development in the northeast collection
development in the southwest collection
Most women say their lives today are better than in the past and there is generally a strong desire to continue working towards improving their family's circumstances and to "escape poverty". One narrator (China 34) describes previous conditions in Huanglongsi: "In the past…we had to walk 30 miles to take a bus. There was no electricity and, using domestic animals, we used rollers to husk grain. Comparing today with the old times, I think our life is better…" In the late 1970s, the first electricity supply was set up; in 1981 the first motorised pumps brought clean drinking water and the possibility of mechanised irrigation; a year later the first paved road was built; and in the 1990s families began to get their own taps. The same narrator says: "We drank the well water in the past, now we have running water in every family [home]."
All narrators attach a high importance to the education of boys and girls. Some of the narrators were unable to attend school themselves but are determined to ensure that their own children are educated. The expense, however, can be a burden. "Now I place my hopes on my children, encouraging them to study hard… [But]… 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 = 1 km." (China 31).
The women interviewed are very keen to work towards changing their situation by themselves. Breeding livestock and increasing marketing opportunities are both seen as effective ways to bring about change but people are restricted by lack of capital for investment and development. As Nan (China 37) puts it: "I've got a lot of ideas. The only problem is I have no money."
The main topic of several testimonies is the leasing of barren and rocky mountain slopes in order to plant them with fruit trees. Contracts have been taken up on an individual or collective basis. Although this activity involves heavy work and no immediate benefits, the different women involved believe the physical effort and financial investment will bring profits in the long term and serve as a resource for years to come: "Some people say, 'Now you are developing the hill, but I'm afraid that you'll be too old to pluck the persimmons.' I say, 'What we are doing now will benefit future generations'" (China 32). The women demonstrate an impressive willingness to bring about change and development through considerable personal effort. One woman concludes: "If you want to make a good living you have to work; no one will provide you with a good living… We depend on ourselves. If you receive other's help, you have to regard it as a personal favour" (Li, China 35).
Despite many ideas and enthusiasm for development, limitations remain. Women's hard work in the fields still produces only just enough food and if the harvest is reduced for some reason they need relief food from the state. The planting of fruit trees is clearly a long-term investment, and in the meantime male migration for wage labour is crucial to meet families' basic needs.
quotes about development
"[Ideas for development?] Of course the building of roads. Then to develop breeding [livestock]. With the money you can have a vehicle, and that makes it possible to ship your goods out of the mountains to sell them directly without being exploited by the dealers. Planting fruit trees is also a good way to get rid of poverty."
All, F, China 38
"We are not afraid of hardship. The key problem is we do not have the money to start with. If the government can allocate us funds, we will certainly make good use of the money for a good start to get rid of the poverty."
Suping, F/?, China 38
"We [four women] 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…Whatever we do, we discuss the matter together… [Sometimes] we say… '… 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."
Shuling, F/40, China 31
"[I contracted a mountain slope for 40 years.]… My husband was [working] away from home then... Some villagers laughed at me, 'Without her husband, a woman wants to transform the mountain - she must be out of her mind!' I tried to persuade my husband to help me, 'You'd better come back to give me a hand in cultivating the mountain,' I said to him, 'What I am doing is beneficial in the long term. You see those workers in the city have their pension, where do you get yours when you are old? From the hills of course.' At last he was persuaded…to plant trees with me… 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."
Fengying, F/40, village head, China 30
"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… Many [young people want to leave the place]…Now some people are raising sheep. That requires a large investment and hard work, but not much profit."
Junrong, F/36, China 39
"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: goats, pigs, cattle, chickens, rabbits, etc… One household is now raising 17 goats. Domestic animals can bring you profits quickly, within one year. For the funds to start this, we will raise some money by ourselves and also try to get help from the government. [This plan] will help us to get rid of poverty quickly."
Fengying, F/40, village head, China 30
"[Growing vegetables to sell] won't work, for every family grows vegetables of their own. No one would buy vegetables… [and] it is too far from Mancheng to ship the vegetables there. I think it is better for women in our village to raise rabbits or do some handicrafts."
Suping, F/?, China 38