"By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight"
November 12, 2014 2:25 PM   Subscribe

The poetry and brief life of a Foxconn worker: Xu Lizhi (1990-2014) is an article about a 24-year old Chinese assembly line worker and poet who committed suicide last month. He worked for the electronics manufacturer which makes products for a range of companies, including Sony, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo. The post includes Chinese originals and English translations of Xu Lizhi's poems. His death and poetry have garnered much attention, such as these blogposts from The Wall Street Journal and The London Review of Books.
posted by Kattullus (19 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I forgot to mention that there's another poem, not in the first link, in the London Review of Books blogpost.
posted by Kattullus at 2:40 PM on November 12, 2014

That touched parts of my soul I didn't want to be touched, and I'm so, so thankful it did. Beautiful.
posted by alon at 3:03 PM on November 12, 2014

Wow. I don't even know where to being, all these poems are stunning.
posted by phaedon at 3:17 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

"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
posted by double block and bleed at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2014 [16 favorites]

posted by meows at 4:34 PM on November 12, 2014

posted by slater at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2014

oh fuck.
posted by azarbayejani at 4:53 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by allthinky at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2014


Really beautiful, most affecting poems I have read in a long time. I also really like the translation format, with a line of Chinese, then English, space, repeat. Some of these lines, especially his endings, are so gorgeous.

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
posted by Corduroy at 5:20 PM on November 12, 2014

posted by yaymukund at 5:25 PM on November 12, 2014

posted by GrammarMoses at 5:49 PM on November 12, 2014

The full poem from the first link. If anything, it describes being stuck in the city alone.

"Rented Room", Xu Lizhi

A space of ten square meters

Cramped and damp, no sunlight all year

Here I eat, sleep, shit, and think

Coughing, head aches, growing old, cannot sicken to death*

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

(*one line re-translated. Since present/past tense don't matter, it could be a list of symptoms or actions or mixed, both lines parallel with "Here I eat...")
posted by ana scoot at 7:11 PM on November 12, 2014

posted by colie at 12:38 AM on November 13, 2014

Amazing work. Inspiring. Here is my own meager eulogy:

On Learning of the Poetry, and Death, of Xu Lizhi

His last piece written as I shuffled through Tiannemen...
I was almost teaching in Shenzhen-
Still the thought you would have known him,
Child of privilege, such rich hubris
That your eyes would assay
The worker any sooner than the Buddha or the Jesus,
You are dispersed signal
Over folds of diverging threads of amusement.

Damn, he worked harder on any day
Than any day on which you've ever worked.
Still found time for genius,
More thought cupped within a phrase
Than I can collate within a month.

The arcs of culture are formed
By long lean insomniacs
Writing from the compulsive imperatives of misery.

His suicide was not the screw that falls unheard
But the wrench that wrecks the rocket pad
The works, all crashing down, into fire,
The echo of his ending a photo negative of this decade
Within China's history.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 5:28 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


These are like a fading lantern in a dark room. Wow.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 9:22 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found a couple of more untranslated poems by him. Don't feel adequate to translate them in full, but this one contains a striking couplet:

「被生活埋葬的心」 ("A Heart Entombed by Life")

还要不要隐忍下去 Should I keep on suffering in silence,
眼皮早已沉重如山 Eyelids have been heavy as mountain
他的头试着在黑夜里抬起 He tried to lift his head in the dark night,
沾满泪的星光就瓢泼而下 and was showered by tear-stained starlight.

posted by of strange foe at 2:32 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the post (he typed on a Chinese-made laptop). I will read more of his poems tomorrow, but that's what I was reading yesterday:

The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.

Anna Akhmatova - Requiem, Epilogue, 2nd part.
posted by ersatz at 3:25 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had my last phone,
For 10 years or more, and some.
I am just; not cool.

He is so modern;
but dying like flesh that he is,
too late to upgrade.

An ode to sweatshops;
where the slow people go work,
faster and faster.

Chewed up like meat;
Sold overseas as a tool;
Seven to one splat.
posted by buzzman at 8:13 PM on November 13, 2014

The iPhone is one of the most empowering things I've ever held in my hand, a work of creative genius, part of a world-changing shift in communication … and there is no possible justification for it and objects like it to be made at this cost.

The fantasy, the deep life- and world-destroying lie of neoliberal capitalism, is that when we maximize for efficiency of production, all other good things will follow. The reality is that we are surrounded by necessary good things that are being destroyed.
posted by namasaya at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older Go Fly a … or maybe read a little about it first   |   below the belt (with Susan Schorn) Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments