Chinese metal miner and poet writes “Literature of migrant workers”

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By Jonny Lupsha, News Editor
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of fatal injuries is nearly six times higher in coal mines than in any other sector of private industry.

Working as a miner is rarely considered glamorous. Miners dig and explode in the Earth for precious metals and coal, which come out covered in dirt and soot. Dozens are killed each year. However, a Chinese miner turned the worries, dangers and hopes of the mining industry into two best-selling poetry books. Chen Nianxi becomes a major figure in the “literature of migrant workers”, in which the honor and dangers of daily work meet with the toll it entails.

Explosions and collapses make mining a risky job. Coal mining is especially dangerous because it adds combustible materials, toxic gases, and inhaling coal dust into the mixture. In his video series The industrial RevolutionDr. Patrick N. Allitt, professor of American history of the Cahoon family at Emory University, exposed the dangers of coal mining, using Britain as an example.

Old coal mine

“Since ancient times, the people of Britain have burned coal from geological outcrops, but inclement weather made it a poor fuel,” Dr Allitt said. “During the time of the Romans, they understood the need to dig the ground to recover it in order to find fuel that would burn better. Coal is made up of the compressed remains of plants that grew millions of years ago; mining, it has always been, and still is, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Dr Allitt cited collapses, the release of carbon monoxide and inhalation of coal dust causing disease as risks from coal mining in particular. These dangers often breed animosity between miners and mine owners who profit from their work. The work environment is not the only source of stress for minors.

“The traditional coal mine had a shaft about eight feet in diameter,” he said. “This dug directly into the earth until it meets the coal seams, then side tunnels are dug from the bottom of the pit, the ‘pit head’, to dig up the coal itself. is transported to the tree in woven baskets […] called corves by a team of horses or by turning a windlass at the top to pull the corves up the tree.

The early miners used what is called the “edge and pillar” system. Using pickaxes, they cut up some of the charcoal but left large pillars to support the roof of the cave. This system wasted about half of the available coal.

Modern times, modern problems

Like any fossil fuel, coal is a finite resource. As its use continued, the mines had to get bigger and deeper. With that came a series of dangers that could no longer be dealt with with the old ways of mining. One of the greatest dangers was that of flooding.

“The flooding was severe, especially in mines near the coast, such as the huge mining area around Newcastle upon Tyne, which developed very early,” Dr Allitt said. “The primitive pumps were not satisfactory; the bucket chains pulling water from the mines were simply not effective enough. If the mine was located on high ground, it was sometimes possible to build a lower gallery or drain, but better methods were urgently needed around 1700. “

Another danger concerned ventilation. Mines are very difficult to supply with circulating air and the poisonous gases had not disappeared over the years. However, this problem was more important than inhaling carbon monoxide or coal dust. A phenomenon known as “wet choke” was a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor. He was unbreathable and could suffocate minors.

Finally, there was the “wet fire,” which is methane. Methane can explode.

“Newcastle on Tyne had a reputation as ‘flaming pits’ – in other words, pits full of moisture from fire – and there were frequent fatal explosions,” Dr Allitt said. “For example, 30 men were killed at Gateshead near Newcastle in an explosion in 1705; 69 others were killed at Chester-Le-Street in a 1708 explosion.

If there is a positive side to these clouds, it can be found in literature on migrant workers like that of Chen Nianxi, the miner turned poet.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily


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