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(CHINA 13 - Southwest)








Cuihua village, Luquan county, Yunnan


21 April 1997


This interview illustrates the mutually reinforcing tendencies of poverty and lack of education. From a poor family herself, Xiuzhen had only a year or two of schooling – not long enough to learn to read and write – and is unable to trade in the marketplace because she can so easily be cheated: “Only literate people dare [to sell].” Although people are generally better off than they used to be, there are still plenty of families whose poverty forces them to withdraw older children from school; interestingly, Xiuzhen says this is just as likely to happen to boys as to girls. In fact she insists that, generally, boys and girls are valued equally. Yet her responses also sometimes indicate her disadvantage and lack of confidence as a woman: “Man (husband) knows better. We women don’t know so well.”

As in other testimonies, deforestation, having to go further and further to find firewood and water, and the need for forest management are prominent themes – though the interview doesn’t provide any particular insights into these. Loss of pasture to agriculture is another real concern: “In recent years, we have no place for pasturing, so when you take the livestock out, you have to stand by the side of the fields to avoid the livestock stepping into the [cultivated] fields.” But she still likes living in the mountains, where there’s more sunlight – and if she had to leave, “I would miss this place, the life of planting potatoes.” The road has made it easier for outsiders to steal the villagers’ fruit; and, she says: “We Miao people are afraid when people come to ravage (plunder), we don’t dare to guard them (fruits)…These apple trees are given by the government. We plant them but we don’t have confidence that we can take care of them well.” In fact theft of fruit and other produce, as well some trees they planted, seems to be a real problem.

She expresses regret for the decline of traditional skills, particularly spinning, feeling that “it’s a pity. We need to do everything. We need to wear our costume when we are invited as guests”. Although young people “go to watch TV in the evening” and “don't feel like spinning flax” she says they work hard, help with collecting firewood before doing their homework after dark. She intends to teach her daughter the skill once she’s left school.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Explains that women don’t go to sell in the market for fear of being bullied by men who try to cheat them. “We women dare not do business. Now there are some opportunists, who don’t weigh the produce correctly. Has to leave buying and selling to her husband, who is literate. Studied a little when young, but only a year or two and can only read her name. They bought a diesel engine for milling flour. Says it saves them some labour and that villagers also come to mill flour, thresh rice. They don’t make much from growing tobacco, but use any spare money to buy rice, fertilisers.
Section 2-3  Poverty in the village and educating children: “The family has no money. They cannot afford it. Some children came back because the family couldn't afford to support them.” Boys’ education not favoured over girls’ but a family in need might ask the older child to give up school. Another problem is confidence: “they studied for some time but had no confidence to continue. They would say, ‘Ai, I don’t want to study, I'm coming back to pasture the buffalo’”. Husband manages “big money” in the family; gives her “small money”, eg 10 yuan to buy books for children. They have a TV. Would like to improve house; people told her “You are so poor, you even cannot afford to make the roof frame better, one can see the moon from inside your house!”
Section 4-5  May need to borrow money but says: “I don't how to ask for a loan. I don't even know where to go for a loan.” Considered raising silkworms, but it requires more labour than just two adults’ (children are studying). “My child's dad said, ‘It's worthy to raise pigs only, don't raise buffalos.’” (proverb: don’t try to run if you can’t walk) Oxfam teaches re livestock diseases, and how to sew clothes and make shoes. Says the shoes were useful, then contradicts herself: they were slippery, “not suitable for our mountain areas”. Younger daughter objected, saying: “we Miao should make our Miao clothes, draw our Miao patterned skirts, spin flax, do sewing work. At the same time, we have to pasture livestock, embroider patterns, and things like that. We don't have time to make shoes.” Things are better under household responsibility system – money for clothes and shoes. No song and dance troupes because no one has taught the young people.
Section 6-7  Village leader’s role has dwindled since the end of collectivisation; he “only informs people when there is a meeting, he follows up government tasks or helps the government to distribute chemical fertilisers”. Marital conflict is dealt with in the family; parents intervene. The road has led to fruit-stealing by people from the plain. The women daren’t scold them for fear of beatings, and don’t report them either: “they would have a score to settle. In the future if you went to the market, they would catch you on the way and beat you up.
Section 8-10  Compares past and present politico-economic systems. Both have positive and negative aspects; greater prosperity has brought an emphasis on status : “In Chairman Mao's time, it was good that there were no thieves, people didn't look down on you when you walked by. After the reform (the change to the household responsibility system), people eat well and have better clothing, but then they look down on other people. There are more thieves now.” Problems of mountain life: getting water; an hour’s walk to market. Everyone has tiled houses now. But need to buy the tiles – as everything now.
Section 10-11  Increasingly difficult to find firewood. Used to collect water in buckets; then handcarts; now horsecarts (partly because of distance they have to go?). Another reason for living in mountains: “Our ancestors said, ‘We’ll be away from earthquakes if we live in the mountains.’” Says: [young people] don't feel like spinning flax. It is also because of pasturing livestock… they don’t have time to spin flax [now… because] when you take the livestock out, you have to stand by the side of the fields to avoid the livestock stepping into the [cultivated] fields. Regrets decline of spinning and intends to teach her own daughter: “when we are invited as guests…we need to wear the Miao skirts and clothes.”
Section 11-13  Problems of protecting trees: “Our forest land is far away, very far away. I’m afraid no people would go to keep a watch on it if trees are planted there. Our village leader didn't organise people to go and keep watch on it.” Oxfam introduced eucalyptus, but another village has claimed the area for their fields, so she doesn’t know who will own the trees when they mature. Another, close-by, area of planting is being well guarded. “It is our own mountain, we have a person watch there every day; we don't allow the livestock to go in.” Says the seedlings they spread by themselves grow well whereas few brought in from outside survive, “probably because the roots were squashed and damaged when they were delivered here”. Hers is the only family to have also grown seedlings from seed.
Section 13-15  Now have pumped water, for drinking and for irrigation. Daughter collects firewood and leaves after school, then does homework. People like having both boys and girls – cites example of an uncle with two sons, who would like a daughter. Man rarely moves to woman’s house after marriage. She moved to her husband’s home, even though she was an only child and that meant leaving her parents alone. When they get older, either her children will go to work their grandparents’ fields, or “we'll go back to take care of my parents and their land there.”