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(CHINA 24 - Southwest)
Fale village, Weining county, Guizhou
20 April 1997
One of the few interviews not conducted in the narrator’s mother tongue. The interviewer says in her introduction: “Her Han Chinese was very good. There was no language barrier; in only a few parts did we need the interpreter to explain anything to us.” Nevertheless, interview is quite faltering in parts, and many answers are short. The fullest answers are to do with what kind of development is needed and how much this remote location, high in the mountains, has been neglected. “If they do according to our thoughts…our condition is too bad…it’s better to build a road. And to connect electric power here; to channel water to us, channel [water] to our homes. Our workload is too much to finish. Some [of us] really don’t have any resources. Only the higher authority people can help. It's impossible for us ourselves to put things forward, because it's hard to get money.”
She insists that people struggle very hard but climatic conditions are against them: “This area is high and cold. People are very hardworking here. We work harder than others. In other villages, people can yield much grain from one day's work. Here, we work many days but still cannot yield as much as theirs in one day's work.” She is very precise about the order in which crops need to be grown and says it’s crucial to seize the right moment to plant, before the heavy frosts. It is clear that conditions, already harsh, have deteriorated. Deforestation is mentioned but no explanation offered. Another serious problem is loss of grazing land: “In the past, that whole area was used for pasture…that area was allocated to us. But now the goats in this village are all taken there. Now it's difficult to find a place for grazing.”
As in other interviews there’s a strong sense of the importance of family. There are also some interesting insights into gender. “That's the old custom [that the eldest son must take care of the parents]. Now it's common that one family has three to four sons. All the sons share the responsibility; each son’s family supports [them for] one month. If not, the elderly parents would live with the family which took over their land… Our family has four brothers. The house was given to the eldest, the lands were given to the youngest… so his family is responsible [for] the old people.. We - the second and third ones - didn't want anything… We want to build up our lives by our own efforts”. Like others, Guangzhen says that boys and girls are treated equally. However, the remoteness of the place means that girls are even less likely than boys to receive an education since parents fear they will be harassed on the long walk to school. Alluding to government promotion of equality, she says: “Now men and women are equal… You can do any business you like if you have the ability to do it. And women receive more care. There are rarely any women who are abused and cursed. If this was not because of the care (concern) from the government, how could it be like this? Besides, with the help of family planning, women are more relaxed. It is just that the living conditions are worse here… In the places where the living conditions are good, only men work, women don't work.” However, another remark, about status, is telling; asked who the head of the family is, she replies: “The man. How big a family could a woman head? [laughs] We just cook the meals.”
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||One son and two daughters still at home; others have married.
Youngest son had a little education, daughters none. School was over 10 km away. “If girls go out, they will be bullied by bad people.”
Sons sometimes go to Lushan to sell charcoal. “When we need money, they’ll go. When we don't need money, they are needed to do the field work here. If you want to eat, you need to work.”
Details of livestock.
||Problem of rats eating grain – use rat poison; also raise cats to catch them. No one has enough grain year-round.
Says: “Haiga team has less land.” Crops: corn, potatoes, buckwheat. Re growing vegetables: “If you don’t grow them well, you won’t be able to eat. You have to seize the season, because in this cold mountain area, the frost is heavier. If you plant it late, you’ll have no yield.”
Rains in summer – water rushes down mountainside – little tree cover.
Pressure on pastureland. “Now it's difficult to find a place for grazing.”
||Raises chickens to sell – hardly any for home consumption, just 1 or 2 when relatives come.
Few ways of getting an income. No road – have to carry everything. If a family doesn’t have a horse, can’t carry potatoes to market, for instance, and need to carry water, which is 15-30km away. “Sometimes after you have carried one bucket of water back, you have no time to do anything else.” Planned project to bring piped water came to nothing.
Road is a priority, as well as electricity and water.
She helps women in childbirth. “Sometimes when people had a difficult delivery, I just helped and made her better [laughs]. I couldn't do anything, I won't ask for money, I just help.”
Health: “if a seriously sick person needs to go to the hospital, it takes at least 15 or 16 people to carry him or her”.
||Little local knowledge re herbal medicine.
Critical of traditional (animist) religion – mediums charge a lot to do the spirit dance after s/one has died. She is a Christian; says they aren’t greedy.
Couldn’t afford dowry for daughter. Says it is good for both sets of parents to agree about children’s choice of marital partner.
If lucky, can kill 1-2 pigs a year; invite relatives.
Making traditional clothes – her eyesight is poor, so doesn’t sew much.
||Sequence for planting different crops. “You cannot have good yields if you don’t catch the right time for planting.”
Has livestock, but no pen for them. Goats have to be tied indoors in winter. Trees before - now barren slopes. “At that time, you could hardly see stones exposed on the slope. Now, it has become barren. There are no trees. Nothing. No resources but just a cold mountain area.”
Need to develop animal husbandry – but no support, no local veterinary services; animal hospital far away.
||No visits from Animal Husbandry Bureau.
“Techniques for growing crops? We can only use buffalo to plough the land. People use their hands and tools to dig the fields, which are stony.” Can’t afford chemical fertiliser.
Good to use plastic sheeting on fields, but no money to buy it. And not good when people just leave the sheets by the roadside; it can be reused/recycled.
||People work hard, but the place is inhospitable and output is lower than elsewhere.
Intermarriage is fine: “It depends on the feeling of liking between two people, it doesn't matter whether they are Miao, Yi or Hui (one of the largest minority groups, Muslim).”
Elaborates on earlier comments on marriage: “Now young people have a wider acquaintance with people. The kids in the village go from this village to that village… Now many people get to know each other on their own. There is no arranged marriage.”
People marry age 20-22. In the past “some people who were not very thoughtful” married children off at 17-18.
Only people over 18 are allowed to go to church.
||Laws to protect women. Happy about govt promoting women’s equality with men.
What is most important to her: “Just these three things: maintain our livelihood, build nice houses, give good things to the children…”
Care of the old; the 5 guarantees (elderly people living alone eligible for government support in five areas: food, clothing, housing, medical and burial services).