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Nan; Xumei; Yanling

(CHINA 37 - Northeast)


F; F; F


31; 58; ?




Beiwan, Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997


This is a short interview mainly with Nan, who is from a different area in Hebei province and met her husband whilst working in the city. She says: “My husband did not want to work there any longer. He was a contract worker and had worked there for about eight years… He thought that in the long run it wouldn’t do. Now I regret coming back.” After marriage, she settled in Huanglonsi but both she and her husband still take work in cities to reduce the debt incurred from building their house. The interview gives some insight into how a family survives by combining waged work in cities and farming in the mountains. “We are still deep in debt. How could we pay it back without going to work in the cities?” Financial hardship has affected her decisions over children: “I am allowed to have another one. But I don’t want to. You cannot raise a child properly without money. I want my children to have a good schooling, not like us.” All her hopes are pinned on her daughter: “You cannot be successful if you are afraid of hardship. I have made up my mind to send her away when she is six or seven to be trained [as an acrobat]. There is no chance here.”

Her mother-in-law, Xumei, joins in and while introducing herself explains that when she was three her mother and two sisters were killed by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Towards the end of the interview there is some discussion over men’s and women’s roles in the village and family life, to which Yanling also contributes, but on the whole, no topic is explored in great depth.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Nan’s family history – met her husband while working in the city. “It was difficult for me to adjust to life here when we came back. My hometown is on the plain while here is the mountainous area with far less people. I felt lonely.” After marriage both returned to work in the cities in order to reduce their debt. Her job is “Same as men, on the construction site… We have to pay back the debt.” Like other narrators, they borrowed from family and friends, not a bank. Has one daughter and feels they cannot afford another child.
Section 2-4  They have very little land to cultivate. Problems with getting paid: “Sometimes we cannot get a penny after labouring for a whole year.” Building their house was a strain: “When we built our new house, we did not have much money. All the stones were carried down from the mountain. I will never think of building a new house for the rest of my life. I hate to be borrowing money all around.”
Section 4  I get my pocket money for daily necessities mostly [by collecting medicinal herbs].” Wants to raise pigs or dogs for sale: “I’ve got a lot of ideas. The only problem is I have no money.” She explains, “I place all my hope on my child.” She wants her daughter to become an acrobat, but the rest of the family disagrees.
Section 5-7  Her mother-in-law talks about her experience during the Second World War when Japanese soldiers invaded. Family matters: how the elderly and the young organise their family lives; most sons choose to live separately; differences between men’s and women’s work.