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(CHINA 10 - Southwest)








Xuelin village, Lancang county, Yunnan


4 May 1997


This is quite a short interview with an elderly woman, but she is interesting about life in the past. While she is clear that living conditions are better now, she has real concerns for the future because increasing pressure on the land has denuded the mountain slopes of tree and grass cover, which has in turn affected their water supply. Road-building has eaten into arable land. Livestock and poultry diseases are on the increase, because there are too many unscrupulous people in the business who just “want to make money”, selling sick animals. One change she is unequivocal about is the introduction of family planning, saying it has been of tremendous benefit to women who in her day “diced with … death” every time they got pregnant, and had to go on having children until they produced a boy. Her (two) marriages were not love matches, but divorce would have been very difficult.

She says the only business in the past was the opium trade (the environment, the area’s relative isolation and its proximity to borders may have meant poppy growing was a source of income for some hill farmers) but that they didn’t spend much money anyway. She doesn’t say whether this business continues, but points out there are many other kinds of trade now, and that the use of chemical fertilisers has made other crops more productive. Today people make more money but they spend more and, she claims, they don’t value their resources as much – young girls leave the (new) water taps running, whereas in her youth she’d have to walk for hours from crack of dawn if she was to get any clean water from the only local source. Ultimately, she looks ahead with some trepidation: “I’m worrying about how later generations can survive.” She points that mountain people have to be especially careful of their resources: “The water and soil in other places are warm, and grain can be harvested twice a year; in our place, the water and soil are cold, we can only harvest once a year. If we don't manage the forests well, people in the future may have difficulty growing crops.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Doesn’t know her age; guesses she’s 72. Married first husband at 17; he became ill and died after two years together. Second husband lazy: “rarely labours in the mountain”. Went not with him but with his mother to the mountain to work. “When I think about it, it seemed that I was his mother's daughter, but not a woman who had a husband.” Thought about asking for a divorce, but didn’t dare. Not easy for Wa to divorce; generally you have to be leaving for another man “to get a good result”. After his mother died, he helped out a bit more.
Section 2-3  Food supplies have never been sufficient. Had four children, but husband never killed a chicken for her to eat. Didn’t rest long enough after childbirth - just 10 days - and went back to work in pain, bleeding. Almost died when son was born - labour lasted three days. When the interviewer comments on her robustness, she rightly replies: “You say I’m healthy. It probably is because I was trained to be tough.” Husband died more than 10 years ago. Young women happier than women in the past, but not necessarily stronger. Daughter-in-law rested a month after first child, ate chicken and eggs, but often gets sick: “Maybe she took too much rest.” In the past, everyone took medicinal herbs; but only men were herbalists - “the people who know medicinal herbs are all men, not women.” Living conditions and people’s health better than before: “If they are short of grain and money, it would just be because they are too lazy to work.”
Section 3-4  Nowadays, farming is easier: “Now the hoes [for ploughing] are easy to use, wide and light; both men and women can use them. And the land has been farmed for many generations. It becomes easy to plough and plant.” In the past, “trees were thick and weeds were tall”. Today people use pesticides to kill the grass; then, they had to pull it out by hand. Says the mountain is barren because there are “too many people, and the forest is not managed well.” Even the cogon grass, used to roof houses, is in scarce supply and there’s almost no pasture for livestock. Asked son to plant trees around their fields, but some were secretly cut down by others. Half the land assigned to them when responsibility system was introduced was lost when a road was built, and there’s no room for expansion. Glad she has only one grandson - otherwise, they wouldn’t all have enough land to farm. Family planning: wished it had existed in her day. Women look and eat better now. “When they grow up (and have children), they don't look like a mother. They dress well and still look like a young girl.”
Section 4-5  Chickens often fall ill and die, because there’s too many people in the business: “People want to make money and they don't care whether the chicken is sick or not. They sell them in the market, and the bacteria are easily spread to other places.” Increased disease among pigs and dogs, too. Vets can sometimes save a pig if treated in time, but they can do nothing for chickens. “[Before,] it took us a long time to make a set of clothes. Women are all the same now no matter whether you are capable of making clothes or not. If you have money, you can buy clothes to wear anytime.”In the past, we did not run many businesses; most of the business was opium trading…We didn’t buy many things. We didn't spend much money… People rarely ate meat.” Now money “comes and goes. We make more money and spend more. Now it seems that money is not being valued as much as in the past.” Life is better now but “I'm a dying person but I'm still thinking about the mountain and water…Now the forest is cut down, and the water source becomes weaker and weaker. How can our children farm the land in the future?
Section 5  Government has brought running water. Used to have to go to collect water after the rooster crowed for the second time - if you didn’t go early, you wouldn’t get clear water. Feels sad when she sees young people leaving the tap open, wasting water: “Maybe because they were not the same as us the older generation, [and] they have never tasted any hardship, they don't know to value the things they have.” She points out that lack of water means the hydropower plant can’t work, and so there will be no electric light. Brief, positive assessment of Han people, saying that they treat new mothers better than the Miao.