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Working In These Times

Monday, Nov 17, 2014, 12:08 pm

The Heartbreaking Poetry of an Apple Factory Worker in China Who Took His Own Life

BY Jordan McCurdy

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A Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China—the city where Xu Lizhi killed himself. (Prachatai/Flickr)  

In late September, 24-year-old Xu Lizhi killed himself by jumping out of a dormitory window at a factory in Shenzhen, China. Foxconn, his employer, is the electronics manufacturing company that engineers the world’s majority of Apple iPhones. 

With 18 attempted suicides in the last five years, this is no new story for Foxconn. Xu, however, a regular poetry contributor to Foxconn People (Foxconn’s internal newspaper), silently documented his reflections on life on the assembly line. Following his death, fellow factory workers collected these poems to be published in the Shenzhen News

The English translations of Xu’s poems can be found at Libcom.

His poetry is heartbreaking—both because of the anguished expression of what was clearly a life tortured by the monotony and sense of meaninglessness on the assembly line, and because we can assume there are scores of other young workers like Xu questioning whether a life spent in a Foxconn factory is worth living.

“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.
“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
“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 sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

After hearing the news of his friend’s passing, Zhou Qizao, a fellow worker of Lizhi’s at Foxconn, wrote the following on October 1:

“Upon Hearing the News of Lizhi’s Suicide”
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, 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

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Jordan McCurdy is a fall 2014 In These Times editorial intern. She graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with degrees in English and German.

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