Ex­plor­ing the lives be­hind ‘Made in China’

Doc­u­men­tary film comes as a poignant re­minder that the work­ers who do the most me­nial jobs are hu­man be­ings too — and some­times poets

China Daily (USA) - - NEW YORK - By CHINA DAILY in New York

I swal­lowed an iron moon/ They called it a screw/ I swal­lowed in­dus­trial waste­water and un­em­ploy­ment forms/ Bent over ma­chines/ Our youth died young.

A Chi­nese doc­u­men­tary called Iron Moon that fol­lows the lives of five work­ers be­hind the gritty rise of Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing ar­rived in the US on Fri­day with a premiere at the Cin­ema Vil­lage in New York City.

The film has al­ready won ma­jor awards on the Chi­nese main­land and in Tai­wan since its re­lease in 2015. It has been shown more than 700 times in 130 cities. The film was re-edited to en­hance its prospects for an Acad­emy Award.

Iron Moon was in­spired by a poem writ­ten by Xu Lizhi, a 24-year-old mi­grant worker in the south­ern Chi­nese city of Shen­zhen, who com­mit­ted sui­cide in the fall of 2014.

He jumped out of a win­dow of a res­i­den­tial dor­mi­tory run by his em­ployer, Fox­conn, the elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant with a mil­lion-strong work­force that makes the ma­jor­ity of the world’s Ap­ple iPhones.

“Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple travel from China’s coun­try­side to its cities to work in fac­to­ries, build­ing de­vices for in­ter­na­tional con­sumers and try­ing to as­sem­ble bet­ter lives for them­selves,” Time mag­a­zine wrote in its cover story ti­tled The Poet Who Died for Your Phone af­ter Xu’s death.

How­ever, Xu was not the only one faced with ar­du­ous, some­times haz­ardous con­di­tions in work­ing-class jobs who kept his spir­its up with verse.

The film also tells the story of Wu Xia, 33, a seam­stress since she was 14; Wu Niao­niao, an un­em­ployed fork­lift driver; Lao Jing, a coal miner for 25 years; and Chen Nianxi, a de­mo­li­tion worker for 16 years.

“It’s my first time this far from home,” said Chen Nianxi, who is trav­el­ing with film­mak­ers to show the doc­u­men­tary at the­atres and ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties in the US. “I know no one here, and I can’t com­mu­ni­cate in English. But I am fa­mil­iar with the phones peo­ple are hold­ing and those sky­scrapers peo­ple are liv­ing in. Those met­als used Eleanor Good­man, re­searcher and trans­la­tor prob­a­bly came from my hands.”

“This film didn’t change our char­ac­ters’ destiny much. We didn’t make them mid­dle-class. But in­stead, we have brought huge at­ten­tion to those who can make a change to the en­tire com­mu­nity,” said Qin Xiaoyu, the film’s di­rec­tor.

To en­hance the un­der­stand­ing of the film’s sto­ries, an an­thol­ogy of Chi­nese mi­grant worker po­etry in English (also ti­tled Iron Moon) was pub­lished by White Pine Press this year. It helps lead the dis­cus­sion of a film that has reached more than 80 mil­lion peo­ple around the world.

“As a poet and trans­la­tor of Chi­nese po­etry, I have spent a lot of time in­ter­act­ing with Chi­nese poets. But for this very first time, I found I was do­ing such an im­por­tant thing,” said Eleanor Good­man, re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Fair­bank Cen­ter for Chi­nese Stud­ies at Har­vard Univer­sity and also the trans­la­tor of the poems.

“It’s no longer poems. It’s so­ci­ol­ogy, cul­tural study, phi­los­o­phy and every­thing,” she said.

“A friend of mine felt as­ton­ished of how rich the Chi­nese work­ers’ emo­tions are af­ter read­ing the poems. That’s wrong!” Good­man said. “Peo­ple should un­der­stand fun­da­men­tally that those peo­ple who work day and night are also hu­man be­ings. And that’s the story (that) our film and an­thol­ogy are (telling).”

The film is screen­ing from Nov 11 to 17 in New Haven, Bos­ton, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Durham, North Carolina.

It’s no longer poems. It’s so­ci­ol­ogy, cul­tural study, phi­los­o­phy and every­thing.”

Judy Zhu in New York con­trib­uted to this story. IronMoon

In a screen­shot from Iron Moon, de­mo­li­tion worker Chen Nianxi (pen name Lucky) writes a let­ter to his son, who goes to school hun­dreds of miles away. Below left: a poster of the film.

Above left: The com­pany, in­clud­ing co-di­rec­tors Wu Yue­fei (cen­ter in movie poster hoodie) and Qin Xiaoyu (right of Wu), trans­la­tor Eleanor Good­man (seated in black coat), Chen Nianxi (di­rectly be­hind Qin), a poet in the film, and mem­bers of the au­di­ence gather af­ter the US premiere screen­ing at the Cin­ema Vil­lage in New York City on Nov 11.

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