Shenzhen, once a small fishing village near Hong Kong, has today joined the ranks of Chinese megacities and is often cited as a prime example of China�s extraordinary economic boom. With the economic reforms in the 80's, the smallest neighbour of then British supertown of Hong Kong had indeed been chosen as an experimental development site for the market economy. To enable this incredible urban sprawl, metropolitan planners had to rely on foreign investments but also on the strength of millions of construction workers who, in most cases, had left their rural communities in search of well paid jobs. In this film, we particularly focus on the fate of drilling workers who, lured by very attractive salaries, dig shafts into the rock, with a simple hammer drill, to become the necessary foundations of futuristic skyscrapers.
Xu Chunlin is one of those for whom a job offer, 20 times better paid than traditional labour work, seemed to be the opportunity not to be missed. Full of hope and with the vitality of a young man, he and five friends left his native village Shuang Xi, near Lei Yang, during the early 90's. He soon realized that working conditions at the shafts bottom, sometimes up to 80 meters underground, were very difficult. He and his comrades did not know that breathing rock dust could be fatal... Poor ventilation and no effective protection was provided, and despite breathing difficulties, silence prevailed for a long time. Until the day many workers complaining of fatigue, fever and shortness of breath were faced with the terrible diagnosis: they had contracted pneumoconiosis, a chronic fatal respiratory disease, caused by the inhalation of mineral dust over a long period...
Today, residents of the Lei Yang region know all too well that this disease is deadly.