2017: China's Migrant Worker Poetry

China - Literatur
The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus,  Volume 15 | Issue 12 | Number 4 | Jun 15, 2017
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

China’s Migrant Worker Poetry

Megan Walsh

This essay examines a relatively new genre in Chinese literature: migrant worker poetry. These are poems written by rural migrant workers who have, since the economic reform and opening up of the early 1980s, moved to China’s booming cities in search of work in factories, mines and construction. The difficulties that these workers face are manifold, from exploitation of their labor and lack of welfare protection to an inability to make their voices and hardships heard. How best to represent this vast and oppressed demographic (an estimated 280 million rural migrants) has been at the heart of China’s social and political debate for the last 30 years. I argue that migrant worker poetry has been both overlooked and underestimated, not only for its emergent quality, but for its ability to address problems of representation - these worker poets eloquently represent themselves. By making use of online platforms they not only bear witness to the damaging myth of social mobility that motivates so many to seek work on the assembly lines, but they are able to challenge it directly, publishing their own sublimated suffering for each other and for society at large. The scope of this study is limited to the poems in Iron Moon, a 2017 anthology of migrant worker poems translated into English by Eleanor Goodman; it excludes novels, short stories or autobiographies by migrant workers that could be included in the wider genre of “worker literature”. I hope, however, that an examination of these poems demonstrates that the simultaneous emergence of the internet with China’s rapid industrialization has both created and enabled a vital new movement in the history of China’s workingclass literature.

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