orwell put it when fighting for the Anarchists in 1936 Catalonia, let us not remember him as merely such. Let us acknowledge that the silent, shy Xu Lizhi was louder than most of us could ever dare to be.

Here are more of his poems.


村里的老人都说
Village elders say
我跟我爷爷年轻时很像
I resemble my grandfather in his youth
刚开始我不以为然
I didn’t recognize it
后来经他们一再提起
But listening to them time and again
我就深信不疑了
Won me over
我跟我爷爷
My grandfather and I share
不仅外貌越看越像
Facial expressions
就连脾性和爱好
Temperaments, hobbies
也像同一个娘胎里出来的
Almost as if we came from the same womb
比如我爷爷外号竹竿
They nicknamed him “bamboo pole”
我外号衣架
And me, “clothes hanger”
我爷爷经常忍气吞声
He often swallowed his feelings
我经常唯唯诺诺
I’m often obsequious
我爷爷喜欢猜谜
He liked guessing riddles
我喜欢预言
I like premonitions
1943年秋,鬼子进
In the autumn of 1943, the Japanese devils invaded
我爷爷被活活烧死
and burned my grandfather alive
享年23岁
at the age of 23.
我今年23岁
This year i turn 23.

‘A Kind of Prophecy’ – 18 June 2013, translated by LibCom’s Nao


机台的鸣叫也打着瞌睡
Even the machine is nodding off
密封的车间贮藏疾病的铁
Sealed workshops store diseased iron
薪资隐藏在窗帘后面
Wages concealed behind curtains
仿似年轻打工者深埋于心底的爱情
Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts
没有时间开口,情感徒留灰尘
With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust
他们有着铁打的胃
They have stomachs forged of iron
盛满浓稠的硫酸,硝酸
Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric
工业向他们收缴来不及流出的泪
Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall
时辰走过,他们清醒全无
Time flows by, their heads lost in fog
产量压低了年龄,疼痛在日夜加班
Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night
还未老去的头晕潜伏生命
In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent
皮肤被治具强迫褪去
The jig forces the skin to peel
顺手镀上一层铝合金
And while it’s at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloy
有人还在坚持着,有人含病离去
Some still endure, while others are taken by illness
我在他们中间打盹,留守青春的
I am dozing between them, guarding
最后一块墓地
The last graveyard of our youth.

‘The Last Graveyard’ – 21 December 2011, translated by LibCom’s Nao


这是谁都没有料到的
This is something no one expected
我一生中的路
My life’s journey
还远远没有走完
Is far from over
就要倒在半路上了
But now it’s stalled at the halfway mark
类似的困境
It’s not as if similar difficulties
以前也不是没有
Didn’t exist before
只是都不像这次
But they didn’t come
来得这么突然
As suddenly
这么凶猛
As ferociously
一再地挣扎
Repeatedly struggle
竟全是徒劳
But all is futile
我比谁都渴望站起来
I want to stand up more than anyone else
可是我的腿不答应
But my legs won’t cooperate
我的胃不答应
My stomach won’t cooperate
我全身的骨头都不答应
All the bones of my body won’t cooperate
我只能这样平躺着
I can only lie flat
在黑暗里一次次地发出
In this darkness, sending out
无声的求救信号
A silent distress signal, again and again
再一次次地听到
Only to hear, again and again
绝望的回响
The echo of desperation.

‘My Life’s Journey is Still Far from Complete’ – 13 July 2014, translated by LibCom’s Nao


十平米左右的空间
A space of ten square meters
局促,潮湿,终年不见天日
Cramped and damp, no sunlight all year
我在这里吃饭,睡觉,拉屎,思考
Here I eat, sleep, shit, and think
咳嗽,偏头痛,生老,病不死
Cough, get headaches, grow old, get sick but still fail to die
昏黄的灯光下我一再发呆,傻笑
Under the dull yellow light again I stare blankly, chuckling like an idiot
来回踱步,低声唱歌,阅读,写诗
I pace back and forth, singing softly, reading, writing poems
每当我打开窗户或者柴门
Every time I open the window or the wicker gate
我都像一位死者
I seem like a dead man
把棺材盖,缓缓推开
Slowly pushing open the lid of a coffin.

‘Rented Room’ – 2 December 2013, translated by LibCom’s Nao


“Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi’s Suicide”
by Zhou Qizao (周启早), a fellow worker at Foxconn

每一个生命的消失
The loss of every life
都是另一个我的离去
Is the passing of another me
又一枚螺丝松动
Another screw comes loose
又一位打工兄弟坠楼
Another migrant worker brother jumps
你替我死去
You die in place of me
我替你继续写诗
And I keep writing in place of you
顺便拧紧螺丝
While I do so, screwing the screws tighter
今天是祖国六十五岁的生日
Today is our nation’s sixty-fifth birthday
举国欢庆
We wish the country joyous celebrations
二十四岁的你立在灰色的镜框里微微含笑
A twenty-four-year-old you stands in the grey picture frame, smiling ever so slightly
秋风秋雨
Autumn winds and autumn rain
白发苍苍的父亲捧着你黑色的骨灰盒趔趄还乡
A white-haired father, holding the black urn with your ashes, stumbles home.

‘Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi’s Suicide’ – 1 October 2014, translated by LibCom’s Nao

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