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(CHINA 2 - Southwest)








Wenqian, Bama county, Guangxi


23 April 1997


The reader of this interview comes away with a real sense of Meixin’s anger at how hard she has had to work and how little this has been appreciated by her husband. He is a teacher who works away from home – she has had to bring up the six children, keep them fed and ensure they get their schooling. She herself had no such advantages: “I went to work at the age of 8. My husband always said, ‘Wipe out (get rid of) the illiterate! Wipe out the illiterate!’ Meaning me - I didn't know how to read - and he wanted to wipe out the illiterate… He said that, and I was mad at him. I quarrelled with him. I said ‘The Secretary General still wants the illiterate. You said I'm an illiterate and you don't want me, what kind of teacher are you? There is nothing to be proud of. Without me - this illiterate - would you have anything to eat?’ I was so mad. I had spent my whole life supporting these children.”

There’s some strong moments like this in the interview, and some useful detail about the hard daily grind of her life, but there are also some long and rather involved stories about her husband and his colleagues which are a little difficult to follow and which don’t add a great deal to an outsider’s understanding. They do illustrate however, however, how important some conventions are. Because her husband was a teacher, they had frequent guests and he would have lost face if there was nothing to feed them, so she always went to great lengths to ensure she looked after his visitors well, even refusing the special food he brought her after one of the children’s births in order not to disappoint the guests.

This is not one of the most informative interviews, but it does convey a real sense of Meixin’s personality and her resourcefulness. Her resentment at how easy her husband’s life is compared with her own is almost tangible. It is heightened by the fact that his drinking cuts into the family’s budget.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Moved to Wenqian from her hometown (Mudong Landian) after her husband became a “community teacher”. She had no education, but all six of her children have been to school. Two older girls failed the [middle? or high?] school entrance exam; at least one married soon after. “No one works with me, everything is done by myself. I collect firewood, raise goats and pigs, and look after the fields. No one helps me. Sometimes I came back and told my husband… that ‘… I'm the most tired person.’” She had a big family because “people had so many children. There are not so many since it's been controlled [by family planning policy]. There were many in Chairman Mao's time”. Married at 18 (around 1970), had her first child a year later. All children “delivered by myself” at home. One child born without people knowing. Someone saw her husband killing a chicken and wondered why; they didn’t know it was to feed her, after childbirth.
Section 3  Had to get back to work when baby was only eight days old. Bemoans cost of children’s education. She made 2,000 yuan last year selling goats. Says people remark that she has a “group of little ghosts” [so many children], but no one to help her with her work. Supports her mother-in-law, who prefers to live in her home town than to live elsewhere with another son and his wife, who both work. Has two sons in school - teacher’s college and middle school. Very costly. Husband gives them [both?] 250 yuan a month. She raises pigs to help meet education costs. This year had to buy all their rice, because of “flood, drought, and windstorm”. Also had to buy corn, fertiliser, and support the boys in school: “I have a headache when I think about it.”
Section 4  Decided not to join husband, but stay home and be independent and self-sufficient in food. Says, as if to husband: “If I went and depended on you for my living, you would say I'm useless. I don’t want to depend on you for my living. I work hard at home and earn more than you do as a cadre (government employee).” Describes an illness which kept her from tending the pigs, which then died. Kept her children healthy by carrying them on her back and not allowing them to touch the ground. Describes her routine then: “I worked in the field during the daytime. I washed my four children in the evening. I put them to bed for a nap while I cooked the dinner. When the dinner was prepared, I let the children eat. Then I fed the pigs, washed the clothes, and ground some rice for the meals the next day. Don't want to talk about it. I work the hardest in this family.”
Section 5-6  Fetching water is a major burden: six buckets every day and almost two hours round-trip to the water source. Describes lack of meat, chicken, eggs etc in the past. “How could we have rice? It was regarded as the good life if we had corn to eat.” Takes two years to raise a pig into a sow. Pounded corn, gave pigs the chaff to eat.
Section 6-7  Husband was schoolmaster in Nanong when she had second child. “My husband was the headmaster so we always had guests. I didn't eat. My eldest uncle gave me [a chicken] and my elder uncle gave me one, but I didn't eat them. If the guests came and there was no food for them, my husband would lose face, so I didn't want to eat the chickens.” Resents infrequency of husband’s visits when children were young but he claims that he would be criticised if he came often: “ ‘The girl was not only from me but also came from you.’ I said this to him. He said, ‘I'm not free to come. I was asked to attend a meeting every day. Being a leader is like this. Others will gossip about me if I come.’”
Section 7-8  When she had second child, eggs were cheap and she ate 30. With third child, eggs were too expensive. Killed one of her piglets instead. “I raised up my children without borrowing a coin from anyone. I depended on my own hands. I didn't take any rest.” Resents husband’s drinking, especially the cost: “[Other women] can have good food. Their men didn't drink alcohol before they [had a chance to] eat well.”
Section 8  Started taking the pill, but erratically eg, took more when her husband visited, stopped them when he left. Became pregnant. Later sterilised. Raises two fat pigs a year - one for Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar), one to send the children to school. Also raises sheep. Complains to husband that she thinks about the family more than he does: “I am too worried to sleep but you always sleep well.” Feels that if one or two of her sons can earn money with a good job, she’ll die happy. Regrets own lack of education; her mother couldn’t afford it. Attended some evening classes. Angry at her husband’s negative attitude to illiterates, when she had sacrificed herself to send their children to school - and furthermore: “without me – this illiterate - would you have anything to eat?
Section 9  Received no technical training on livestock-rearing. Doubts she could attend such classes - they’d be in the evening when she’d have work to do or would be too tired: “It would be better if the class was held at someone’s home.” Proud that her “husband was not as clever as I was when we went to market to sell the piglet.” She put the effort into raising them, so knows their worth.
Section 10-13  Details of pig rearing. Able to save money; others borrowed from her, but she asked for the money back when she needed it for children’s schooling. Story of how after second child born, she was ill for two years. Says husband wanted to divorce her, though he denies it. Story of a later illness. Husband called to her “deathbed” - she sent him home to feed the animals, or they would die. Proud that her children were rarely sick. Describes all the cooking she has had to do for people who drop by to see her husband. Angry at her husband when he tells her not to scold his mother, when she feels she has taken good care of her. Young people want to live alone, “want to divide the family” and live without the elderly.
Section 14  Criticised her husband for shouting at his hard-of-hearing mother: “She is an old person, [she] is not a little child. You should speak to her slowly. Why did you shout at her like that? You said I didn't give rice to your mum to eat… But you yourself spoke so loudly and frightened her. Can't you speak slowly?” Tells him not to beat his parents or his children, in turn, will beat him when he’s old.