A life dedicated to writing
Migrant worker, author strives to share his stories with both rich and poor
Li Jian, a 52-year-old migrant worker in Xian, Shaanxi province, has not let poverty and hardship deter him from pursuing his dream of becoming a writer.
Earlier this month, he completed his third book Dream Home, which details the dedication and love for life of his fellow villagers.
Made up of more than 60,000 Chinese characters, spread across 20 chapters of prose and poetry, the new book waxes lyrical about the locust trees, stone mills and ancestral temple in Li’s hometown.
It was written on 240 pages of odd-sized paper, some of which was leftover scrap covered in engineering and construction terms on the back.
“I collected the paper while I was working,” Li explained.
Born in 1964 to a poor farming family in a small village in Wugong county, central Shaanxi, Li learned to read and write during his time in the People’s Liberation Army from 1982 to 1984.
“I did not receive much education when I was young and got most of my reading and writing skills in the barracks,” Li said.
After retiring from the army, he returned to life as a farmer and began compiling his village’s history, which he considers the first book he ever wrote.
It was completed in 1986 and so aroused his interest in the craft that he soon began working on his second book, Memoirs Of A Veteran, which he finished in 1991.
In order to earn more money, Li left home in 2006 to take up a job as a migrant worker in Xi’an, where he began to write his third book.
“During the past 10 years in the city, I have worked as a street cleaner and construction worker. I still work on a construction site with a monthly salary of more than 2,000 yuan ($293),” he said.
He has rented a crude
12-square-meter room in a village to the north of the city with four single beds that is musty, wet and cold.
There are no decorations on the bare redbrick walls and no heating, while the only artificial light comes from a lamp hanging from the ceiling.
“The landlord is very good to me and, in order to facilitate my writing, he gave me a big, bright bulb to replace the small one I had before,” Li said.
“Although I only paid for one bed in the room, the landlord also arranged for no one else to share the room with me.”
Li occupies two beds in the room, one for sleeping and another he uses as a makeshift desk on which he keeps his sundries. The other two beds are empty.
The landlord, surnamed Zhao, said he had been deeply moved by Li’s dedication to his writing and the fact that he had no bad habits such as smoking, excessive drinking or gambling.
“Li has persisted in his writing during his spare time for
The landlord is very good to me and, in order to facilitate my writing, he gave me a big, bright bulb to replace the small one I had before.” Li Jian, a migrant worker
the whole 10 years he has been staying in my house,” Zhao said.
One of Li’s fellow workers, surnamed Wu, said Li was cheerful, never complains, and always gets on well with his colleagues, but never takes part in their extracurricular activities and spends all his leisure time writing.
Li’s real problem, however, is finding the money to publish his work.
“I have a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan, 150 yuan of which goes on renting the bed, 20 yuan for two meals a day, and I have to send the rest of the money back home to support my family,” he said.
His first two books have been printed, but only in limited numbers and not outside his own village.
“I was told that I need 3,000 to 4,000 yuan to apply for publishing and the total cost of publishing a book would be more than 30,000 yuan, which I cannot afford,” Li said.
“I wish I could send my poetry to the poor, to let them know the hardships felt by us migrant workers, and to the rich, to let them know that we migrant workers are cultured and hard working.”
Contact the writers at email@example.com
Migrant worker Li Jian with the manuscript of his third book at the room he has rented in Xi’an, Shaanxi province.
Li Jian (second from right) and his fellow workers have a break at a construction site in Xi’an.