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(CHINA 30 - Northeast)






Village head of Huanglongsi


Huanglongsi, Hebei


May 1997


This is an informative interview, containing rich and lengthy responses as Fengying recounts her life history. Although she was from a poor family she was determined to get an education and graduated from senior middle school. She aims to be successful in whatever she does and is a strong believer in women educating themselves and being independent: “Only when a woman is economically independent can she have her say in her family.” She became a teacher in a local school but gave this up to be a film projectionist travelling between villages. This tough job involved long hours and subsequently she “missed the chance to take part in entrance examinations for college because I didn’t have time to review my lessons.” After marriage she gave up this job to look after her children and her sick grandfather. She continued to bring income into her new household by developing skills in dressmaking and hairdressing. She became village head of Huanglongsi in 1996 and through this position she tries to bring about development in the area: “We are born here in the mountains and we have to make our living on these mountains.”

She recounts in detail how she cultivated a barren mountain slope and persuaded her husband to assist her. Although this has been an expensive exercise she believes that it will bring benefits in the long-term: they have undertaken the task for “the sake of future generations”. Fengying’s range of experience is not typical of the women in her community, and her life is presented rather as a model to aspire to. In this sense her story provides useful comment rather than being representative of other villagers. It also shows how even a woman as determined and capable as she is has had to work extremely hard, and cope with a certain amount of jealousy and gossip.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Story behind the name of the village Changes due to better transportation: “before I graduated from high school, I used to walk 20 kilometres on foot to my school every day[Now students go] by bicycle. They will set off right after breakfast. The county town is 45 kilometres away from here.”
Section 2-3  Electricity arrived in 1982. Roads built in 1977 and 78. She describes the building of the road: “the Transportation Bureau…provided the money, and the workers were from our village”. The production team is responsible for land re-distribution: “Every five years, we have our land re-divided because marriages and deaths cause the unbalanced situation of land division.” Difficulties in cultivating land and how she decided to change her life: “At that time I thought to myself, ‘Shall I be poor all my life? No, I have been educated and I must change my life by using my knowledge’.”
Section 3-5  Became the head of the Women’s Federation when she was 23. Describes experience of being the first in the village to plant hybrid maize. Saw how someone in another village had cultivated a hillside and decided to do the same herself in Huanglongsi. Other villagers laughed at her plans saying: “‘Without her husband, a woman wants to transform the mountain - she must be out of her mind!’” Eventually convinced her husband to support her in this task: “You see those workers in the city have their pension, where do you get yours when you are old? From the hills of course.” Villagers came round to the idea: “Last year all the 100 plum trees we planted blossomed. It looked like white clouds on the hills. Not until then did the villagers begin to realise that we are doing promising work. Now they look at us with envious eyes.” She borrowed money from richer relatives to buy seedlings and has applied to the Mountain Development Office for a loan.
Section 6-7  Meetings with outsiders about development held in the village, then meetings with women: “I have never seen women in our village so excited and active. More people are eager to contract a hill, for they saw the profit I got from planting trees. Also villagers are interested in raising domestic animals... For the funds to start this, we will raise some money by ourselves and also try to get help from the government.” Plans to establish a fruit-processing factory in the village and a wholesale fruit market in the township. Current lack of funds for these initiatives. Some men migrate for work as casual labourers in the cities but are in a vulnerable position and are often cheated of their wages. Talks about her schooling.
Section 8-10  After 2 years of teaching she became a projectionist: “Wherever I went, I went on foot, carrying the projector on my shoulder. Often I had to climb up and down the mountains to different villages. But I didn’t feel tired, instead I liked my job.” Following the death of her grandmother she went to live with her grandfather and uncle to support them. She married in 1980. Talks about meeting her husband. For the next 5 years she stayed at home and looked after her children as well as her uncle and grandfather. They had little land and life was hard. She taught herself new skills to earn extra cash. After her grandfather died, went to college for 20 days to learn dressmaking. Also head of the Women’s Federation (WF) during this time. Talks again about cultivating the hillside and the difficulties: she had to borrow money for labour, saplings and water facilities: “We were really hard up then. My children didn’t want to come back home, for we had nothing but plain boiled cabbages as a dish for months. I also felt downhearted. I had taken great pains but still no gains. But I would not give up halfway, never.”
Section 11  As head of the WF she secured funding for a village school. Became party secretary in 1995 and head of the village in 1996. People’s reactions: “At first there were gossips saying ‘She depends on her face, not her wits, at her work.’ I didn’t care at all. I am honest and act squarely, so I am not afraid of gossip.”
Section 12-14  Talks about her hopes - to be successful and win the respect of her people