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(CHINA 12 - Southwest)
Luquan town, Luquan county, Yunnan
24 April 1997
A long and thoughtful testimony from a doctor working with women and children – rather repetitive in places, but the constant returning to certain themes, notably deforestation, reflects the narrator’s strong feelings about these. In a short introduction the interviewer notes that Miao female doctors are rare, and in the early part of the interview the value of the narrator’s professional work emerges clearly: “Generally Luquan women like to come to me… There are some male doctors in the county hospital, but they don't work on women's health… I've been here for a long time. The old, and the young - people mostly know me. We are here really for those women.” Miao women don’t like going to a Han doctor, because they can’t speak Mandarin and fear being “scolded”, but she never scolds them and can treat their ailments well. Women consult her most often with pain in the abdomen and waist caused by IUDs. In contrast to women on the plains, mountain women rarely suffer from cervicitis, cervical cancer or vaginitis, which she feels is because they have fresh air, and clean, running water to wash in.
Otherwise, she says living conditions are poor, but improving with higher incomes. Cash crops (especially tobacco) and new “scientific” agricultural methods have been introduced, and new roads mean much better communications. Now, in her hometown, no family is “without pigsties and pens, and even the [animal] pens are built of tiles. No family lives in a thatched bamboo hut now”.
One of the strongest aspects of the interview is the narrator’s lament for the stripping of the mountains’ forests. She recalls planting seedlings as a child and that “those mountains were so beautiful”, yet recently it’s been “as though they had been cut by a sickle - not one tall tree left.” She acknowledges that road-building – otherwise a benefit to the community – literally paved the way for outsiders to come in and fell huge swathes of forest, without check: “People from the forestry centre…didn't stop those who came and carried the logs away in truck after truck at midnight.” Local people then felt: “You people on the plain can come and cut; we can cut too” – and so the trend worsened. She concludes: People are rich, but the resources are used up.” The crucial task now is reafforestation, to “plant trees all over the mountains and turn them green”.
The narrator’s strong human and moral values are evident and seem to owe much to the example of her parents, who both had “very good temperament” and were dedicated to doing the best for their children. Her father treated his own children and his step-children equally and Xuefeng only found out as an adult that her eldest siblings were from her mother’s earlier marriage. Her father also taught his children Christianity (“secretly” during the Cultural Revolution) and again it is clear what religion means to her: “Some people …wait for Jesus to take them to heaven…[but] I think I must rectify my bad temper.”
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||Has worked at mother and child health clinic in Luquan for over 20 years, mainly in gynaecology, obstetrics and family planning. Two Miao nurses have recently started work at the county hospital, but otherwise she is the only female Miao health professional, so women like to go to her. “Besides, our attitudes are good and we can treat the diseases well, we are kind to them in all aspects, we won't scold them.”
Says “women’s diseases” (cervicitis, cervical cancer and vaginitis) are rare, “Probably because…the water is cleaner - because they wash their clothes with running water. They are different from those who live on the plain [and] fetch water from a standing pool.” In the plains 85% of women have diseases such as vaginitis.
||General conditions “are not as good as in the town” but improving. “One family can get at least 2000 to 3000 yuan per year from selling tobacco. So their clothing, food and housing are all better now.” Illnesses such as the common cold are rare, perhaps because of mountain air.
Visits her home town of Tanglangqing once or twice a year; neither parent living but large extended family including uncle’s three children: “They are close relatives to us, just like our own sister and brothers.”
Father worked v hard to support large family.
Mentions problem for families of having several boys, all needing fields when they marry: “the sons divided up all the land. The plots of land became smaller after the family was divided up…girls get married and leave, so [the family’s] life is better.”
||Impact of collectivisation: “I remember clearly bringing the grain to the government’s storehouse…There was no road at that time…People spent a month over the delivery…We harvested a lot of corn, but one family could only save a little [of this] for themselves – [it was] not enough to eat for a year.”
With introduction of household responsibility system, grain tax reduced. Chemical fertilisers used twice a year by all families. “Now people in the countryside cultivate according to scientific methods, so their income is really high. Especially because of growing tobacco, the income…is really good
Corn and potatoes are grown to exchange for rice, and tobacco income is used to build a house, buy furniture and clothes.
||Deforestation in recent years. After two-year gap (because of illness) went back to home area: “I felt such sorrow when I saw the mountains…not one tall tree left.” As a child, went with the adults to plant pine trees. “Every day we went and planted and planted…In only two years they were cut down. The change is too big. I feel it isn’t the place I used to live in. The places that had trees before have become fields.”
Big ponds have dried up “probably because the trees are cut down”. In the past the water was “so deep that the buffalo could drown in it”
Logging for timber started by outsiders, then because of forestry centre’s inaction, local people followed suit. On one occasion forestry centre interrogated villagers caught cutting down trees; they retorted, "You didn't say anything to the people from the plains who cut the trees. They cut and carried away truck after truck at midnight.”
Mountains used to be beautiful; now “those mountains are barren, not only do we feel sorry, but they [who] cut [the trees] feel sorry too”. No firewood now, just flowers and mushrooms. Makes the link with the road: “[opening up to] transport has advantages but also disadvantages. In the past, when people from the plain came to steal, they would steal one or two trees each time; five to six people would steal one tree. Now one truck can carry 10 people.”
||Says people lived harmoniously in the past, helped each other; no one locked their door. If you left clothes on the line for 10 days, they’d still be there. “Now people in the village won’t steal, but people from the plains will.”
Regrets the killing of dogs (because of rabies threat) by Epidemic Prevention Station. Now no guard dogs against thieves from the plain so people have to keep their doors locked. Fellow-villagers don’t steal: “Miao people have one good quality, that's unity.” But people on the plain “look down on people in the mountains. They tend to hurt [them], especially Miao”.
Some changes for the good, eg most children now go to primary school and perhaps half to middle school. Says most teachers in her village are Miao and teach well.
Brief mention of son preference and children always taking father’s family name.
||Her parents, who were “very religious”, taught her values such as kindness and tolerance. She and her sisters are believers; brothers aren’t, as government cadres. Father taught them religion secretly, but never denounced government policy and people respected him, so he wasn’t persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Hers is the only religious family in the village.
Short discussion of difference between “Xiaojiao” and “Dajiao” Christians.
“[People who] didn't want to follow the government’s policy, they believe in Xiaojiao - not like us Dajiao, we want to follow the policy, and we want scientific knowledge too… Some people who believe in Xiajiao don't work but wait for Jesus to take them to heaven. We don't believe like that. For example, I'm religious, so I think I must rectify my bad temper.”
||Father knew Miao and Chinese characters; mother knew Miao only, but there “was no [Miao] character she didn’t know”. Her parents taught all the children to read Miao script. Elder brother wrote a novel in Miao. She writes to her siblings using Miao; finds it easier than writing in Chinese.
Changes in clothing. “In the past…most of the people wore sackcloth… If I couldn't spin flax, couldn't weave sackcloth, and didn’t know how to draw patterns on the skirts, didn't know how to make clothes, I wouldn't be able to get married.” Now that people have more money, they prefer to buy cotton cloth, but still draw on it. Traditional flax skirts still worn at festivals.
||Has half-brothers/sisters as well as natural siblings but only found out as an adult that both parents had children by earlier marriages (spouses both died).
Father treated all equally: “My dad was very kind to us, and very kind to my mum's sons and daughters.”
Nowadays “all parents support children to go to school” but some girls leave early because they marry young, or don’t like studying, or can’t take the bullying “[from students who] criticised Miao people and said many unpleasant words”.
More on spinning and weaving, and girls’ marriage chances being affected if they don’t have these skills.
||Marriages rarely arranged now; most marry at age 17 or 18.
Customary for old people to go on living independently; they prefer to “cook by themselves as they like”. Young people good about supporting their parents, and try to find widows/widowers a companion, so they can “live cheerfully”.
Her philosophy of life: “If I have, I give to you; if you have, you give to me. We can get along well like this. About all these, we should give thanks to our parents. My dad and mum knew how to do good, how to draw us together. Although both of them are dead, our family is still united.”
||Wants water supply, electric power and TV for the villages. Most important is water. Could grow cereal with irrigation. With TV, people “could follow the information shown…to improve their living conditions”
Recommends allocating a specific area for tree-planting: “If you allocate it, the villagers will plant… It’s better to plant, plant trees all over the mountains and turn them green.”