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(CHINA 33 - Northeast)








Longtang, Huanglonsi, Hebei


August 1997


Cuiying’s brother married a woman on condition that Cuiying married the same woman’s brother. This is known as huanqin (exchange marriage) and is an established practice in some parts of rural China. Cuiying said she had no choice because this was her mother’s wish and she loved her mother dearly. Although her marriage was arranged in this way, she says“…we never sparred as others did”.

There is quite a lot of detail in this interview. Like some other narrators (see China 30, 31, and 32), Cuiying has taken on a stretch of hillside to cultivate. Unlike other narrators, all her partners were men: “At first, five or six people (men) joined the partnership, but later they all gave up. Now I’m working alone.” This is an interesting interview about daily life, most of which is occupied with hard work: “…it’s not easy… You have to take good care of the trees or they will bring no profits.” Other villagers warned her of the difficulty of cultivating the hillside but said, if you succeed you will live in ease and comfort. You’ll be more fortunate than us.” The strain of the hard labour she has to do is increased by what appears to be some form of rheumatism or arthritis: “I got the illness at the time of childbirth, because at that time I couldn’t eat well Now when I work my wrists and ankles will be aching.”

She undertakes most of the farming work, explaining: “The husband from every family has to work outside. If they don’t they won’t make money. Buying fertiliser costs a lot of money. Even though they work very hard they can only pay the charges for water and electricity on the condition that their wives manage the household industriously and thriftily, or they will be short of money.”

Her family appears to be wealthier than others, as she can afford to send her daughters to private schools and to make loans to other villagers, especially in winter when people are most in need. However, she has had to work hard and wistfully admits that there has been some human cost: “I didn’t hug or kiss [my children] every day as other mothers do... When my second daughter was young my mother-in-law looked after her. Since I had to do the farm work I didn’t have time to look after her. I had no choice.” At one point she would stay overnight alone on the hillside to keep watch on their investment. She was scared, she says, but “At that time I kept a dog. He was my companion. Wherever I went he followed me… He died of an illness. I treated him as if he were a human being. He had accompanied me for two years.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Interviewer’s introduction. Cuiying’s personal history: married with two daughters, the eldest will attend a private school. Cuiying is a high school graduate. Tuition costs. Cultivating the hillside: “Contracting (leasing) the hill hasn’t brought us much money yet. We can only break even...” They also raise chickens and pigs. They have invested in a water supply to their trees.
Section 3  Plants persimmon trees on the hillside; they are easier to maintain than plums and apricots and the fruit is easier to transport. Lack of irrigation on one of the hillsides means she relies on rain and spring water. She was the only woman amongst her group who leased the land together.
Section 4-5  Friends and relatives help with farming tasks: “My friends and my sister-in-law often help me. Even my two nieces helped with spraying pesticide.” Describes how she developed the hillside and learnt grafting by watching others. She raises chickens, uses their droppings as fertiliser, and also keeps pigs. Describes how she built a house in the valley in order to have easier access to the hillside and fields. Only a third of her trees have brought profit. “If there’s no drought or water- logging and if we can get enough rain in spring, the persimmons will be ripe in the autumn.”
Section 6  Her brothers help her out at busy times and she pays them: “My husband can’t stay at home to help me. I would rather give the money to my brothers than those strangers; besides I don’t trust the outsiders.” Talks about her family life: she had no choice in her marriage. She says, “Though our marriage was arranged… We have never been angry with each other.”
Section 7  Sees no difference between sons and daughters: “I’m never discouraged by having daughters instead of sons… I have daughters so I place my hopes on them; if I had sons I would do the same.” She goes on to explain: “Many people in the village don’t have any sons… You can’t have some [more] children even if you want to, because there is the policy of birth control.” Talks about being pregnant. Due to her age (“not very young”) she had both children in hospital. She took out a loan to buy saplings, but now she has paid off her debts and uses her own money. They built new houses last year.
Section 8  Husband often away from home. She does all the farm work and hires help if she needs to. They don’t sell any of their grain: “We have to feed ourselves and the livestock we raise.” Husband has to work outside to pay for essentials. Comment on unmarried women working outside.
Section 9  She hopes that one of her daughters will continue with her education. Hopes the hillside will become productive: “I’m confident enough… Ten years have passed. We have 20 years to go. I have no choice but to work hard.” Her health, especially after childbirth. “There is a doctor in our village … We won’t go to see him unless we’re very sick. His medicine is very expensive.”
Section 10-12  Talks about her in-laws: “We send the old couple some meat every year… Every son gives them 10 or 20 yuan every month.” Similarly her father receives money monthly from his sons. Her children go to their relatives’ houses while she is working on the hillside. If she makes money from her trees, she will give some to her sister-in-law to build a house. Keeps her money in a bank account, but gives out loans to those in need: “In winter people come to borrow money in succession, because they are short of money. They have borrowed 10,000 yuan from me… They don't pay back until they have the money.” Villagers built a Buddhist temple. Talks about visiting different temples: “Call it superstition, but it is a good feeling to keep the faith.”
Section 13  Recreational activities. She likes watching opera, and they have a troupe that come and perform the yangge dance. The villagers pay for this: “Those who are poor give less. We give the driver 500 yuan. Some actors may get 100 yuan while some actor may around 200 yuan. They have free meals in the village.” Nowadays there are few films shown in the village as most households have their own TV.
Section 14  Describes the tough agricultural cycle: “In the eighth lunar month, when everything is settled, I begin to dig the ground and cut the twigs of the chaste tree…I don’t have any free time.” Harvesting and marketing of persimmons.