Wang Shiwei’s chest seems to have an invisible timer installed in it. Once the timeout was over, his body inevitably wheezed, coughed and became dizzy. At first, this time limit was still generous, allowing him to hide his condition and continue to work in some small factories in Ganzhou that do not check health certificates and are off the track. When climbing the stairs, he had to slow down and move forward step by step, so he couldn’t hide the fainting. Sometimes when workers asked what happened, he said that he had a bad constitution. They rarely asked further. When he met someone who was really concerned, he would tell them that I had pneumoconiosis.
After that, the instrument swung faster and this time frame became shorter and shorter. He had to retreat from the outside world and return to his bed on the third floor of his old home in the village, or, in the ward of the Fifth People’s Hospital in Ganzhou City, in the second respiratory critical care area.
When I met Wang Shiwei in the hospital in early June, his territory had shrunk to the distance of a breathing mask catheter – lung cells could not regenerate, breathing was no longer a light instinct, and he had to be constantly on oxygen. If the mask was removed for a few minutes, such as walking from the hospital bed to the washroom, his head would become foggy and he could not breathe, and going to the dining hall a few hundred meters away to get a meal was even more impossible.
He became extremely thin, only 80 pounds or so, and his dark flesh was simply built on his skeleton. In the words of the nurse, pneumoconiosis is a wasting disease, when the energy your body needs cannot be obtained through normal channels, it will turn to consume other proteins in the body. The person slowly dries out like a leaky balloon.
The young man, born in 1993, began to work at the age of 15, from the village, the county, all the way to Guangdong, Fujian, relying on the printing factory, toy factory, cosmetics processing plant to work around, save some money, have seen some of the world. early 2013, he heard that many people have made a fortune by driving a forklift in Ganzhou, he returned here, followed a friend of his father to learn to drive a forklift, only to go for three days and then ran away. That forklift is really bad, three days two bad, and no pay, it is better to go back to Quanzhou marble factory to do polishing it. The villagers advised him, why go there, Ganzhou also has this kind of work ah. Finally, Wang Shiwei was introduced to a quartz stone factory as a worker.
He thought life would go on, for this reason, he paid the down payment for the first house in Ningdu County, 80 square meters, which was prepared for a blind date to get married. He had no idea at that time that his fate was taking one of the most important turns – working in a quartz stone factory would inhale a lot of dust, and for more than four years, dust mixed with chemical glue was embedded in his chest cavity.
In 2017, he was 24 years old and diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, stage III. That was the first time he heard the word “pneumoconiosis”.
It was a factory that couldn’t have been more modest. At its peak, there were seven people in the team, including three bosses, a pair of brothers and a distant relative. The bosses and Wang Shiwei were from the same town, and one of his colleagues was also his former classmate.
The factory was sited in a basement close to 400 square feet, with only one window, often in a closed state. The landlord upstairs (also the owner of the paint processing plant) did not allow them to vent the dust outside. So the white dust raised by the cutting and grinding of quartz stone circulates in that space. Wang Shiwei said that after going in for a minute or two, the whole thing went white.
Formal factories will spend higher costs to buy underwater cutting machine, which can effectively block most of the dust, but they do not have that, using the most primitive dry cutting and dry grinding method. The only protection is the boss from the hardware store to buy gauze masks, three dollars a piece, they bring “cover the mouth”. In the workshop with white dust all day long, the work lasted more than nine hours a day. Sometimes the weather is hot and muggy, wearing the mask breathing is not good, they simply take off. Goggles also have little effect – you bend down to polish, a gasp lens all white, how to do the work?
They mainly take some small orders from furniture factories, cutting and polishing stone slabs into kitchen stove tops or window countertops. Wages are calculated by area, a meter of countertop can give 40 yuan, Wang Shiwei said, his monthly salary of almost seven or eight thousand, in the average wage of only two or three thousand Ganzhou, which is considered a very good income.
“Even if you are a little lazy at first, you do not know how hard this (work), do a little less may not be so serious. ” he said self-deprecatingly.
The body came with a clear warning in 2016. Since then, Wang Shiwei would feel his heart tingling after drinking cold water, and when he went to the Polytechnic University’s swimming pool with his workers, he started to get out of breath after swimming a dozen meters. By the time he went to the hospital for a checkup in 2017, his lungs were already in serious condition.
The workers in this small processing plant found out their conditions one after another: in 2016, one worker found out tuberculosis, the boss discouraged him from going home, and the worker didn’t go for any treatment. In order to pay off the mortgage, he continued to sell hard labor and engage in portering for people, and the next year, he couldn’t breathe and died. Another worker couldn’t stop coughing, resigned at the end of 2017 and went home, nursed for two years, and in May 2020, coughed so much that his lungs finally burst, didn’t have to be treated, and also passed away. The three bosses also went for tests after Wang Shiwei was diagnosed, and the results were, respectively, pneumoconiosis stage 1, pneumoconiosis stage 2, and one detected a major triplet.
But when Wang Shiwei talked about the situation of these people in the factory, he could not hear any resentment in his tone. He said, after the accident, the boss’s family chicken flying, the boss is also very difficult. Now go to him for money, Wang Shiwei a little embarrassed, appearing to take advantage of their own fire. And it’s useless to find him, Wang Shiwei said, the boss is not some rich capitalist.
He has an incredible optimism. in 2018, his family took him to a large hospital in Guangzhou for a checkup, and he always remembered the doctor named Wu Ping, who, after seeing his films, did not even let him stand in line, with a friendly attitude. According to Wang Shiwei’s physical condition at that time, it was no longer possible to wash his lungs, and the only treatment was lung replacement. That would cost at least 600,000 for the surgery, plus follow-up care, and the whole thing would cost a couple of million. There was no way they could come up with that much money.
The doctor recommended to Wang Shiwei the Great Love Clean Dust, a charity dedicated to helping pneumoconiosis patients, and he later applied for an oxygen machine and $10,000 for medical treatment through volunteers. Dr. Wu also recommended other patients for him. The patient, who was more than half a century old, gave Wang Shiwei a lot of confidence; he also had stage 3 pneumoconiosis and had been diagnosed for several years, but was still alive and well. He felt he couldn’t give up either.
To simmer, he said, he began to find some instructional videos on short video platforms and followed the above to compare health exercises.
Dr. Chen Qian of the Fifth People’s Hospital in Ganzhou City has more than 30 years of experience in the field, and he has seen too many pneumoconiosis patients, those who dug coal mines, tungsten mines, those who went to work as construction workers. In earlier years, many of those who came for treatment came from the same villages. In China’s occupational diseases, pneumoconiosis currently accounts for the largest and most serious one, with a long incubation period, but generally when symptoms appear, the patient is already 40 or 50 years old. Pneumoconiosis patients in their 20s, like Wang Shiwei, are the “very few of the very few”. Dr. Chen said that the dust density in marble and quartz stone factories is higher than in those mines, but the knowledge about pneumoconiosis prevention has remained at an early stage.
In fact, modern medicine has little to do with the disease. In the last decade, there have been updates in treatment, but there are no real technological breakthroughs. The ideal situation is to prevent, not to get the disease, and if unfortunate enough to become pneumoconiosis, to actively cooperate with treatment in the early stages. For example, lung washing, Dr. Chen says, that cleans at least 50 or 60 percent of your lungs. But lung cleaning costs more than $20,000, and after the reimbursement part is removed, the number that needs to be paid out of pocket is about $10,000, which is still a lot of money for many peasant families. Many times, he suggested that the patient have his lungs cleaned, and the other person later disappeared – in the early stages of pneumoconiosis, the symptoms are not obvious. Many farmers are used to putting up with it.
On May 31, Chen Pengpeng, Wang Shiwei’s former worker at the quartz stone factory, was also diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. He came to the ward to chat with Wang Shiwei, flirting with him and said, “Brother, I’ll keep this empty bed next to you and come to keep you company some day.
They were the same age, workers, friends, and children, and had known each other since the fifth grade, and now suffered the same fate. The night of the diagnosis, Chen Pengpeng lay in bed in a rented house in Gan County and spent a difficult night. He called his father, who was working in Shantou, and he told him to change his career. Many others have changed their careers, said his father. He immediately became angry, the prerequisite for changing career is to have money, I do not have money, how can I change?
He was on the phone and gave his father a fierce tone of voice: I did not buy a house, I did not have a family, a family to raise children, this is how much of an expense? I have material pursuits, if I do not spend money, I live to do what ah, go home to farm. I started my own business, to have investment, to have the start-up capital, nothing you let me change my career, realistic? My father stopped talking.
In the past, my father always said, farmers have a farmer’s way of life. What God gives, what to take, do not always think about rising a level, do a good job as a farmer on the job. Chen Pengpeng can never accept this statement, he thinks it is a kind of escape, is the excuse of the incompetent. Therefore, in his eyes, his father has always been an evasive waste. When he was two years old, his mother died, and his father left home to work in Shantou, where he always did hard labor. They were estranged, often quarreled, and only met during New Year’s Eve.
Chen Pengpeng said that a phrase from a short video on Jitterbug explains the reason for his decision: which is more terrible, being poor or dying?
The day after the diagnosis, he came to the quartz stone factory as usual and continued to work. For him, money means more than monthly rent and meals, but also dignity.
Two years ago, he made a down payment and took out a mortgage on a car. Once drove too fast and crashed, he did not buy insurance, it cost more than 10,000 to repair the car, which is not a small amount of money for him. The most reasonable way is to not want the car, the total price is not much anyway. But he thought about it and paid the money for the repair – people will talk about it, how come you just bought the car for more than a year and lost it? He could not afford to lose that face. Chen Pengpeng said, in the countryside, climbing than sometimes more serious than in the city. The car, house, who married a wife, whose children have a good job, whose children are not successful reduced to work in the factory. He wanted to give his grandfather to fight for face, more himself. Every time he went home he always drove that car.
When I first interviewed him, Chen Pengpeng was refusing. He said, I do not accept any pity and pity. In his opinion, Wang Shiwei’s will to live dictates that he go to charity organizations for help, is in the hands up to people begging, is expecting the sky to fall pie, smashed out a rich man, save him. Chen Pengpeng said that if he reached that point, he would rather bury himself alone. Unrealistic things he does not ask for.
Even so, he said, he still hopes Wang Shiwei can wait for this pie as he wishes and live well. “If he is gone, I will eventually have a kind of loss. “Every time he sees Wang Shiwei, he says, it’s like seeing his own future.
In fifth grade, he and Wang Shiwei rushed from their respective village elementary schools to the township school and became tablemates, as well as roommates. Chen Pengpeng sat in the middle, and together with Wang Shiwei and another boy, they became frenemies. Together, they were shoved into the poor class and slept in class together. The first semester of junior high school was two weeks away from the end, Chen Pengpeng and another tablemate took advantage of gym class to move tables and withdrew from school on their own. Wang Shiwei also ran away a few days later.
In 2008, they were 15 years old, the three people entered society: Wang Shiwei was introduced by his cousin to a county milk tea store as an apprentice, work hard, open your eyes in the morning with the key to open the store, sanitation, open the machine, adjust the milk tea, and work until 1:00 pm to close. He was able to get 50 yuan a month. Chen Pengpeng much better luck, he entered a small processing plant in the alley, the first month on the account of 600 yuan, on the spot to buy a cell phone, the most fashionable touch screen machine.
Later, the three of them have gone to Shantou, Guangdong. That is the home base of the fishing peak township wage earners, is also the happiest time in Wang Shiwei’s memory. Wang Shiwei remembered that at that time, they were always a few people get together, go to the beach, go to the street stalls, buy a cup of milk tea to the ice rink, or to the Internet cafe to play games all night. He did not like the Internet cafe, at first, he was not even skilled in typing, chatting with people to use the five-stroke input method. Later, one by one practice to learn to play Pinyin.
In that southern city, Chen Pengpeng and Wang Shiwei even worked as roommates for a while, living together in the city’s crevices. In that place called Jinnian Industrial Zone, they rented a tiled house from the 1960s and 1970s, next to a pigsty, which smelled so bad that they had to run to a public toilet far away to go to the bathroom.
Later, they all returned to Ganzhou and entered the quartz stone industry one after another.
Chen Pengpeng felt that the most important reason he could last so many years with only a mild stage one pneumoconiosis was that he was in better shape than Wang Shiwei. He later served as a soldier for two years.
In retrospect, the best mix was another boy, who was the only person in the trio to stay in Shantou. Chen Pengpeng said that the boy’s family is not rich, but his parents still did the pavement, just went to Shantou, his parents arranged for him to learn mechanical, and then the boys have been staying in that industry. Until the year before last, he bought two machines, out of their own single, now considered a small boss it. Married, had two children, bought a car, just to buy a house.
Chen Pengpeng said he is a realist through and through. Things like marriage, he does not think. He said, in Ganzhou, want to start a family, to three or four hundred thousand bride price, but also “a move”, a move refers to the car, does not refer to the house. He now only the second. Since childhood, he has never been in love, nor has he tried. In his opinion, if a male can not give those conditions, 99.9% of the girls will not talk to you, you can not see that 0.01%, even if the sky falls pie, it does not necessarily hit you.
He also does not trust those emerging industries, such as takeaway workers. In his logic, does not require technical content and does not require culture, the income is not high. Now he has changed factories, but still in the quartz stone industry. This industry income is high, is to pay the price, he understands than anyone else. He does not care. With money, a lot of things come with it, “the rich end up in the family, and those without money witnessed. “He said.
Chen Pengpeng said, now dry quartz stone industry few young people, many people can not eat this suffering, can not stand this dirty and tired. It only belongs to a small number of people. In the 1980s and 1990s, many people also think so. Young well, good health, can make money on the line.
Ganzhou is also called “the tungsten capital of the world” and is the main tungsten producing area in China and the world. A widely spread story is that in those days of unrestricted mining, people with hammers and sand pans could be found everywhere in the ravines and by the streams of Ganzhou.
I visited three or four villages, and the stories of the pneumoconiosis patients I met were similar. They all came from rural areas and followed their fellow villagers to neighboring counties in the 1980s and 1990s, or went south to Meizhou, Guangdong, to dig tungsten and coal mines, which were important ways for village people to accumulate wealth at that time. A doctor who worked for many years at the Fifth People’s Hospital in Ganzhou City said that when he was paid a few hundred dollars a month, the workers who dug the mines could earn two or three thousand. The accounts were settled in cash every day.
When they were young, they sold their strength and health for money, and the first thing they took home was often to remodel a better home – building small houses, repainting and renovating them. When their bodies give out, either actively or passively, they come back here and wait for death.
At present, the primary generation of migrant workers aged around 50 to 60 is still the main group of existing pneumoconiosis patients, but according to the observation of doctors practicing at the Fifth People’s Hospital in Ganzhou, the occupations in which some of the younger patients are engaged have changed considerably – from the various mining and quarrying industries of the past to the construction and stone processing industries. The “Survey Report on Migrant Workers with Pneumoconiosis in China (2020)” by Da Ai Qingduan also confirms this statement, with dust hazards becoming a non-negligible part of the construction materials industry and subway tunnel construction.
I was visiting a pneumoconiosis patient named Xie Shanfa at the village committee when a young man happened to push his way in, having accompanied his mother to open a death certificate. His father had died at home two days earlier, also of pneumoconiosis. Xie Shanfa said he also knew the man, the two were from the same township, about the same age, and later went together to dig tungsten mines in Chenya Village, Xingguo County. The man nicknamed “Black Tiger”, moved to the county to live in earlier years, rarely returned to the village. The last time Xie Shanfa saw him was last fall or winter, a family in the village hosted a banquet, “Black Tiger” also came, they also said hello. At that time, the black tiger can still walk around.
The young man said that at the end of his life, his father’s body posture was often deformed, and he had to sit at night to keep breathing and barely sleep. He quit his job six months ago just to spend more time with his father. Before leaving, the young man added the WeChat of Big Love Clean Dust volunteers, and he wanted to donate the two oxygen machines his father left behind.
A volunteer told me that when some pneumoconiosis patients are cremated, the most solid part of the lung deposits are not burned out and a small hard piece is left behind.
Ding Guilan experienced another blow to her life at the age of 55 when her son, Wang Shiwei, was diagnosed with advanced pneumoconiosis. She had previously only vaguely known that her son worked in a factory in the city, not knowing that he had to face such an environment, let alone having heard of pneumoconiosis. The last blow happened more than ten years ago when her husband, who was engaged in blasting in a quarry, was deafened by the loud sound of the cannon, not knowing whether he “didn’t win” or didn’t react. When she went to work in a factory, they did not want her, so she could only grow vegetables and do odd jobs at home.
She is the one who is in charge of the family. For the past ten years, she went to the county to do housework for people, babysitting, earning money to support the family. Her son grew up obedient, she said, Wang Shiwei wherever he went to do work, people are welcome, the boy has no bad intentions. Other people’s WI-FI at home are set password, the son did not, he said those who returned to the countryside can use is also quite good. The son was too embarrassed to go to the owner of the quartz stone factory, she went to find. It was she kept calling each other, that the boss promised to give 10,000 yuan compensation.
We drove from the county to Wang Shiwei’s house, around a bend and then around the next bend, nearly an hour’s drive. This is an ordinary home in a mountain village in the south of Gan, a few years ago, Wang Shiwei redecorated the place with the money from working outside. But now it seems to have fallen into disrepair again.
Ding Guilan sat in the kitchen and began to shed tears after a while. Her husband, who could not hear very well, poured water for everyone and then slumped on the table, looking tired and sad. Each of them had placed their hopes in this only son. Ding Guilan said, her son never let her worry, out of work these years, they occasionally call. She asked, “Is it good to eat? Wang Shiwei said, quite good. She asked again, how is it going? Wang Shiwei said again, quite good. This is the end of the conversation, she thought it was really good, and when her son stayed with her for a long time again, he was suffering from this disease.
The doctor said that there is no cure for this disease. Ding Guilan did not believe, she went to various places to beg the gods and Buddhas. When Wang Shiwei was still physically able to walk, he would accompany her, and later she went by herself. She found a variety of folk methods, let her son eat cow dung, or tea tree cakes burned to ashes, mixed in the paste to drink.
Wang Shiwei every time to cooperate. Last time, the mother did not know where to find a Chinese doctor’s contact information, dragging him to meet, the middle-aged female doctor who claimed to have cured pneumoconiosis, in front of a bus station and their mother and son met. The woman didn’t ask questions, she just looked at the person, looked at the person’s tongue, and said it was OK, she went back and grabbed some medicine for him.
In the end, it cost more than 1800 yuan and prescribed ten days of Chinese medicine. Wang Shiwei told his mother that they were all liars, don’t look for her. Ding Guilan said, try again.
This time Wang Shiwei hospitalized, Ding Guilan to the hospital to accompany a period of time, rented a folding bed of the cleaning lady, to the son to play meals, washing clothes, but somehow, the two always quarrel. Wang Shiwei said, once, he went to brush his teeth and wash his face, did not have time to pull up the wide pajamas, the water splashed wet clothes. Mom told him to change immediately, he said wait, and she became angry. Wang Shiwei explained to me that he had to be on oxygen immediately at that moment and couldn’t catch his breath.
Then mom went home and couldn’t help much in the hospital. Wang Shiwei stayed alone in the hospital bed, and did not communicate much with the surrounding patients, every day is to brush a short video or enjoy playing games. Everything in the game can be controlled, this new season, his King of Glory has played on the King stage.
The doctor advised him to go home, there is not much use in the hospital, there is nothing else to treat, if oxygen, at home is the same. But he was worried about the sudden change in his condition and always said, wait a little longer.
In his previous life, when he faced many opportunities, he also always thought, wait a little longer. Chen Pengpeng said, Wang Shiwei always fantasized about overnight riches, he was addicted to gambling, buying lottery tickets, hoping that one time the sky will be lucky, so he had the cost to open a milk tea store. That was his greatest ideal. Owning a milk tea store, just do the work yourself, skilled, and easy. His 15-year-old days in the milk tea store were all happy now.
Unfortunately, in order to cure his illness, he sold the house that he had managed to save enough for a down payment, and he has never been there. Many things he has not yet tried, such as falling in love. He still doesn’t know if his experience in the toy factory in Shantou that lasted only half a month counts. The girl was three years older than him and kept asking, when can we get married? Wang Shiwei was only 17 years old at the time, not even eligible for a license. The girl finally went back home to Hubei and got married on a blind date.
When he was not sick before, Wang Shiwei always roamed around on a second-hand motorcycle. Weave aimlessly through the streets of Ganzhou, or go to the cherry blossom park. When the warm spring breeze blew up the dust, the ten miles of cherry blossoms there were also in bloom. Is there really ten miles? He said he didn’t know. The last time he went, there were as many heads as trees, and he hadn’t had time to walk through them all.
On June 9, 2021, Wang Shiwei finally left the hospital, carrying an oxygen bag and dragging his body back to the third floor of his old home.