“Upon entering the house, you really understood what 家徒四壁 (a house with only four walls) meant… The old woman has already seen her four out of five sons pass away. When you talk to her, you see that she had a perpetual vacant look. You finally understand what it means when one has emptied all tears. It’s as if she is only alive, just breathing, like her son.” Cao Wei, a volunteer for the NGO “大爱清尘 ” (Love Save Pneumoconiosis) recounts his memory of a visit to the silicosis villages in Hunan.
The women had lost four sons to silicosis (an occupational lung disease caused by the by inhalation of crystalline silica dust), and the only one left had recently been diagnosed with the deadly disease as well. The NGO was started by journalist Wang Keqing, seeking to help and save the six million migrant workers wrought with silicosis, struggling on in the half-way house between life and death. This occupational lung disease has crippled and wiped out numerous families in rural China.
In the village of Daozixiang in Hunan’s Leiyang City, an incomplete round-up counts 50 deaths from silicosis, and on the county level, 55 deaths. Beijing News reported on this village and its tragic demise in an article titled “Breathing pains of a Silicosis Village”, in which the reporter visited several families plagued by disease. The village has over 100 patients, all whom contacted the incurable disease during the last two decades, when almost all working men traveled south to Shenzhen to build skyscraper foundations.
They drill holes into the granite underground, and then set off bombs in the granite to make holes over 10 meters deep. Cao Wei says that when workers emerge from underground, they are covered with dust, a body of pure white except for two black eye balls.