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Diao’er; Fen; Cuiping; Suping

(CHINA 38 - Northeast)


F; F; F; F


28; ?; 34; ?




Longtang, Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997


This is a good interview which begins as an individual session with Diao’er. In the first part she describes the difficult relationship that she and her husband have with his parents (particularly her mother-in-law). It seems this is partly because “my husband is her adopted son” but it also sheds light on complicated family obligations and the importance of being seen to do the right thing.

Diao’er’s neighbours come in after a while and it becomes more of a group interview. Like others, they all say that the only way to get loans is from family and friends, and that personal contacts are also vital for getting work in the cities. All of their husbands work away in urban areas and the women are responsible for most of the field work in the village: “Since almost all the men have left the village with only the old and young at home, all work in the fields is left to women”. Suping describes in detail women’s work throughout the year: sowing in spring, watering in summer, harvesting in autumn and collecting firewood in winter. “Life is hard and exhausting for us women all the year round. We are not afraid of hardship.” However they acknowledge that for men it is also “not easy working outside. They are afraid the bosses will be reluctant to give them leave, and they are afraid that they will earn less money. Usually they are working at places not far from home. Every two months or so they can come back for a while, help in the fields and then hurry back”. They, like others, say the men are vulnerable to being cheated out of their pay by unscrupulous bosses.

Later on, Fen highlights another variant on the importance of personal contacts: “…things will be especially difficult if you do not have anyone who cares for you in the leading group of the village. My family do not have any relatives among the [village] leaders, so good things never come to us.”

They talk about women’s health problems and childbirth: “Life is too hard for us women living in the mountains. Until the last moment before giving birth women are still labouring in the fields.” Although “Now someone is running a clinic in the villagefor ordinary people the medicines are too expensive.”

They discuss the benefits and inconveniences of living in the mountains and they all wish to find ways to get rid of poverty.” The building of roads, breeding livestock and planting fruit trees are all cited as a ways to achieve this. The interview ends with Diao’er saying, “I just hope that my child can become somebody and live a better life.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Diao’er’s family details. She did not get much schooling because her family was too poor. She has one daughter.
Section 2-3  Diao’er’s troubled relationship with her husband’s parents, partly because her husband is adopted. When her daughter was born, they were forced to move out from the in-laws’ house. “Actually I did [not] want to do this, so the first three times when the question was put forward, I did not agree. We were afraid that other villagers might blame us for not being filial; for trying to avoid the responsibility of taking care of the elders because my husband is an adopted son. My husband knelt down to beg them not to divide up the family, otherwise others would laugh at us, but they insisted. So we had to.”
Section 3-4  She didn’t know that girls can inherit: “No one ever told us. We only know that sons can inherit the property; we do not know that daughters can also go back to their mother’s home asking for a share. Also this has never happened here.” Diao’er says if she has problems she will go to her mother’s relatives for help. Why her husband’s family gave him up for adoption: “At that time his natural family was very poor and his natural father was ill. Besides, there were several sons in the family, so they agreed to have my husband adopted.”
Section 4  Diao’er’s household earns about 2,000 yuan a year: the combined income from her husband’s work in the cities and her work in the fields. She is not interested in asking for a loan because she says she has no skills to use in developing a business. She believes: “Even to raise pigs and rabbits you need skills…. Without skills you cannot be successful. What should I do if I failed and could not pay back the loan?” But Suping thinks the best way for women to earn money is to raise rabbits and sell handicrafts.
Section 5-6  Fen’s family history, her mother died when she was one and she was looked after by her father and grandmother. Suping gives a detailed description of women’s work throughout the year. People have to pay for the electricity used to pump water to their fields. Diao’er complains: “This year we spent about 200 yuan watering the land… A large part of the money that men earn by working in other places has to be spent on things like that. So life is still hard. It is by no means easy for those men who leave home to work in cities. Sometimes they worked for a whole year but came home empty-handed. They were cheated and dared not to ask for what they should be given.”
Section 6-8  Few cultural activities in the village: “People here in the mountains are still feudal-minded (old-fashioned); they feel embarrassed to dance in front of others.” The village has a clinic but medicine and treatment are too expensive for ordinary people. Most pregnant women chose to deliver at home because of the cost of the hospital. All the women are keen to get out of poverty: “We are eager to change the poor conditions.” Advantages of the mountain area: “fresh air, that is good for your health. And people here are warm-hearted.”
Section 8  But advantages are outweighed by the hard life and the sense of isolation. All want their children to get a good education: “Make them study hard so that they can leave this poor mountain area. We were born here and were raised up here. And we have to stay here. We often tell our children, ‘See what a hard life we are living. You should not have the same life like us.’” Jiao joins the interview; gives family details. Electricity came to the village 11 years ago. The way forward: “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.” Husbands: “Usually they are working at places not far from home. Every two months or so they can come back for a while, help in the fields and then hurry back” but they daren’t come home for long, even in the busy season.
Section 9  What are “good” women? “Capable women are good. Women who can keep good relationships with others, women who take good care of their children and who are filial to the old.” A bad woman is one who is “not knowing her place.” Fen likes reading newspapers, to find out “what is happening in the outside world.” Diao’er however has little schooling and cannot read the newspapers. She hopes that her “child can become somebody and live a better life”.