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Qiaoyun; Youngchun; Junrong

(CHINA 39 - Northeast)


F; M; F


65; 74; 36




Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997


Qiaoyun and Yongchun are the mother and father respectively of the impressive and energetic village leader Fengying (see China 30). Junrong is her sister-in-law. Qiaoyun and Yongchun had an arranged marriage but they knew each other from living in the same village. They are both from poor families. Yongchun explains, “When I was young my family was very poor. Life became even harder after my father’s death. My mother remarried and brought my youngest brother with her. Later he was given to a family who needed a child.” Several other testimonies describe people putting up a child for adoption out of financial necessity, and/or sometimes to help a childless couple, often relatives.

Qiaoyun and Yongchun were both active during the collectivisation era. Their descriptions of this period and their family life in general illustrate changes in gender roles. Both talk openly about their participation in tasks traditionally done by the opposite sex. Qiaoyun explains, “When we were hoeing with the men I didn’t fall behind them. I also did ploughing at that time, which was usually men’s work.” She explains how her husband helped in the home: “We shared the housework. I cooked while he looked after the kids.” Yongchun helped his wife during childbirth, and is also skilled in stitching and knitting.

The participation of more than one narrator adds to the interest. During the second half of the interview Qiaoyun and her daughter-in-law, Junrong, compare women’s lives today and in the past, which generates some interesting reflection. Although people’s work was difficult during collectivisation, both women mention the pressure people face today from a growing competitiveness. Jurong explains, “No one wants to be left behind… If your home is decent and comfortable while mine is shabby and poor, how can I stay untouched?” And there’s been another, more important change: “The competition we now have is different from that in the past. In the past if you had earned more work points… I could catch up with you simply by working harder. But now hard working without using your brain will not bring you more money.”

Junrong feels that it is good for young people, male and female, to go outside for work: “These mountains shut us off and there may not be much room for further development. It is good that the young people go out to see the world, finish their schooling and gain experience and knowledge. Also they can earn some money to help the families.” Her final remarks about the future of development in the area are not very hopeful. However, she acknowledges the improvement to the hillsides: “Generally speaking, the mountains are greener than before. People used to cut all the trees on the hill for fuel... Now we have some coal. And when there is a good harvest, we have more crop stalks as fuel.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Decision-making and control of access to money in the household. Yongchun says, “I am the one who has the say, I am the boss. However, we keep a harmonious relationship at home.” They were married after he retired from the army. His family history: they were very poor and his younger brother was adopted. Qiaoyun’s family was also very poor; her brother never got a bride “because he was poor”. Description of Yongchun’s and Qiaoyun’s marriage. They lived in a straw shed until their son got married.
Section 4  After their marriage it was the time of collectivisation: “At that time everyone had to work to make a living. In 1958, we had our meals in the public (communal) dining hall of the village. No work, no meal. We worked to get the work points. Even children went to work.” Yongchun was a team leader for 18 years; they both did farming and domestic tasks.
Section 5-7  Qiaoyun explains how she gave birth without a midwife but with the help of her husband. Unusually for a man, Yongchun used to stitch the soles for shoes, and says, “I learnt it when I was in the army. At that time conditions were hard. We had to rely on ourselves for the supply [of shoes]. I also learnt spinning and knitting…” She says: “He is good at all kinds of housework.” Yongchun looked after Qiaoyun for a month after childbirth. Relatives bring gifts of food to the household after the birth. “People do not give presents for the new baby on the fourth or sixth days, to avoid the disease taboo of umbilical tetanus... Of course there is no connection between the visits of relatives and the disease. But we have this taboo.”
Section 7-8  Their first son is disabled. “Something is wrong with his brain because of convulsions in early childhood.” They were too poor to take him to a doctor when he was a child. Doctor used to be far away but now there is a doctor and a vet in the village. They collect medicinal herbs for sale but they don’t know the properties of these herbs. Today people rely on western medicine if they are ill. Tell the story of when their daughter, Fengying, decided to go and live with Qiaoyun’s brother and father, and was “adopted” by them. Yongchun says, “...we were reluctant to let her go. But since she had offered to go... we did appreciate that, [and] we agreed.” The land they have doesn’t provide enough food and this has been made worse by the severe drought.
Section 9-10  At this point Junrong enters the room and Yongchun leaves. Discussion about the nearby market leads onto a discussion about Qiaoyun’s back and leg pain, which many people in the village suffer from.
Section 10  Discussion between Qiaoyun and Junrong about difference between women’s lives today and in the past. Qiaoyun explains “Now the land is divided and contracted to every household. We have some free time. But in the past we had to work everyday to earn work points…. Junrong and her generation do not have the experience of making a living by earning work points.” Junrong counters: “But we experienced the 10-year chaos, the Cultural Revolution, when people did not take schooling seriously.” Although life has improved, there is more pressure to compete: “It is always in our minds. Suppose you have already had a black-and-white TV set, you are thinking of having a coloured one… every family is trying to improve the living standard, right? …now there are big gaps between families… No one wants to be left behind.”
Section 11  Most income is spent on food but if “we can get enough crops from the field, that will save a lot of money”. Also need money for their children’s education and building or repairing houses. Qiaoyun doesn’t know who the heads of the county and township are, but she has voted in village elections.
Section 12-13  Not so many women as men leave the village for work: “Most men leave the village to earn some money in other places… We can hardly make a living on the little land we have… Most men work on construction sites. They have no skills, just do manual labour. Girls usually work in restaurants and other public places.” Explain how many young people today choose their partners by themselves.
Section 14-16  Although women work hard at the home and in the fields, Junrong feels that “On the whole women depend on men here… because they cannot be economically independent.” She has never had any trouble with her in-laws. She has never thought about living on her own with her husband: “It is good to have a big family.” Her mother-in-law looked after her following the birth of her children. If they don’t have enough food for the whole year they buy from travelling traders.
Section 16-17  They kill a pig at the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar) and preserve the meat to last the year. The road has made it “much more convenient”. Have the same expectations of sons and daughters. Only entertainment is Yanggee, during the Spring Festival.
Section 17-18  Junrong says there are no religious people in this area because, “This is an area with a long revolutionary history. No one believes in that (religion).” The future of development in the area: “Maybe I am short-sighted. The natural conditions here are so poor that I do not think there is much we can do. We do not have any factories. It is a rocky mountain with a thin layer of soil and there’s often a drought. It is very difficult to plant fruit trees. We have to depend on the weather.” But she acknowledges that, “… the mountains are greener than before… Now there is better conservation of water and soil.”