photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
Employment and Income  
Family Life  
Social Relationships  
Spiritual Beliefs  

Click on arrows
to find more
these themes


(CHINA 16 - Southwest)






Oxfam extension worker


Mengba village, Lancang county, Yunnan


24 April 1997


Ah talks knowledgeably and enthusiastically about her work, promoting and demonstrating hybrid rice growing. However, she regrets her own illiteracy and that of most Lahu people and compares herself unfavourably with the Han: “My thoughts cannot catch up with the Han - my literacy level is low, and I have poor technological knowledge.” Indeed, her comparison of mountain and plains peoples suggests a lack of self-confidence, although she recognises that it is the situation of mountain people which disadvantages them rather than any innate inferiority: “People who live on the plains wear better clothing, they have more access to outside information and have a better life. People who live in mountain areas, because they don’t have access to information, they cannot see what others do well - they appear to be more foolish. Wage labourers have knowledge, they can think out ways to make their living; they are clever. People in the mountain cannot eat well, they wear poor clothing.” The reason she gives for wanting the children (of the joint family) to be educated is interestingly expressed as “their thoughts cannot be in a turmoil.” As other narrators, though, she deplores the high cost of schoolbooks.

Despite her tendency to self-deprecation, it is clear that this is a young woman who thinks intelligently about a range of issues affecting local people’s lives. She is aware of the health reasons for not marrying and having children at too young an age. She has plenty of ideas about development needs and improvements, including the introduction of small-scale industry such as a pig fodder processing plant, a grain mill (“then you can ask for whatever price you like”) and a fertiliser-processing factory. And she would like Oxfam’s animal husbandry project to have extension workers: “It would be great if we had our own people to give inoculations to pigs and chickens, because now pigs can be sold at a good price. We are not afraid of working hard; working hard won’t kill you.” She has little time for traditional practices such as sacrificing valuable livestock to get rid of bad spirits, saying they “bring no benefits”.

She makes some reference to the practice of Han men coming to minority peoples’ areas to find wives, which does seem to happen in some places. The reasons vary: it may depend on where the Han men come from, for example whether there’s a shortage of Han women there, or perhaps the men are too poor to be considered a good prospect by the local women. She mentions that some Lahu women mistakenly believed that “you don't need to work [if you] live with the Han, you could just cook at home, knit sweaters, and you wouldn't get wet from the rain etc.” Indeed, her sister appears to be a woman who found out just what a myth this is.

detailed breakdown

You will need a password from Panos to view the full transcript of the interview. To apply for a password, click here.

Once you have a password, click here to go to the beginning of the transcript. You can also click on any section of the breakdown of content below and go straight to the corresponding part of the transcript.


Section 1-2  Is illiterate. Father was blind, so she had to stay at home and work in the family fields after finishing primary school. Teaches hybrid rice planting/breeding, which she describes in detail. “Because Lahu people are not literate, you have to demonstrate the skills in the fields and teach them step by step.” Villagers are impressed with technique for growing hybrid rice and better yields, but don’t have money to buy fertiliser. “But in the future, we will have to buy it. A technique like this is the best. Our life will be much better by the year 2000.”
Section 3  Both men and women attend training. Use of pesticides has reduced women’s workload. “For Lahu people, the priority is to have rice to eat.” Vegetables grown. “Some plant vegetables the whole year round, but there are many people who don’t know how to grow them well.”
Section 4-5  People exchange work for rice when short of grain. Wants to develop animal husbandry. Illiteracy a problem among Lahu: “we cannot read newspapers, and we don’t know about the farming experience of other places.” Says literate people are easier to train – they can remember more of what is said.
Section 5-6  Sugarcane planted this year. Women want to develop sewing ability. Some want to see small local factory, processing pig feed, milling grain or making soap. Influence of religion – impedes work. “Those religious people, they spend a lot of time at home, planting less maize or dry paddy [than others do], so that they don't have enough to eat.” Educating children – expense of school books. “[People] realise that if they don’t have education they are backward; if they are backward they can only depend on others for their living. But the schoolbooks are too expensive. Parents have no money to pay for the books People who are in that kind of situation won't allow their children to go.”
Section 7-8  Things taught/taught about at literacy class: “chemical weedkiller, pig rearing, vegetable pickling, proverbs, singing, dancing, book-keeping, etc”. “There are women who didn't study well and went to [work in] other countries.” Older sister encouraged by classmate to run away – married a Han man, found job looking after old people, but “her life was difficult”. Came back, said “she was wrong to listen to others.
Section 8  Fewer people leave now, and fewer Han [men] come to take the women. It's said that the sugar cane in Shangyun grows better, so many [Lahu] people make connections with people there [for work].” Men who work away from the village send money back, which women use to pay others to do the ploughing and other work the men would have done.
Section 9  People who marry relatives are now fined. People are taught that if they marry at the proper age (ie not too young) then their children will be well. Divorce – people talk about it but rarely get divorced. Impact of road – new ideas/support from outside, but some new infectious animal diseases.
Section 10-12  Life better, harvests better, on the plains. Contrasts mountain and plains people: the latter are better clothed, better informed. Positive opinion of Han: “It’s good if we can live as well as the Han do.” Villagers need to learn how to vaccinate livestock, to reduce disease. She wants to learn to drive and buy a truck; build a house and raise pigs.