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(CHINA 18 - Southwest)






Oxfam extension worker


Zaishu village, Weining county, Guizhou


21 April 1997


This is the only interview in this collection with a man. In a short introduction, the interviewer explains why she felt it would be good to get a man’s perspective, not least that “Listening to the opinions of both sexes can help to locate the objectivity of women's attitudes towards these issues.” Mingchun has completed middle school, we are told, and is an extension worker with Oxfam’s Weining Project in Xueshan. He is a member of Quecong team, Zaishu village, Xueshan town. Interviewer Xiao, a 42-year-old woman and also Miao, works with the Minority Culture Institute of Guizhou Provincial Social Science Academy. She acknowledges that the interview was more of a discussion at times, and she sometimes takes issue with his version of events, such as when he says wife beating affects only 0.3 per cent of villagers. Not according to the women she has interviewed, she protests. In fact it was the high incidence of domestic violence mentioned by her other narrators that had disturbed her and prompted her to investigate further. One of the themes of the interview is the extent to which men and women are equal, and she asks Mingchun for his views on various aspects: farm work, decision-making, family economics etc.

Another interesting topic where the opinions of interviewer and narrator diverge concerns the making of traditional Miao costume. Mingchun has little patience with the time Miao women put into this activity. He feels the money they spend on materials would be better spent elsewhere (“no matter whether they’ve got money or not, they sell eggs to buy the yarn to make patterned clothes”) and that they labour long into the night when they should be getting some rest from their hardworking days. Every activity should be questioned for its money-making potential, he says: “If it is not money-making, you shouldn’t waste too much energy on it.” [take out? Can’t find quote in interview] Xiao acknowledges that for some, the social pressure to create these costumes may be a burden but she raises the idea that such craftsmanship is also a source of pride and solace for the women: “…women’s lives are too harsh. From morning till evening, all they do is work… So I think making [the costumes] allows them… something to rely on mentally… it embodies part of their value system in life. I think if there were no such kind of stuff for them, they would have no support for their souls, and then women's lives would be too harsh, too bitter.” Mingchun concedes that she has some justification for this point of view but in his notes at the end of the interview, he insists that it takes far too much time and money that could be better spent in other ways.

Mingchun does give useful information in his interview. He feels the Miao have long had to battle with a poor environment and have always suffered greater poverty than other groups, which has now become self-perpetuating because few Miao can afford to be educated. The women also suffer greatly because they can’t afford good medical care; reproductive health is especially poor. Some training is available in the evenings but he feels this is no good – people are too tired – and there should be more of an emphasis on practical skills and basic numeracy. Animal husbandry forms the backbone of their economy – they can’t produce enough grain for a year’s supply, so the sale of animals and outside labouring jobs are the only ways to survive.

After the interview, Mingchun listened to the tape and added some notes on the topics he covered: these are summarised at the end of this summary.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Says there’s a big gap between Miao and others in terms of living conditions; animal husbandry; environmental degradation. “Throughout history, Miao people have had less power.” Describes village: more than 1,000 people in more than 400 households. Mostly Miao. The few Han and Yi families are more prosperous. About 80% of families are short of grain (esp. in June and July); the ones who have enough have “some small income” with which they can buy grain. Many local children are kept home from school because of high fees. Women make traditional costume – it costs 70-80 yuan to make a set of clothes, excluding labour.
Section 3-4  Making clothes is tiring for women - they do it at night, preparing the flax etc, so that “her rest time is too short” which “affects her physical and mental health”. Women should make just one set of traditional clothes to wear on special occasions. Men and women are equal, but “women do more housework, and men are responsible for carrying heavy stuff.”
Section 4-6  Claims wife-beating affects 0.3 per cent of families in the village – challenged on this figure, he then says he means only serious cases, where “the man always beats the woman for everything”. In 10 per cent of families, men beat their wives during a quarrel. “In fact, in a family, people live together - there more or less must be quarrels and fights… There are many things to quarrel about in a family. Only through quarrels can things be done (can consensus be reached). Otherwise you do your thing and I do mine... quarrels are normal things.” Impact of poverty on women’s health: “We are especially poor so we are not able to take care of the women. To use an unpleasant simile, our living conditions are not as good as the sows (pigs) of the civil servants. When a woman gives birth to a child, they just throw a bunch of grass in a corner – it’s damp and infectious.” Prolapsed womb is common prob and not dealt with in hygienic way. “For those whose placenta can’t be taken out properly (after birth), and for those who have a prolapsed womb, their health will be permanently affected.
Section 6-8  Villagers rarely go to hospital for treatment, because of the expense. Scissors are used to cut the umbilical cord when women deliver at home, but now people know to sterilise the scissors first in boiling water. Women are shy to tell their husbands if they have any “women’s disease” and they know they can’t afford treatment - they just bear it. A culture or literacy course is held in the evening, but who has the energy after a day’s work, he asks? Sometimes the class runs until 11pm or midnight, and people will be exhausted the next day.
Section 8-9  Household chores (the responsibility of women) are many: it takes an hour just to grind all the corn a family needs every day to feed the livestock and to eat - 10 jin [11 pounds] a day. It takes even longer - two or three hours - with a small mill. A man might help with this task. Feed the animals raw fodder in summer, cooked swill in winter.
Section 9-12  Background information supplied by narrator. Quecong village (part of Zaishu) has about 600 people in 150 households (of which eight are Yi and four are Han). It’s “a poor and underdeveloped cold mountain area” [take out? Can’t find quote]. Animal husbandry provides more than 2/3 of income. Only coarse grain grown, because of the altitude and cold; buckwheat, wheat and potatoes. Average annual household income: 600 yuan. Most households are short of grain 4-6 months a year. Half of school-age children are not in school because of the expense; increasing illiteracy. Women (and men) see child-rearing as women’s duty; ditto housework and farmwork. Women spend too much time and energy making clothes - don’t sleep enough. Women don’t have time to attend technical training courses, because they are busy. “Serious inequality” in household finances in some families ie men control the purse-strings, but may not plan well. In some cases, the woman is in charge because the man is illiterate and not good with money so she takes control. Serious women’s diseases often follow childbirth - she may have lain “on a wad of ordinary grass on the ground” [take out? Can’t find quote] to give birth and become infected. Or placenta may not have been expelled and to avoid going to hospital, because of the expense, someone untrained will just reach in to get the placenta, causing much pain and subsequent infection. Literacy classes shouldn’t be held only in the evening, when women are tired. Classes should also include simple arithmetic. And people need a day off, for study and entertainment.