In 2011, he found a broader audience via the blogging craze then spreading across China. Online, he met other poets, amateur and professional. One day in 2014, a well-known critic, Qin Xiaoyu, happened across Mr. Chen’s blog and asked to meet.
Over the next year, Mr. Qin and a filmmaker, Wu Feiyue, followed Mr. Chen and five other migrant worker poets, for a documentary called “The Verse of Us” (later released internationally as “Iron Moon”).
The film, released in 2015, received considerable attention — in part because of tragedy. Another poet it featured, Xu Lizhi, a factory worker for the electronics giant Foxconn, committed suicide during the filmmaking process. His death, which followed a string of deaths of other Foxconn workers, renewed international scrutiny of Chinese laborers’ working conditions.
The documentary also came amid growing awareness of how reliant China, and the world, had become on this labor force, said Faye Xiao, a professor of modern Chinese literature at the University of Kansas.
“Our everyday lives cannot last for even one day without the labor of migrant workers. But at the same time, they remain politically voiceless and socially marginalized,” Professor Xiao said. “That is why more and more intellectuals and middle-class readers want to know more about their everyday struggles.”
The film’s timing was lucky for Mr. Chen. He had recently left the mines, after undergoing neck surgery for a work-related injury. Through his new recognition, he found work writing copy for a tourism company — his first white-collar job. In 2019, he published his poetry collection, “Demolitions Mark.”