He Who Buries the Trash Is Also Buried by Fate

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Editor’s Show: “I exhaust my heart age 5 kilometers within mountains / I explode the rocks layer by layer / to position my lifestyles collectively.” These are the words of Chen Nianxi, a demolition employee from northwestern Shaanxi province, whose dynamic verses remove the hardships of mine labor and accept as true with moved readers at home and in a foreign nation. He became as soon as one amongst the working-class Chinese language poets featured within the award-a hit documentary “Iron Moon,” and has been invited to protest at Harvard, Yale, and other U.S. establishments.

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“To Live is to Yell on the Sky,” released in China in June 2021, is his first sequence of nonfiction articles. Employing a realist legend and his outlandish perspective, he recorded his abilities of wandering spherical western China for 2 a long time, as effectively because the tales of his colleagues and other acquaintances. The next memoir, the first in a series of translations from the ebook, describes the lives of three employees at a landfill in an impoverished Shaanxi county.



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When Zhou Dayong graduated high college, he became as soon as now no longer a young particular person. On the time, in underdeveloped locations like Danfeng County where educational sources accept as true with been scant, people accomplished their training just a few years on the help of agenda. Many started college slow, and most had to repeat a grade along the manner. By the time they left high college, the boys would possibly per chance presumably develop beards.

No longer like as we suppose’s oversaturated industries and merciless competition, help then, in 2004, there accept as true with been calm a superb deal of industrial opportunities, despite what challenge you chose — a stall, a diminutive restaurant, or one other plan. For a year, Zhou and his classmates made valid cash selling Weizhi fits, which accept as true with been well-liked then in Shaanxi. The Weizhi label became as soon as valid, and their fits accept as true with been high-quality.

It became as soon as his classmate’s commercial, and Zhou became as soon as valid a clerk. On the close of the year, his classmate gave him 5,000 yuan (as we suppose the same of $775) — and though his buddy didn’t declare “you’re pushed aside,” the look on his face did. There accept as true with been so many gorgeous ladies with nothing to supply; hiring any one amongst them would be extra appealing than employing a male clerk.

Zhou’s father became as soon as calm alive then. He’d retired from the role of village head, and, though he became as soon as sick, calm had some connections that allowed Zhou to gain a actual job at a county-owned challenge, of which Danfeng had two on the time. One became as soon as a landfill, the opposite a winery, and Zhou would possibly per chance presumably ponder both. He conception about it for a day and chose the landfill. Folks would possibly per chance presumably also no longer always drink wine, nonetheless their garbage always has to be dealt with. Zhou’s foresight proved prudent; the winery became as soon as later squeezed out of existence by its opponents.

When Zhou started on the landfill, it had supreme opened a year earlier and had been on a trial whisk since. The previous landfill became as soon as Guandao Ditch — a immense ditch stuffed to the brim with trash. Befriend then, abilities and funds accept as true with been diminutive. It became as soon as merely covered with soil on which trees accept as true with been then planted, and, at a diagram, you couldn’t represent that it became as soon as a landfill. Nevertheless ought to you seemed intently, the trees accept as true with been sick thanks to the heat from the fermentation of the underground raze. When it rained, an indescribable scent got here out. Despite the true fact that the grass became as soon as high, the cows and sheep wouldn’t settle on to employ it.

Nevertheless the Danfeng County Hongyuan Landfill became as soon as something else. On his first day, Zhou became as soon as apprehensive. The role became as soon as substantial, spanning 300 meters prolonged and 110 meters broad, and deep ample to make people working within it look like half of their measurement. There accept as true with been also shovel loaders, excavators, and building automobiles — all tremendous gear in most cases ever viewed on the time.

No household garbage became as soon as peaceful within the villages open air the county town on the time, so supreme a diminutive amount of trash got here in. Every truckload became as soon as like a tumble within the ocean. In accordance with projections Zhou had read, the county’s daily garbage manufacturing of 20 tons would indicate the contemporary landfill would attain its limit in 30 years. Zhou would possibly per chance presumably work there till he retired.

As a entrance-line employee, Zhou would gain an iron rake to separate the rubbish into groups, in uncover to be disinfected and then buried. He calm remembers his first shift. It became as soon as the heart of June, the heat became as soon as fiercer than any other year, the Dan River became as soon as flowing silently within the distance, and the golden stubble of harvested wheat became as soon as overshadowed by the corn taking medicines. The corn fields surrounded half of of the diminutive town and stretched previous the landfill. That season, the harvest became as soon as just like the ocean.

The county town didn’t but accept as true with garbage compacting gear. The rubbish introduced over became as soon as free, and there wasn’t an incredible-tonnage dump truck — one truck would be two to three tons. Dumped from above, paper, plastic bags, and sanitary pads would all soar spherical with the abet of the wind, refusing to settle down.

The scent of feces, leftover meals, and composted leaves became as soon as overwhelming. Flies accept as true with been in every single role, like rain. With out a sun hat or a veil, Zhou and two other guys all throughout the rubbish ran help and forth, struggling to gain the general trash collectively. The shovel loader roared, carrying load after load of soil to bury the trash. Landfill employees like Zhou supreme gaze time passing after they feel stubble rising on their chins.

Zhou leaves home every morning at seven and returns at seven within the evening. In 15 years, he has broken three bicycles. The red bike he rides now is calm going, nonetheless the engine is so outmoded that he has to restart it repeatedly earlier than heading out. Its tires accept as true with been replaced thrice, and, with a broken odometer, it has actually ridden limitless kilometers.

The work on the landfill doesn’t require unparalleled within the manner of skills, and there became as soon as no exam. Over time, the competition had change into rather fierce. Folks accept as true with been procuring for an opening, and pulled strings to allotment a allotment of the pie. Zhou had always wished to work in an role of job, nonetheless seeing the distress, he understood that work on the entrance traces wasn’t straightforward to gain, both. So he decided to gain his time getting there.

Silent, as a rare graduate of 1 among the county’s handiest high colleges, he capabilities because the landfill’s creator. Despite the true fact that it is a rather diminutive company, it is calm a protest-owned challenge. Formal paperwork, reports, notices, and assembly minutes are required for every little thing. At any time when the need arises, the supervisor lets Zhou put down his rake so he can draft these paperwork.

Because Zhou’s reports are so effectively-written, many other establishments request him to jot down for them — year-close reports, management speeches, work briefings, and whatnot, and even the county fable role of job loved him, insisting that he work for them. They even issued a switch for him, nonetheless within the damage he chose no longer to head. Zhou is a filial son, and the landfill is shut to his home, permitting him to preserve attain his sick mother.

She suffers from unhappy. Nobody understands where it comes from, and even hospitals don’t know solutions to take care of it. Handiest Zhou is aware of how gruesome it would possibly per chance presumably even be — he saw it with his accept as true with eyes when it attacked his mother. She banged her head in opposition to a wall, banging it so unparalleled that she bled. Nevertheless she wouldn’t discontinuance. She tore at her hair, yanking tuft after tuft out discover it irresistible wasn’t her accept as true with.

Fortunately, Zhou grew to alter correct into a frequent employee the year earlier than final. Now, there are 30 people working on the landfill. No longer even half of of them are frequent employees — and supreme two frequent employees are on the entrance line. He’s one amongst them. At 3,100 yuan, plus a diversity of diminutive benefits a month — adding as a lot as almost 40,000 yuan a year — his wage is extra than double that of the fast employees. His most critical consideration is his future retirement pension, estimated at 3,000 yuan a month. With that cash, each his and his mother’s future desires are assured. That’s his biggest hope for his lifestyles, though he’s calm a ways from retirement.



In 2012, 5 contemporary items of gear accept as true with been added to the Danfeng County Hongyuan Landfill — an even bigger shovel loader, a medium-sized excavator, and three medium-sized dump automobiles. It became as soon as a final-ditch effort. The landfill is the county’s largest, and the correct one geared up for environmentally friendly raze medication. Though in contemporary years other townships accept as true with built landfills, no longer many accept as true with been put into beefy operation. Since many of the raze became as soon as transported to their landfill, Zhou and his colleagues’ workload doubled. The amount of garbage had reached 50 tons per day. At that rate, it would gain much less than a decade for the landfill to be bursting on the seams.

No longer much less than there accept as true with been no chemical corporations spherical, so the raze became as soon as rather straightforward. Thanks to his writing duties, Zhou most frequently gets to read interior recordsdata on other landfills, where the water and air accept as true with been polluted, and the employees poisoned. The constant magnify in contemporary types of raze put the landfill industry to its supreme test.

Danfeng County residing up three extra garbage compacting and processing stations, so an incredible amount of the household garbage became as soon as compacted — changing correct into loads simpler to address. For the explanation that landfill work became as soon as now no longer as labor intensive, some of Zhou’s colleagues accept as true with been reassigned to the compacting stations. Zhou stayed on the landfill, nonetheless his accomplice, nicknamed “Xiao Huang,” became as soon as assigned to the west city garbage compacting residing.

“Xiao,” that manner diminutive, refers to his fast measurement. Huang is in his early 40s. His son is a senior on the county town high college, and their house is within the geographical region to the north, where, within the barren mountain land, few vegetation or trees will develop.

Being unlucky, Huang beforehand made his cash by going to the river to sieve sand to promote. In the geographical region, with shoddy roads and diminutive economic job, there wasn’t unparalleled ongoing building, that manner sand sold at a low brand. So Huang equipped a 2nd-hand tricycle to gain the sand to the county town, where there became as soon as a modest building spree thirsty for sand.

Huang has been driving for over ten years. Early on, he drove motorized three-wheelers on the native mine, making trips to haul rock out of the mine shafts. The mine became as soon as low and slender, and had nearly no light. After just a few years he had change correct into a expert driver, nonetheless he by no manner obtained his license — mines weren’t share of the roadway system and thus no one regulated them. By the time the mine became as soon as exhausted and Huang wished to pressure on the roads, he failed the written test. Despite the true fact that he’d memorized the answers till he became as soon as dizzy and tried for three years, he couldn’t cross it.

With out a driver’s license, Huang had to pressure at evening. From the north mountains to the county town became as soon as over 50 kilometers, and he’d whisk two roundtrips every evening. He’d delivery the first day out valid after dusk, and extinguish the 2nd day out valid earlier than morning time.

A view of the landfill where zhou dayong works, 2018. Courtesy of zhou dayong

A diagram of the landfill where Zhou Dayong works, 2018. Courtesy of Zhou Dayong

On one April evening, so uncommonly sad neither the moon nor stars accept as true with been viewed within the sky, the headlights of Huang’s three-wheeler went out. He checked the general wiring nonetheless couldn’t decide out why. The nights are fast in spring, so he didn’t dare to lengthen to any extent further. He came all the way in which through a miner’s headlamp and put it on. The strap on the headlamp became as soon as too fast, and it strangled his head till it felt uncooked. He loaded up an excessive amount of sand and took off. The tired three-wheeler let out shadowy smoke the total manner.

Huang’s route from the north mountain to the county town intended he had to injurious Yuanling, the highest ridge in Danfeng County with an altitude of spherical 1,500 meters. The snow falls in iciness and doesn’t soften till iciness ends. The avenue is steep, and the curves are many — nonetheless time did no longer enable Huang to linger. Enhance bosses supreme equipped sand in bulk, so he had to extinguish his 2nd day out. Then, on one curve, Huang’s three-wheeler hit a bike with its headlight out.

Its rider became as soon as a man dealing tianma, a medicinal herb. Tianma is treasured, and there became as soon as no shortage of a market for it. On the time, there became as soon as an awfully tremendous amount of tianma on the northern mountains, and there accept as true with been distributors selling it in every single role. Nevertheless every time there’s a profit to be made, there are people combating for a allotment. The tax bureau and the commerce bureau would residing up toll gates to amass costs. Correct like Huang, the distributors would exit at evening to withhold a ways flung from the authorities.

The actual person broke a leg and two ribs. Huang had to attain up with 100,000 yuan correct now — nonetheless his family had no cash. He borrowed from relatives and company, within the damage selling his three-wheeler to attain up with it. From that time till his son’s senior year of high college, Huang’s family became as soon as caught in a hole of debt.

On the landfill’s compacting residing, Huang is a fast employee. His wage is supreme 1,500 yuan, with no benefits and no days off. He outdated to take into consideration leaping ship, nonetheless in as we suppose and age he’s on condition that up. He’s too veteran to take care of the upsets, and his son desires cash every day — he can’t give you the cash for to be choosy about it.

Huang is a loader and drives a forklift, so he gets to make the handiest employ of his skills. There’s a bonus to being a loader, which is that every diminutive verbalize passes under his eyes first. Though scavengers accept as true with already sifted throughout the trash earlier than it reaches the landfill, some precious issues are calm left on the help of, like veteran dresses, cardboard, and even veteran electrical appliances.

Once, there became as soon as a get within the trash, and Huang rushed to discontinuance the compacting machine. He opened it and came all the way in which through a pc pc. After work, Huang sent it to the pc restore shop; after it became as soon as repaired, it labored rather effectively for his son.

Huang also picks out veteran scrap items to construct cash, ample for his daily requirements. Folks declare that, generally, scavengers can safe a get beefy of jewellery or per chance cash, nonetheless Huang has by no manner came all the way in which through something else like that. The diminutive town isn’t rich, so no one would be that careless, he figures.

Huang is aware of that there are a superb deal of these that will presumably like to accept as true with his job, nonetheless he is confident that his top-notch skills indicate he won’t be replaced. His wish is to work till the age of 60, or as a minimal till his 50s, when his son would possibly per chance presumably accept as true with graduated from college and accept as true with a job. Then, when his final day comes, he’ll have the power to face his child’s mother and represent her he did alright.

The year she handed away, Huang became as soon as 25. Time goes by in an instant — a flash that by hook or by crook spans 18 years.



One October morning, calm a whereas earlier than the advent of iciness, the weather became as soon as already cool ample to freeze the skin faucets. Zhang Kezi took a beefy kettle of boiling water and slowly poured a prolonged, thin recede of water onto a faucet. The kettle became as soon as half of-empty when the faucet within the damage began to drip water. He picked up a basin of water and began to spruce his face, brush his teeth, and shave, which became as soon as his morning ritual. Zhang drives a garbage truck, nonetheless to distinguish himself from the trash, he tries to preserve his appearance.

As a contract employee, Zhang’s wage is decrease than Zhou’s nonetheless elevated than Huang’s, and he gets some benefits — like two days off a week. Sooner than starting on the landfill, he drove automobiles within the navy, transporting offers all the way in which throughout the Tibetan Plateau for 15 years.

Zhang’s partner Juanzi has been working within the provincial capital for a lot of years. He doesn’t know precisely what her job is. Despite every little thing, she comes help just a few times a year, and always dresses in an diagram-catching manner, which makes his coronary heart clench. Zhang has forgotten when Juanzi began to attain home much less and no more. In the beginning, they’d call every other if she didn’t attain help. Later, the phone calls grew to alter into much less frequent, and they didn’t accept as true with unparalleled to declare to 1 but every other.

Zhang sprayed some cologne onto his shirt. This present day, he would be going to seem Juanzi.

Nevertheless he didn’t know where she labored, supreme that it became as soon as in Zhangbagou, an rental within the provincial capital Xi’an. One time, on the phone, he heard the title on an announcement from a bus she became as soon as on, so he remembered the residing title. He guessed that Juanzi must are residing within the rental, on legend of it became as soon as very early within the morning and he or she couldn’t presumably accept as true with been a ways from home at that hour.

He washed his truck and carefully tended to the cab. It had been half of of his home over the years. Every so generally he slept within the cab when he didn’t settle on to return to his rental. He put every object in uncover, and paid special consideration to cleaning the spring-motion doll on his dashboard. In his eyes, that became as soon as Juanzi.

There are 5 automobiles on the compacting stations all the way in which throughout the county town. And not utilizing a mounted project, they whisk wherever they are wished. After the compacting job, the rubbish load is 5 times the weight of a truckload of free garbage. Zhang has to make 5 or six trips every day. He likes this job very unparalleled. In contrast with driving on the Qinghai-Tibet Twin carriageway, this job is unparalleled simpler, and safer.

He is aware of that though he’s no longer a frequent employee, as prolonged as there became as soon as no special draw, the landfill wouldn’t casually lay him off. On daily foundation, he sounds like he’s doing some sightseeing when he drives the truck into and out of town, and he has grown familiar with nearly every avenue, alley, and building. He fantasized that in the end he would accept as true with some cash and would have the power to remove a immense rental within the nicest share of town. It’d be his everlasting home. Several years ago, Juanzi wished to remove a rental here, nonetheless they didn’t accept as true with ample cash.

After a dispute day out, he arrived in Xi’an, and then, after a subway accelerate, in Zhangbagou. Zhang wished to give Juanzi a call and represent her that he had attain to seem her. He stood under the bus discontinuance stamp for the total day, nonetheless couldn’t produce it. He felt nervous, nonetheless what he became as soon as nervous about he didn’t rather stamp.

He spent the next day wandering spherical. He conception that Juanzi would no doubt gain the bus here, or cross by. Despite the true fact that he didn’t see her, she would possibly per chance presumably also see him.

Nevertheless, within the close, Juazzi by no manner handed by or obtained on the bus, and Zhang went help to Danfeng. He wished to wait one other day, nonetheless supreme had two days off.

On the third evening, he within the damage obtained a call. It became as soon as Juanzi’s quantity, nonetheless no longer her inform. The actual person on the opposite close suggested him that something had took role to Juanzi. She’d fallen from the eighth ground of a building.

Three days later, Zhang met Juanzi on the funeral home. He learned that, for all these years, Juanzi had been doing “that extra or much less work.” She had six-decide savings in her bank legend.

The cash became as soon as valid ample to remove a rental within the county town.

Zhang would by no manner accept as true with conception that this would possibly per chance per chance be Juanzi’s close, nonetheless, finding out about her job, he wasn’t vastly surprised. It became as soon as a despised and unhealthy job. Nevertheless Zhang knew that the cash wasn’t dirty — valid soaked in blood and tears.

He by no manner conception about procuring for a rental but every other time.

The cover of “to live is to shout at the sky. ” courtesy of taihai publishing house

The veil of “To Live is to Yell on the Sky.” Courtesy of Taihai Publishing Condo

A model of this text became as soon as before every little thing printed by The Paper and republished by TrumanStory Books and Taihai Press within the ebook “To Live is to Yell on the Sky.” It has been translated and edited for length and readability, and is republished here with permission.

Translator: Matt Turner; editors: Xue Yongle and Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Icons: Iconscout/Folks Visible)

(Header image: A diagram of the landfill where Zhou Dayong works, 2018. Courtesy of Zhou Dayong)

  • labor
  • rural China

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