Iron Moon: The Poetry of Chinese Migrant Workers
Iron Moon: The Poetry of Chinese Migrant Workers
A documentary film and a collection of workers' poetry--the story behind "Made in China" is a story that affects us all.
A documentary film and a collection of workers' poetry--the story behind "Made in China" is a story that affects us all. Read more
This documentary film follows the lives of workers behind the rise of Chinese manufacturing. Their stories and poetry affect us all, and with your help, we can bring this important film to the US and publish a corresponding poetry anthology.
What does "IRON MOON" mean?
Few of us have stopped to consider the lives of the workers who manufacture the objects that make up our daily lives. I’m typing this on my Mac, with an iPhone at my elbow. We use these objects without knowing anything about the Foxconn plants in which they are made, or even where these factories are located, let alone who works in them. One such worker was the young Chinese poet Xu Lizhi, who, at the age of 24, jumped out of a building not far from where he worked at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen. After Xu’s death in the fall of 2014, the international media got a hold of the story and recognized its importance as a symbol of our time. Time Magazine put out an article titled “The Poet Who Died for Your Phone,” and the largest daily German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, published an article claiming that global companies were taking advantage of less developed countries like China and India, producing products under exploitative conditions and taking the vast majority of the profit. Before he died, Xu Lizhi wrote a powerful poem from which the title of the film and anthology is taken:
I Swallowed an Iron Moon
I swallowed an iron moon
they called it a screw
I swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms
bent over machines, our youth died young
I swallowed labor, I swallowed poverty
swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed this rusted-out life
I can’t swallow any more
everything I’ve swallowed roils up in my throat
I spread across my country a poem of shame
About the Documentary Film
The poem above speaks for many workers who find themselves “screws” in the machine, or just cogs in the larger global production system. There are a shocking number of these workers, and a few of them, like Xu Lizhi, manage to write about their experiences in deeply moving ways. Iron Moon follows five of these worker-poets through their daily lives, showing the pressures of their work, and the poverty in which many of them survive. And certainly, not all of them are factory workers.
-The day before the National Day, 24-year-old Xu Lizhi jumped out of a building. He was working on Foxconn assembly line, the world’s largest Apple manufacturing factory. He left behind a volume of painful poems of the highest quality.
-Lucky (Chen Nianxi), demolitions worker for 16 years. His daily routine is used to blow up rocks and dig mines for miners. By lonely, deep mountains, he writes poetry filled with a fighting spirit. Learning that his mother is ill with terminal cancer, he chooses to stay in the mountains and continue doing this dangerous work rather than returning home. He uses his own life’s energy to help continue hers.
-Old Coalminer (Lao Jing), coalmine worker for 25 years. The taciturn worker-poet Old Coalminer perches in an 800-meter-deep coalmine. His poetry takes shape in this difficult, dark environment. His poems speak with the center of the earth, speak with the coal beds. After a fatal mine disaster, his poetry can also speak with the dead.
-Dawn (Wu Xia), a worker since age 14. The garment factory worker Dawn is a "pearl surviving at the bottom." She loves sundresses, and she keeps many cheap, beat-up sundresses in her wardrobe. Even though her life is difficult, she keeps up her spirits and love of beauty, writing poems that explore the strength of the human spirit.
-Blackbird (Wu Niaoniao), unemployed forklift driver. In Blackbird’s hometown hospital, he cuts the umbilical cord of his second child, whose birth is illegal under the one-child policy. Just a month before, he won an important poetry award for his unique style, and he feels doubly blessed. When he loses his job and must go back to the city to find a new one, however, everything begins to fall apart.
These are the people who make up the documentary film, and whose work has been anthologized in the book Iron Moon.
In our inexorably globalizing and interconnected world, these stories are essential to understanding not only others, but basic elements of our own lives. The shoes we wear, the electronics we use, the food we eat, the materials that make up our homes, are produced by others, and frequently those others live across the world from us. Their stories form a significant of our own stories.
Looking Toward the Future
Iron Moon is the first in a series of three documentary films and three corresponding anthologies of poetry that will continue the stories of the first. Iron Moon has already won major film awards in China and Taiwan, and been shown more than 700 times across 130 cities. In online forums and messaging apps alone, discussion of the film has reached more than 80 million people. It’s fair to say that with their first film, and without the support of major distribution or box office profits, filmmakers Qin Xiaoyu and Wu Feiyue have created a true cultural phenomenon in China.
The next step is to bring the film to the United States. The American premier of Iron Moon will take place in early November, and the ultimate dream is to make it to the Oscars. The filmmakers will travel to the States to show the film in NYC and Los Angeles, as well as at major universities across the US, and to join in active discussions with viewers, students, and anyone interested in these incredible stories. The poetry anthology will be published by the prestigious literary publisher White Pine Press at the same time.
But all of these plans require financing, and as part of a small independent film company, the filmmakers can use all of the help they can get. If you think these voices should be brought into the larger international conversation, if you’re interested in Chinese culture and poetry, or if you use an iPhone, buy products that are made in China, or understand that globalism is effecting all of us, please consider supporting this film and poetry anthology.
All funds will go toward:
The translation and publication of the Iron Moon poetry anthology;
Transportation and accommodation for the film team on their US tour, including showings and discussions in New Haven, Boston, New York, Durham, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Eleanor Goodman, translator of Iron Moon. Goodman is a Research Associate at the Fairbank Center at Harvard University, and spent a year at Peking University on a Fulbright Fellowship. She has been an artist in residence at the American Academy in Rome and was awarded a Henry Luce Translation Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. Her first book of translations, Something Crosses My Mind: Selected Poems of Wang Xiaoni (Zephyr Press, 2014) was the recipient of a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Grant and winner of the 2015 Lucien Stryk Prize. The book was also shortlisted for the International Griffin Prize. Her first poetry book, Nine Dragon Island, was a finalist for the Drunken Boat First Book Prize.
"As a poet and translator of Chinese poetry, I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with Chinese poets and bringing their work into English. Poetry at its best is the most profound form of communication, a multifaceted mirror that first and foremost shows us to ourselves. It is also a tool by which we can gain an understanding of lives that are different or distant from our own. With that in mind, I’m very excited to be part of a project that is bringing the recent Chinese documentary Iron Moon, along with an anthology of contemporary poetry of the same name (translated by yours truly), to the United States. The documentary centers on workers at the bottom rungs of Chinese society, workers who also write poetry about their experiences in places most of us will likely never see in person. It is a rare example of the best artistic productions happening in China today: honest, revealing, powerful, and full of surprising glimpses into our current globalized world."
Xiaoyu Qin, director of Iron Moon. He is also a poet, writer, poem critic, chair of Zurong Dialect Film Festival Committee, jury of Beijing Huayi International Chinese Poetry Competition. Publication works includes: 1970 Notes on Poetry, Qin Xiaoyu Album (16th Period of New Poetry Collection ) , Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Monograph on Poetics), Selected Essays of Ma Yan, Today: Selected Novel of Ma Yan.
Feiyue Wu, director of Iron Moon. His other works include: Surge: 1978-2008, Fortune and Dream: Twenty Years of Chinese Stock Market, and Renminbi.
Qingzeng Cai, producer of Iron Moon. His case study of Iron Moon has been enclosed in China Documentary Report and Idoc database.
Xiaobo Wu, co-Producer of Iron Moon. A famous financial writer in China, EMBA course professor of SJTU and JNU , working on corporate study. He was evaluated as “Chinese Youth Leader” in 2009 by Southern People Weekly. Representative works are: The Big Failures, Thirty Years of Surge, Hundred years of Ups and Downs, Two Thousand years of Mighty.
Dr. Lunpeng Ma, he has been an active cultural critic and founder of a series of cultural activities across the Pacific. He is now help the production team of Iron Moon to promote this documentary and get the crowdfunding from Kickstarter.
To know more about this project, please visit the film official website： www.ironmoonmovie.com
Risks and challenges
Regardless of any outcome of this crowdfunding for our documentary Iron Moon, we are determined to screen it to the American public so that everyone gets a chance to watch this remarkable film. Due to very limited time, we need to prepay all the costs out of our own pockets before the crowdfunding campaign. Without your critical support and if the crowdfunding fails to achieve our goal, we have to take this financial burden, which will make it almost impossible for us to produce the next part of this trilogy.
NO. We are not in the process of completing any past project. The successful crowdfunding will actually make Iron Moon visible to Americans and help us start the second and third part of this making a trilogy dedicated to Chinese workers and their poems.
- (60 days)