Xu Lizhi was a worker at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen who commited suicide in 2014. A prolific writer and contributor to the Foxconn workers' internal newspaper, Xu casts a light on the daily struggles faced by Chinese migrant workers through his incredible poetry.
The poems, translated by Nao and originally hosted on Libcom, are republished here as part of our week focusing on China on the Verso blog. To read more of Xu Lizhi's poetry in English translation, visit the China Labour Bulletin website.
“On My Deathbed”
I want to take another look at the ocean, behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.
-- Xu Lizhi, 30 September 2014
They all say
I'm a child of few words
This I don't deny
Whether I speak or not
With this society I'll still
-- 7 June 2013
"I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That"
The paper before my eyes fades yellow
With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black
Full of working words
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages...
They've trained me to become docile
Don't know how to shout or rebel
How to complain or denounce
Only how to silently suffer exhaustion
When I first set foot in this place
I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month
To grant me some belated solace
For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words
Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons
Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early
By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,
How many days, how many nights
Did I - just like that - standing fall asleep?
-- 20 August 2011
"A Screw Fell to the Ground"
A screw fell to the ground
In this dark night of overtime
Plunging vertically, lightly clinking
It won’t attract anyone’s attention
Just like last time
On a night like this
When someone plunged to the ground
-- 9 January 2014
"A Kind of Prophecy"
Village elders say
I resemble my grandfather in his youth
I didn’t recognize it
But listening to them time and again
Won me over
My grandfather and I share
Almost as if we came from the same womb
They nicknamed him “bamboo pole”
And me, “clothes hanger”
He often swallowed his feelings
I'm often obsequious
He liked guessing riddles
I like premonitions
In the autumn of 1943, the Japanese devils invaded
and burned my grandfather alive
at the age of 23.
This year i turn 23.
-- 18 June 2013
"The Last Graveyard"
Even the machine is nodding off
Sealed workshops store diseased iron
Wages concealed behind curtains
Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts
With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust
They have stomachs forged of iron
Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric
Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall
Time flows by, their heads lost in fog
Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night
In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent
The jig forces the skin to peel
And while it's at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloy
Some still endure, while others are taken by illness
I am dozing between them, guarding
The last graveyard of our youth.
-- 21 December 2011
"My Life’s Journey is Still Far from Complete"
This is something no one expected
My life’s journey
Is far from over
But now it's stalled at the halfway mark
It’s not as if similar difficulties
Didn’t exist before
But they didn’t come
But all is futile
I want to stand up more than anyone else
But my legs won’t cooperate
My stomach won’t cooperate
All the bones of my body won’t cooperate
I can only lie flat
In this darkness, sending out
A silent distress signal, again and again
Only to hear, again and again
The echo of desperation.
-- 13 July 2014
"I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron"
I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
I can't swallow any more
All that I've swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
Into a disgraceful poem.
-- 19 December 2013
A space of ten square meters
Cramped and damp, no sunlight all year
Here I eat, sleep, shit, and think
Cough, get headaches, grow old, get sick but still fail to die
Under the dull yellow light again I stare blankly, chuckling like an idiot
I pace back and forth, singing softly, reading, writing poems
Every time I open the window or the wicker gate
I seem like a dead man
Slowly pushing open the lid of a coffin.
-- 2 December 2013
"Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi's Suicide"
by Zhou Qizao (周启早), a fellow worker at Foxconn
The loss of every life
Is the passing of another me
Another screw comes loose
Another migrant worker brother jumps
You die in place of me
And I keep writing in place of you
While I do so, screwing the screws tighter
Today is our nation's sixty-fifth birthday
We wish the country joyous celebrations
A twenty-four-year-old you stands in the grey picture frame, smiling ever so slightly
Autumn winds and autumn rain
A white-haired father, holding the black urn with your ashes, stumbles home.
-- 1 October 2014