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 offSealed workshops store diseased ironWages concealed behind curtainsLike the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their heartsWith no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dustThey have stomachs forged of ironFull of thick acid, sulfuric and nitricIndustry captures their tears before they have the chance to fallTime flows by, their heads lost in fogOutput weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and nightIn their lives, dizziness before their time is latentThe jig forces the skin to peelAnd while it’s at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloySome still endure, while others are taken by illnessI am dozing between them, guardingThe last graveyard of our youth.
“A Screw Fell to the Ground”A screw fell to the groundIn this dark night of overtimePlunging vertically, lightly clinkingIt won’t attract anyone’s attentionJust like last timeOn a night like thisWhen 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 lifetimeI want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lostI want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so lightBut I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this worldEveryone who’s heard of meShouldn’t be surprised at my leavingEven less should sigh or grieveI 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 lifeIs the passing of another meAnother screw comes looseAnother migrant worker brother jumpsYou die in place of meAnd I keep writing in place of youWhile I do, screwing the screws tighterToday is our nation’s sixty-fifth birthdayWe wish the country joyous celebrationsA twenty-four-year-old you stands in the grey picture frame, smiling ever so slightlyAutumn winds and autumn rainA white-haired father, holding the black urn with your ashes, stumbles home
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