19 December 2013

what has poetry got to do with my iphone

Guo Jinniu was born half a century ago somewhere in rural China. Jinniu means golden bull or maybe golden ox, excuse my ignorance. Like so many before him and since, he eventually found his way to one of the new cities, Shenzhen, where he worked on an assembly line making mobile phones, 17 hours every day. 
Someone like me is not allowed to live the life I secretly long for. But I can write what my inner voice tells me to.
Today, he lives with his wife and two children in a windowless room, 12 sqm. The family owns exactly one book, Selected Poems in World Literature. He no longer works at the assembly line, he now works for the local authorities registering the streams of migrant workers. All this I read in one of our daily national papers. 

Guo Jinniu is a poet. This is one of his poems. It just won the International Chinese Poetry Award.
I shy away from translating the German version and find this on an obscure Chinese site:

Gone Home on Paper
The teenager on dark morning counts from 1st floor to 13th 
by the time he gets there, he’s on the roof. 
Fly, fly. The motions of birds, inimitable. 
The teenager draws straight line, immediately 
line of lightning
could only see the nearer half.
The Earth, little larger than Longhua Town, rolls up to meet him
Speed  carried the teenager off;  rice carried off minuscule white.
Mother’s tears jump from the tiles’ edges.
This is the 13th jump in six months. In the past, those twelve names
dusts just settled. 
All night autumn wind runs through Mother’s pearly everlasting
His whited ashes, frail whites  heading home on the train
he’s unconcerned with rice white   pearly everlasting white
Mother’s white
Such an enormous white buries minuscule white
like Mother burying her daughter.
On the 13th floor, suicide net is closing up
this is my job
in order to make day’s pay
gradually turn down screw counter-sink it clockwise
it struggles and fights me in the dark
the harder push, the greater the danger
Rice lips of fresh water, tiny dimples hide two drops of dew, she is still worrying
Autumn loses
one set of clothes day
My friend gone home on paper, besides rice,  your fiancĂ©e,
rarely does anyone recall that in Room 701 of this building, 
you occupied bunk,
ate Dongguan rice noodles. 

Someone jumps. From the roof of a factory. He wanted a better life and he came to this city. These jumps are reality. I think,  it was 18 young workers, within the span of a few months in 2010. From the roof of foxcon where the iphones come from, our wii, our xboxes, the biggest electronics manufacturer in the world. I read on: 
We are kept like robots, not allowed to speak, for 12 long hours. If you need to use the toilet you have to apply for a number. I fixed the net. Nobody is allowed to jump anymore.

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times in today's China.


  1. My god. This is so piercing. And I am reading this on my iPhone. Wow.

  2. Awful. Well done to the newspaper that picked up the story - it needs to be told. May Guo Jinniu keep writing.

  3. I can hardly read this. Font seems to have shrunk...

  4. I think Blogger has it in for me or I've been fiddling with the wrong buttons.