A life ded­i­cated to writ­ing

Mi­grant worker, au­thor strives to share his sto­ries with both rich and poor

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By MALIE and HUOYAN in Xi’an Con­tact the writ­ers at malie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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 upa 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 tome­and, 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.”

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.

Li Jian, a mi­grant worker

“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.”


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.

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