photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China

Click on arrows
to find more
these themes


(CHINA 14 - Southwest)








Mengba village, Lancang county, Yunnan


21 April 1997


A long and thoughtful testimony from a doctor working with women and children – rather repetitive in places, but the constant returning to certain themes, notably deforestation, reflects the narrator’s strong feelings about these. In a short introduction the interviewer notes that Miao female doctors are rare, and in the early part of the interview the value of the narrator’s professional work emerges clearly: “Generally Luquan women like to come to me… There are some male doctors in the county hospital, but they don't work on women's health… I've been here for a long time. The old, and the young - people mostly know me. We are here really for those women.” Miao women don’t like going to a Han doctor, because they can’t speak Mandarin and fear being “scolded”, but she never scolds them and can treat their ailments well. Women consult her most often with pain in the abdomen and waist caused by IUDs. In contrast to women on the plains, mountain women rarely suffer from cervicitis, cervical cancer or vaginitis, which she feels is because they have fresh air, and clean, running water to wash in.

Otherwise, she says living conditions are poor, but improving with higher incomes. Cash crops (especially tobacco) and new “scientific” agricultural methods have been introduced, and new roads mean much better communications. Now, in her hometown, no family is “without pigsties and pens, and even the [animal] pens are built of tiles. No family lives in a thatched bamboo hut now”.

One of the strongest aspects of the interview is the narrator’s lament for the stripping of the mountains’ forests. She recalls planting seedlings as a child and that “those mountains were so beautiful”, yet recently it’s been “as though they had been cut by a sickle - not one tall tree left.” She acknowledges that road-building – otherwise a benefit to the community – literally paved the way for outsiders to come in and fell huge swathes of forest, without check: “People from the forestry centre…didn't stop those who came and carried the logs away in truck after truck at midnight.” Local people then felt: “You people on the plain can come and cut; we can cut too” – and so the trend worsened. She concludes: People are rich, but the resources are used up.” The crucial task now is reafforestation, to “plant trees all over the mountains and turn them green”.

The narrator’s strong human and moral values are evident and seem to owe much to the example of her parents, who both had “very good temperament” and were dedicated to doing the best for their children. Her father treated his own children and his step-children equally and Xuefeng only found out as an adult that her eldest siblings were from her mother’s earlier marriage. Her father also taught his children Christianity (“secretly” during the Cultural Revolution) and again it is clear what religion means to her: “Some people …wait for Jesus to take them to heaven…[but] I think I must rectify my bad temper.”

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 1-4  Makes Lahu bags and clothes. “Sometimes my feet ache when I work long hours by the sewing machine. Every day I start to sew from early morning till evening, but I can make only one item of clothing.” Exchanges work in the fields with other families. Has two children – 6 and almost 2. Intends to send them to school. She and her husband have never been to school.
Section 4-7  Her fields are far away, so agricultural technician didn’t come to give her advice when she planted hybrid rice; learned from other families during work exchanges. Sores appeared on her legs 20 years ago, when she was 10. When interviewer praises her for being hard-working (despite disability) she says: “I'm afraid of having nothing to eat and wear. I am not afraid of difficulties.” Thinks she wouldn’t be handicapped today if parents had taken her to hospital – but they were too poor. Treated with medicinal herbs. She has no money now for treatment in Kunming. Has hard time going up and down the slopes, or standing in mud to plant rice seedlings. Difficult to carry firewood. “But I need firewood; I have to carry it no matter how difficult it is.” Tried keeping chickens and pigs, but they died. Family lives off selling tea leaves.
Section 7-8  She was allowed to have second child before four-year interval had elapsed. Village leader said: "We would not agree if it was somebody else. But because you are handicapped, we agree for you to have another child." Not using contraception now, but plans to use IUD. Doesn’t want to be sterilised, because youngest child is sickly. Eats meat only at Spring Festival (major national festival every January of February, depending on the lunar calendar).
Section 9-11  Other people don’t help much. “I wish they would help me to earn some more money. If I have money, I want to buy more pigs and chickens to raise and sell. I'll pay them back after I sell the livestock… All those which grazed outside died, so I thought about raising them in sheds. I think I can raise them up and sell them.” Elder sister also suffers foot pain. Is literate in Lahu language, but didn't study Chinese characters because of leg trouble starting when she was 10. Living in the village, with its flat terrain, is better for her than in the mountains.