I swallowed a moon made of iron @ Edinburgh Fringe
@ZOO Southside, Aug 6-25 (except 13 and 20)

A Mandarin song cycle for solo voice and piano
by Njo Kong Kie 楊光奇
Set to the poetry of Xu Lizhi 許立志 (1990 – 2014)
Translation by Derek Kwan 關顯揚

co-produced by Music Picnic (Toronto) and Point View Art Association (Macau)

Born in rural Guangdong in 1990, Chinese poet Xu Lizhi went to Shenzhen at age 20 to find work in the town built to accommodate huge manufacturing factories and landed at Foxconn, working in the assembly line making electronic parts for our digital amenities such as mobile phones and tablets.

Xu soon began publishing poems, essays, commentaries, film reviews at the factory’s internal newspaper. Many of Xu’s poems describe his life on the job. These powerful works speak of the despair and hopelessness he experienced. Xu was uniquely gifted with words, but his experience as a migrant worker was shared by many. The agonizing, purposeless and mundane existence Xu described in his life is experienced not only by workers in China, but the world over, even those working in countries with long-established worker's rights protection (Amazon distribution centres in America comes to mind).

Carrying universal truth, Xu’s words and struggles link him to the greater whole - the digital connections he helped create bind us to the people who make them. His words expose the greater economic machinery that enslaves the world. His works highlight not only his struggles, but that of countless other unseen workers around the world, from the factory floor to the office boardroom.


Rented Room

About ten square meters of space
Cramped, damp, no sunlight ever
Here I eat, sleep, shit, ponder
Cough, have migraines, grow old, get sick but don’t die
Under the dim light I am befuddled, I giggle
Pace to and fro, sing softly, read, write poetry
Whenever I open the window or the indigent door
I’m like a dead person
Slowly pushing open the coffin lid
- Dec 2, 2013

Working Life

Immersed in working life
My brow grows a strand of loneliness
The machine polishes it day and night.
In this clinging and clanging
100,000 working boys
100,000 working girls
Their most beautiful youthfulness
Is entombed on the assembly line, by their own hands.
Master said
This machine is high speed, that machine is general purpose
This is for transporting, that is a jig
But all I see is
Ice cold.
The line manager says, you chose to come work
No one forces you.
This remark shackles me to
The shameful pole of remembrance
Adding up those years
I can’t get back.
- June 12, 2011
I fell asleep standing just like that
The paper before my eyes is slightly yellowed
With a pen, I chisel in the different shades of black
Leaving it full of words of work:
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work licence, overtime, salary…
They have made me docile
I will not shout, will not revolt
Won’t denounce, won’t complain
Just quietly endure this exhaustion
Since the halting of time
I only long for the grey payslip on the tenth of each month
Bestowing on me a belated comfort
That’s why I must grind down the corners, grind down this language
Refuse skipping work, refuse sick days, refuse personal days,
Refuse being late, refuse leaving early
Next to the assembly line I stand like iron, hands flying
How many bright days, how many dark nights
Did I fall asleep standing just like that
- Aug 20, 2011

A heart interred by life
Keep going or not?
His eyelids long ago became heavy as mountains
His head tries to lift itself in the dark night
Tearful starlight pours down
When the wind rises, his thin body always shudders
His youthful times leave in vexation
Leaving a snowscape, flakes upon flakes
In dreams, the flames he tastes are icy cold
And his skin tattered like a bed of frayed cotton
Spread out in the winds of time
Innate convictions no longer find their direction
Nor can his heart interred by life
Deeper than the ocean
- Dec 15, 2011

《 迟到的愧疚》
Belated remorse
Everyday, after eating at the fast food joint
I am accustomed to
Patting my bottom then leaving.
Up until tonight
When once again I went through that action
I suddenly realized this was very similar
To the scene at home, when for so many years
We four, father and sons, ate
Patted our bottoms then left
Leaving a tableful of mess
For mama, all alone,
To slowly clean up
- Nov 6, 2013

I just can’t think how
You became so short
So short you don’t reach my shoulder
You said what you were carrying was a plentiful rice harvest
But what I clearly saw it was our family’s livelihood
You said what you were sweeping was the floor
But what I clearly saw were bygone days
How many years has it been
One day I saw you had become small
So small you didn’t reach my shoulder
I stood there, dumbfounded
You seemed to have noticed something, turned your head and said to me
“Son, you’ve grown tall”
Oh mother, your son has grown tall
But life has bent your back
Making you shorter.
If that arc were measured in years
It would be exactly the height I’ve grown
- Jul 12, 2011

The Last Graveyard
Even the chattering of the machines has dozed off
The sealed-off workshop is storing diseased iron
Salaries hide behind the curtains
Like the love buried at the bottom of young workers’ hearts
No time to open their mouths, emotions remain dust
They have iron-forged stomachs
Full of dense sulfuric acid, nitric acid
Industry collects their late-flowing tears before they even fall
Time passes, they all awakenobody is awake
Productivity cuts life short, pain works overtime
Constant dizziness conceals life
Jigs force skin to peel
Conveniently plating it with a layer of aluminum alloy
Some still endure, some leave sick
I doze in their midst, ministering to youth’s
Last graveyard
- Dec 21, 2011

A single screw fell to the ground

A single screw fell to the ground
In this night of overtime
Dropping vertically, with a soft sound
Drawing no one’s attention.
Just like once before
When on an identical night
Someone fell to the ground.
- Jan 9, 2014

I swallowed a moon made of iron

I swallowed a moon made of iron
They call it a screw
I swallowed this industrial wastewater, this order form for unemployment
That youth that is even baser than machines died long ago
I swallowed haste, swallowed displacement
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed a life overgrown with rust
I can swallow no more
Everything that I have swallowed
Now gushes from my throat
And coats the ground of my homeland with
A shameful poem
- Dec 19, 2013

Migrant Workers

Years ago
Sack on his back
He ventured to this
Bustling city
In high spirits.
Years later
Holding his own ashes
He stands at this city’s
Staring agape.
- Jul 14, 2013

As I lay dying

I want to take a look at the ocean again
To see the vastness of half a lifetime of tears
I want to climb a tall mountain again
To try to call back my lost soul
I want to lie in a field
To leaf through the bible my mother gave me
I want to touch the sky
To stroke that swath of pale blue
But I can’t do any of that now
I am leaving this world soon
All you who have heard of me
Don’t be surprised by my leaving
There’s no need to sigh, or feel sorrow
I was fine when I came, and am fine when I go.
- Jul 3, 2014


I know the day will come
When those I know and don’t know
Will come into my room
And clean up the remains I leave behind
To clean the floorboards soaked with my dark blood
To tidy the messy desk and chair
To throw out the moldy garbage
To retrieve the clothing from the balcony
That poem I didn’t manage to finish writing
Someone will finish writing it for me
That book I didn’t manage to finish reading
Someone will finish reading it for me
That candle I didn’t manage to light
Someone will light it for me
Last will be that curtain, unopened undrawn for years
Draw it open, let sunlight come in for a while
Then draw it back, and seal it with nails
The entire proceedings are orderly and solemn
After all is tidied
Everyone will line up to leave
And softly close the door for me
- Jul 19, 2014

Last Words
Someone has to pick up the screws on the ground
So that this wasted life won’t go to rust
- Jan 15, 2014



A picnic and ping pong enthusiast, Kong Kie is also a composer for dance, opera and theatre. Works include concert-theatre Picnic in the Cemetery (Canadian Stage) and music theatre Mr. Shi and His Lover (SummerWorks, Tarragon and the National Arts Centre). Kong Kie has created soundtrack for several contemporary dance production worldwide and was the long-serving music director of La La La Human Steps. Works in development include: The Year of the Cello, a p lay with solo cello music set in Hong Kong in the 1920s and The Futures Market, an opera exploring the complex moral dimensions of the trade in human organs.

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Chinese children made to work overtime to make Amazon’s Alexa to meet customer demand

Time’s magazine feature on Xu Lizhi

Human costs of Kindle

We who cannot leave Apple, what can we do for Foxconn workers? (In Chinese)

Real cost of iPhone (article from 2012) (In Chinese)

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