Poverty vs Plight: The true condition of Pneumoconiosis patients in Pingxiang

By Haoran Su, Zheng Quan, Keren Liu, Zhenye Lin, Jiahao Deng

“We cannot ignore those who fall down when the whole country is moving forward,” said the famous director Zhangke Jia. Those who suffer from pneumoconiosis are exactly the group who are being ignored. Pneumoconiosis is a chronic lung disease, which mainly results from a long time working in a dusty environment. The disease is severely underestimated. Because many patients have either seldom received sufficient focus from society or enough financial support to eliminate these obstacles till now, that finally traps them into disadvantages.

Workplace for miners

In Pingxiang, many pneumoconiosis patients are jammed in between poverty and plight

Many rural pneumoconiosis patients are facing pressure from both financial and life issues. Admittedly, many people who live in poverty can still have a positive and blissful attitude toward life; plight (困) won’t cage everyone as well, as rich people can still maintain their normal lives with the advanced therapeutics. Nonetheless, without either a healthy body or solid financial support, patients in Pingxiang are generally swapped into the darkness of a combination of poverty and plight (贫困)—though their spirits are willing, their flesh is too weak to even make an attempt.

The poverty of pneumoconiosis patients in Pingxiang can be mainly divided into financial impoverishment and spiritual desolation. “Even if governmental subsistence could give a reimbursement of 90 percent”, according to a patient Mr. Liu, “I could still not afford the remaining 10% of the expenses.” Probably that 10% in expense is only around ¥300, but the leftover is still too overwhelming for those patients to tolerate. The reason behind is most patients with pneumoconiosis are no longer able to work when they are in the later stage of pneumoconiosis, yet having negligible income from the work as if they still go on. Indeed, they have few ways to change their status, as they can’t even have a normal life like others. In addition, it’s also hard for them to expect their families, especially their children, to offer extensive financial support to help them get out of their predicament. Since the level of education of their children is mainly low, generally only completing junior high school, many are unable to earn extra money to support the family.

Besides the obvious financial impoverishment, there is also a critical flaw of their personal health consciousness. A patient with pneumoconiosis has little willingness to spend money on hospital care. Instead, many of them choose to spend their limited resources buying cigarettes or alcohol, something harmful to their body, but they never realized that. As the current condition in Pingxiang revealed, some patients couldn’t even go to the hospital to check in, though most of the medical stations are free for them to inspect themselves. Therefore, many patients are lacking a healthy and valid rehabilitation consciousness.

Medical image of a patient with pneumoconiosis Photo by Keren L

Vulnerability of pneumoconiosis patients in Pingxiang

Pneumoconiosis patients are limited in many aspects of their daily lives. They can no longer take care of themselves, or be treated like a normal human—making them more sensitive and depressed.

Since pneumoconiosis patients are tortured from the disease all the time, they naturally have lots of ires and sentiments where they could not tear themselves apart. While their family, a group of people who always accompany them without any complaints, take the burden of all of these into their lives. Patients couldn’t move, couldn’t articulate, as well as couldn’t stride over their obstacles. They need more communication and expect someone to pour out their heart to express themselves.

However, facing their family, patients’ feelings are complicated. On one hand, those patients feel guilty and sorry for their families since their expensive and constant medical expenses are causing such a great burden to their families. Besides, their limited self-care ability is too negligible to contribute to their family and can even cause more burden. Under this spontaneous self-accusation, pneumoconiosis patients generally have little possibility to release their strained sentiments. As a result, their families who take care of patients become their “emotional trash bin” to be dumped into. One of the interviewees, Mr. Chen’s wife, suffered from this in her daily life. Mr. Chen always loses his temper and squabbles with his family when he is very upset about his body. Nonetheless, afraid of Mr. Chen’s health, they have to swallow this bitterness by themselves and choose to give in. Under such a depressing atmosphere of the family, the whole family is caged inside this lightless abyss.

Living environment of pneumoconiosis patients
Photo by Jiahao Deng

Moreover, there’s also a serious problem regarding the education of the patients’ next generation. Because of the torture of pneumoconiosis, the money that the whole family earned is mainly distributed on medication and other relevant resources. Consequently, the family does not provide the next generation with enough money to be highly educated. The overhead expense on medication is causing little even no savings for their children to study. The majority of those children can only take the basic compulsory education, which is free, unable to enjoy better education, let alone college level or higher. Without enough education level or certificates, they can hardly find a fixed and high-income job to support the family. Most of them can only wander outside and take a short- term job with negligible wages. This condition finally can become worse enough that their children wouldn’t be able to balance between their own crumbling lives and the patients’ lives. The loss of their children’s support would doubtlessly make the patients’ lives more miserable.

The present and future of pneumoconiosis

Amidst this series of difficulties, though it is hard to break down these “cages”, more and more policies and solutions are being implemented. Fortunately, some patients have made their first step to save themselves. Under the relevant policy of Rural Industry Revitalization, pneumoconiosis patients have regained the opportunity to start a new business. In Guanshang Village, for example, Mr. Ying has planted a 30-acre orchard of Holboellia latifolia fruit—often called “August fruit”. The orchard has brought Ying not only more economic income but also cures the sores brought from pneumoconiosis from the fruit’s medical value. This kind of regular and long-term work also plays a vital role in the patients’ later recovery. The secretary of the village also offers sufficient support for Ying as much as possible. In this way, such self-rescue through starting a new business is becoming the very first step of the business system, and the selling process decides whether the business will succeed. Consequently, the local government also gives a lot of help to contact the market and finds the appropriate way of selling.

Dried Fruit of Holboellia latifolia Wall
Photo by Jiahao Ding

This individual example is the best illustration of the hope that this group may have. This also represents that government policies on Rural Revitalization and pneumoconiosis patients can make a strong relationship and move forward in the future. The Health Commission of Luxi County has also made the promise that every villager will be involved in the upcoming specific policy of Rural Revitalization. However, these policies won’t be firmed up until more time and participation are being tracked constantly, which can finally lead these pneumoconiosis patients to embrace a brighter future.

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