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(CHINA 36 - Northeast)








Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997


Sumei’s responses are fairly short, but the interview yields some good information about working in the production teams in the past, and her family life in general.

During the period of collectivisation, when everyone worked in communes and shared the produce, she was a production team leader for a while. She describes the different treatment of men and women at that time: “Men could earn 10 work points if they went to work from the early morning. But for women, they could only earn eight work points if they went to work from early morning.” The male leader of the team was in charge of the woman leader. Like many other narrators, she thinks the situation now - working for herself - is much better than in the past: “Now it depends on yourself. It is flexible.”

Her experiences compared to those of her children illustrate changes in family life and relationships. Her parents arranged her marriage but her sons found their own wives and her daughters have chosen to marry outside the village. Her comments also indicate improvements in food security since the time they were working in production teams. A motorised water pump has improved irrigation, enabling them to plant more wheat. She likes living in the village: “I don’t want to live in Mancheng. The air is not clean. I can’t bear that. I am happy to live in my village.” She is very proud of her son: “My younger son went to university, they only chose one person and it was my son. Although I was tired, I felt as happy as if I could live 10 years more for that.” Sumei hopes that her grandchildren can also go to school. She ends by saying: “I am happy now. But I couldn’t say I am a successful woman. In the past I could dig the ground and bed down the livestock. I was all right at that time. Now I am too old to do that.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Family details. Only the eldest son still lives in the village and her daughters married outside the village: “They all wanted to live in places outside of our village, and Wan county is better than here.” Her health is not good.
Section 2-4  Sumei married at 18, her husband was 30. Working in the fields under the commune system and eating in the “dining hall”: “We ate cobs of corn and other leaves of Chinese vegetables, and also vines of sweet potatoes. We mixed them with flour. Our life was really very hard...” Sumei and her husband were production leaders of the female and male teams respectively. Explains the work point system: “The work points of my family were quite a lot; we often got money in return. But some families had to pay money to the production team after they worked for a whole year.” She prefers the situation now with households free to work for themselves. The food situation is much better today than in the past: “Now when I want to eat something, I can make it, I make dumplings, pancakes, etc.”
Section 5  Talks about her children and their partners. Her sons chose their own wives. Describes the wedding tradition: the bridegroom’s family steam baozi (big buns): “We steamed 60 buns when my son was married.”
Section 6-8  Vegetable garden and farming: “I plant beans and scallions, it is impossible to raise rabbits and pigs. I bought two pigs. I have a big one. It is for eating. I will distribute the meat to my relatives in the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar).” Interviewer mentions how people in the mountains are luckier than those in the plains, because they can have two children if the first one is a girl. She delivered her children at home with the help of the midwife. She thinks pregnant women these days are “very pampered. They always like to go to the hospital... My second grandson was born in the hospital in Mancheng”. Women eat eggs after labour: “I ate 50 or 60 eggs when I had my eldest child; I ate 100 eggs when I had my daughter. My older son’s wife ate 200 or 300 eggs when she gave birth to my grandson.” People’s daily diet has changed from the past when they “ate vegetable gruel, pancakes made of Chinese yam and little bitter vegetables.” Nowadays she eats “congee (rice dish) for breakfast and flour buns, cakes for lunch and dinner. I buy some vegetables when my relatives come here. And we have meat to eat on New Year’s Day. We would kill pig, chicken, and buy fish.” She didn’t go to school but her brothers did. Her children all graduated from school and her younger son graduated from university. Embroidery: “People in Wan county can do embroidery. And they also export those products. But some women in my village can only embroider pillows, door screens for themselves, they never sell them.”
Section 8-9  She likes the landscape: “…the scenery of mountain and water. Whenever I see this, I feel very pleasant.” She goes on to say: “I don’t want to live in Mancheng… I am happy to live in my village. I don’t want to live in Beijing as the air is not clean… I like mountains. I don’t want to go anywhere else.” She enthusiastically describes the introduction of a water pump in the village. Happiest memories and aspirations: “After my elder son pays the debts and builds the new house, I can live 10 years more. My grandson and granddaughter must go to school in the future, so I will live 10 years more.” Worries about her children and hopes grandchildren will go to school.