Tragic poems, penned by a Foxconn worker who committed suicide, are giving the world a glimpse of what life is like in the company’s Chinese factories.
Foxconn produces electronic products for a range of companies. Most famously it produces Apple’s iPhone. The company employs over 1 million workers. But the company has seen a multitude of suicides over the years.
Xu Lizhi was 24 when he died on September 30, 2014, ending his life of “military-style discipline and surveillance” at Foxconn’s massive Shenzhen plant.
His poems, which previously only appeared in the manufacturer’s in-house newspaper, Foxconn People, have now been translated into English on libcom.org by friends of the Nao project, a group that campaigns for improved worker rights.
Lizhi’s writing reached a wider audience when his friends collected his poems and published them in the Shenzhen News. They describe how Lizhi unsuccessfully sought employment in publishing and felt trapped in Shenzhen’s dormitories.
The Nao blog states: “By translating these poems, we aim to memorialize Xu, share some of his excellent literary work, and spread awareness that the harsh conditions, struggles and aspirations of Chinese migrant workers.”
In one piece, on life on a Foxconn assembly line, Lizhi begins: “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.”
The Nao project says 14 workers killed themselves in 2010 alone. Although media coverage helped reduce the number, deaths have continued, with many allegedly going unreported.
Lizhi’s death marks the latest, but his poetry allows his hopes and aspirations to live on — past the sprawling dormitories of Shenzhen’s factory, which in 2012 housed 240,000 workers, according to The Economist.
Lizhi’s obituary appears in the Shenzhen Evening News, among many of his poems.
Here’s one of his most provocative pieces — “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 have 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?”
Xu Linzhi — 20 August 2011
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