photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 31 - Northeast)








Longtang, Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997



There are three other village women present during the interview, who are also involved in the contract with Shuling to cultivate the hillside.

Section 1
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name’s Shuling, I was born in 1958. Now I'm 40. I got married at the age of 23; I came here to get married. My husband is 45. We have two children. The first one is a daughter and now she’s a third-year junior high school student in Lingxi. My second child is a son; he’s a second-year student in the same school. I didn’t go to school when I was young. My parents have six children. I have an elder brother, an elder sister, two younger brothers, and a younger sister.

Why didn’t you go to school?
I have five siblings. My grandfather was blind. He had been paralysed for eight years. My mother also often got ill. I had to often help do the housework. My family was poor; I wanted to go to school so I followed those students to school. But my father took me back. When I got home I was in low spirits. I could cry for a whole day [weeping]. At that time my father was grazing sheep for the production team of the village. I carried meals for him, earning two work points (points gained for working hours under collectivisation; these entitled people to a share of the produce farmed collectively). At that time, a male labourer could earn 10 work-points; a female labourer could earn six. There were eight people in my family. We owed money to the production team at the end of the year. We had no choice but to earn as many work-points as possible. Now I place my hopes on my children, encouraging them to study hard.
It’s really hard for people living in the mountain area to send their children to school. We don't have enough money. My children go to school by bike. They have to cover a distance of 40 li (2 li equals 1 km). Mr Li, the secretary of the County Party committee learned of our difficulties and aided my son financially. He gives the child 30 yuan each school term. In addition, Mr Li gives him some clothes and some stationery. He often writes to my son encouraging him to study hard.
Once Mr Li went to see my son, he noticed that the boy’s quilt was very thin and he took off his own cotton-padded coat and gave it to my son. We are very grateful to him and we are grateful to the Communist Party. We often ask the children not let Mr Li down.
Section 2
How did you meet your husband? What betrothal gifts were popular at that time?
A matchmaker introduced him to me. Going out with a boyfriend or a girlfriend was not the trend. But our marriage couldn’t be called an arranged one. Our parents approved it. We agreed, too. Sending betrothal gifts was not the trend either. Usually the groom would buy the bride a new suit and they could enter the engagement. His family was very poor. There were only two people, him and his father. His mother died when he was eight. His father was a soldier fighting in the war to resist US aggression and aid Korea at that time so he was left at home alone. My father didn’t ask for any betrothal gifts when we were going to get married. My father aided us financially even after we got married. We lived with my father-in-law. He has passed away.

Your first child is a daughter, how did you feel when she was born? Is there any difference in people’s attitudes towards boys and girls?
I always look on the bright side of things. We should treat boys and girls equally. My husband never shows a cold shoulder to our daughter and my father-in-law didn’t either. Some people don’t treat boys and girls equally, but it’s quite rare.

When did your husband break up the family and live apart with his brothers?
At that time he was a student. Since his father was a veteran (soldier) he could get a pension. He used the money to send his son to school. My husband was a high school graduate. Among his brothers his second elder brother received some education and became an elementary schoolteacher. At that time people didn’t have money to send their children to school. So I often tell my children that it was much harder for their father to go to school and he went to school in Lingxi by foot. Though our family was poor we lived happily with my father-in law. I was very delighted.

Do the brothers, sisters and sisters-in-law get along well with each other?
Yes. We get along very well not only with his brothers and sisters but also with mine, because we often help each other. Anyhow they often do us a favour. At present, we are not able to help others.

What are your sources of income?
We mainly rely on my husband. He works outside as a casual labourer. He works in Yangquan, Shanxi Province. I gather some Chinese medicinal herbs here and I also raise pigs and rabbits. Last year I raised a pig. We didn’t eat it but sold the meat. We only kept some oil. Our total income was over 3,000 yuan. It’s hard for him to work outside. He works very hard, earning about 10 yuan a day. His health is poor. He has a stomach disease. But in order to send the children to school he holds on persistently. If he can’t bear the pain he would ask the contractor for leave to have a rest at home.
Once he was travelling by train from Shijiazhuang city he fainted. It was fortunate for him to meet some kind-hearted people who gave him a hand. When he came to them he told them that he was going home from Shanxi Province because of his poor health. Fortunately an old man from Gaobeidian Town found some water for him and offered to accompany him back home. My husband didn’t agree. He said that he was grateful for his help and later the man took my husband to the station. My husband asked for his address, the man said to him: “Brother, people working outside should help each other.” My husband said: “You saved me, please let me know your address.” Later the man wrote down his address for my husband before he got on the train. When my husband got home he began to weep. When my children knew the reason they wept too. I also shed tears. Later, we asked our son to write the man a letter of thanks. We heard from his wife. Then we wrote another letter, but we have got no answer. We still feel uneasy. We are so grateful to him.
Section 3
Is there a market?
Yes, there is a market in Longtang. People sell vegetables and meat at the market. But people seldom buy any meat, because they raise pigs themselves. Those who are well off usually kill a pig and preserve the meat with salt. Those who are poor have to sell the meat. Last year we sold the meat. My son asked me: “Mum, you have sold the meat, what if we want to use some oil?” “You, your father, and your sister seldom stay at home. I’m left alone. It doesn’t matter,” I answered. Besides, I said to him, “Please don’t let me down.” I don’t know how Mr Li learned that we didn’t have any oil. This time he brought us about 10 jin of oil (2 jin equals 1 kg). The children always eat steaming bread and drink some soup at school. They spend 10 yuan a week. A dish [of food] will cost them at least 0.5 yuan so they are reluctant to buy it. They can use the money for transportation costs instead of buying two bowls of soup.

When the busy farming season comes how do you manage to do the farm work?
I often ask my sisters-in-law, my neighbours, my relatives, and my friends to help me.

Are you familiar with the leaders in the village and the county?
No, we are not. We don’t have too much contact with them. If Mr Li hadn’t helped our son, we poor folks could not have known him.

What do you think of the outside help?
Sometimes people come here to hold a training class. They show concern for us. We like to have a talk with people like you, who want to find out what my family is like. We villagers don’t have much knowledge, but science plays an important role in current life. We feel enlightened after listening to your lectures.

Where have you been so far?
I’ve been to Baoding City. I went to see a doctor. At that time my husband wasn’t at home. It was my sister who took me there. Someone said, “Now you are ill. Why don’t you ask your husband to come back?” I said, “For us, seeing a doctor is quite costly. If he comes off work he couldn’t earn much money.” If we have a headache or a slight fever we usually buy some medicine from the village doctor. If we can bear the pain we won’t go to see a doctor. My children always say to me, “Mum, if you are ill you should see a doctor; if you are in poor health. Daddy won’t go out to work. Then we won’t go to school.”
Section 4
When pregnant women are going to give birth to a child do they go to hospital or stay at home?
Women usually stay at home, because we are very poor. Going to hospital is costly, isn’t it? If someone is going to give birth to a child she usually has a physical examination. If the position of the foetus is normal she will stay at home. She won’t go to hospital unless she has difficulties. I have delivered seven or eight children for my nephews’ wives. I learned how to do it from some doctors. They told me what I should do at certain moments. We steamed the tools to make them sterile. I was asked to be the midwife for women in our village, but I said that I wasn’t capable of it; besides, I was illiterate. They said, “Though you can’t read or write, you have a good memory.”

Before women are pregnant do they have regular physical examinations?
Not as regularly as in the city. They have an examination as soon as they know that they are pregnant. Before labour they have another one. We don’t have regular examinations here in the village. Perhaps there are a lot of things to deal with and people are very busy. The policy of birth control is carried out firmly. The leaders pay an inspection visit every month.

How long will it be before a woman goes to do the farm work after she has given birth to a child?
After her baby’s completion of its first month of life. Women living in the city usually rest for about 100 days.

Does a woman receive special treatment once she’s pregnant? How about that during her confinement, in childbirth?
We don’t have any special treatment during pregnancy. But we are treated better during confinement. We usually eat some eggs, some noodles and drink some brown sugar water.

Is there any difference between giving birth to a boy and giving birth to a girl?
No difference.

What staple food do you live on?
Maize. We have porridge for breakfast and supper. We have some solid food for lunch. Sometimes when the children are at home I usually prepare more food and leave some for them to eat for supper. My husband often says, “Hold on for some time. When the children graduate from school, if we want to kill a pig we won’t sell any meat.”

If you had an opportunity would you go to school again?
No, I won’t have any opportunity. I often tell my children that it was not true that I didn’t want to go to school. I liked to go to school very much. My mother had liberal views. She said that boys and girls should be treated equally, or when they grew up they would say that parents showed partiality to certain children. After all I wasn’t able to go to school. I can’t leave those memories behind. Now I place all my hopes on my children. I often say to them, “If you can’t become useful persons you should blame yourselves. You are our hopes. Mr Li brings hope to you. Don’t let him down.”
Section 5
Do you wish to send them to college?
The Hope Project provides money for children till they graduate from elementary school. Mr Li says that industrious and intelligent students should be sent to college. I really want them to become useful people. I think boys and girls are the same. I will send the one who has abilities to college. My children’s aunt’s eldest son is a college graduate. He said to Jianhua (Liu’s son), “I hope you will go to a better college.” That young man majored in animal husbandry. His father also works outside. I often say to my children, “Write to your father. He reads your letters as if he could see you personally. A gift couldn’t make him much happier.”

Ordinarily you are very busy. Do you have any recreational activities during holidays?
There was a YangKo (a traditional folk dance commonly performed in the northern provinces; dancers usually wear bright and colourful costumes) team last year. For one thing I was very busy, for another I was very shy, so I didn’t join the team. But I think it’s okay to do the YangKo. A few people find that it encourages leering. Though I have a TV set I don’t have time to watch. Sometimes I watch the news programme at lunchtime. I like watching those TV plays which tell you about launching enterprises and setting up businesses. I also like watching Hebei Opera and Peking Opera.

What do you think of the mountain area? In what aspects is it good? In what aspects is it not?
The environment of the mountain area is good. The water is fresh and the air is fresh, too. We don’t need to pay for using water. We can cut grass on the hill at any time to raise sheep, pigs and rabbits. It’s very convenient. We are self-sufficient and self-contained. But we don’t have many transport facilities. We have trouble when we want to sell persimmons. However, it’s much better than before. There is a road which is open to traffic. When people were building the road I was one of them. At that time we worked for work-points (points gained for working hours under collectivisation; these entitled people to a share of the produce farmed collectively); we discussed how many work-points one could get in a small group. Usually a woman could earn as many work-points as a man.
Before the road was built I had never seen an automobile. Now the transport facilities are much better than before and it’s more convenient. There’s no need for children to go to school by foot. If we cut twigs of the chaste tree (deciduous tree used for basket making) we had to use a donkey to carry them, so we could sell them, but now we don’t need to use a donkey. Someone rides a tricycle to the village and buys the twigs [from us].
I sometimes recall the days when we had to go and sell the twigs before dawn and come back after dark. A donkey could barely carry two bundles of twigs and we could do nothing else for the rest of the day. But now we can spare plenty of time to do other things. In my children’s words, “Time is money.” The county earmarked funds for us to build the road but it was built by the local villagers. When the road was being built we used spades to clear the broken bits of stone. We got blisters on our palms. And our feet had chilblains. At that time we had our meals in the dining-hall. We had to eat corn and rice that had not been husked. Everyday we had pancakes and salted cabbages. Recalling the past we think the conditions are better now so we work more vigorously. It was really hard at that time. If I see those scenes about wasting food and money on TV I feel indignant. I often think to myself if only we could have used the money to develop the rural area.
Section 6
It is said that you four women took on a contract to develop some barren hills. Could you please tell us the whole course of the incident?
I had been thinking of leasing a barren hill so I talked with my husband. He said nothing. Later when we signed the contract he was away from home. Dong’er and I wanted to share the contract. The other two had wished to contract, but they failed. I said, “Let’s do it together.” Therefore we organised a group, including Dong’er, Peng’er, Ge and me. We signed a contract with the production team and paid 430 yuan for a year’s contract (lease). The other three know how to read and write except me. We have cultivated two mu (1 mu equals 0.067 hectares) of the barren hill and planted 100 persimmon trees since the beginning of last year. We did the planting and grafting ourselves. We call the hill “The Economic Valley”. We don’t have a leader. Whatever we do, we discuss the matter together. We haven’t made any profits yet. When it comes to distribution there is no definite answer. We will discuss the matter later. We will try every means we can to develop the barren hill.
We planted some trees and sowed beans in the soil between two trees. After that we built banks between the fields so as to save us some time. We four women get along well with each other. None of us is concerned for personal gains or losses. Everybody thinks that it’s her duty to do the work. While developing the barren hill we often tell jokes. We say, “Now we are planting these persimmon trees, but when the fruit is ripe we may be too old or too tired to pick the persimmons.” It doesn’t matter. What we are doing now will benefit future generations. Working together makes us happy. We have one idea that if we have a fund we can hire some people so that the hill can be developed as soon as possible. If we can’t raise the funds we won’t get discouraged. We’ll fight for our common goal.

Are there any natural calamities?
Yes. The disasters are often caused by flood and windstorm. The crops cultivated on the terrace can’t resist the windstorm. We have had a drought in the spring for four or five years. The villagers had to carry pails of water on a shoulder-pole to irrigate their fields. Now we have a team to combat hailstorm so that damage by hail can be prevented.

In addition to developing the barren hill and planting crops what else do you do?
If I have some spare time I will climb the hill and collect medicinal herbs, such as chaihu, chuanshanlong, yuanzhi, dahongpao, huangfeng, baizhi, jigeng. People from other places come here to purchase these herbs. I can earn 5 or 6 yuan for a day’s collection. The money is enough for my children to buy a week’s meals. I usually collect herbs in spring.

If you had the opportunity would you be ready to leave the mountain area?
I wanted to leave the place before, but I never had any opportunity. This is my birthplace and I grew up here. I can’t bear to part with the place. I just want to change its appearance!