photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 10 - Southwest)








Xuelin village, Lancang county, Yunnan


4 May 1997



Section 1
Dazai Team 2
On the morning of May 4, I went to Erguai's house with my bag, just after I had breakfast. When I came to the door it seemed that nobody was in. I knocked on the door. ďWho's that? Come in!Ē I heard a weak voice from inside say. I pushed the door and entered. She turned and got off the bed as soon as she saw me, and said, ďI'm not well these days, so I sleep till now. What's the matter?Ē she asked me with some strange words. I said I had come here to talk with her, and asked whether would she would like to talk with me. She asked me again, ďTalk about what?Ē

How old are you?
A woman had asked me this question and I told her that I didnít know how old I was. My mum didn't tell me which year I was born. They helped me guess and calculate, and said I should be over 70. That was two years ago so this year I should be 72.

I mainly want to ask you about when you were young. How did young men and women court each other?
You ask about these things. I have to recall my experience. I feel I was pitiful. Itís a normal thing that men and women fall in love, but I haven't been in a good love affair. You could say I had never been in love, but I married twice. My current husband is the second one.

What happened to your first husband?
I was about 16 when two men came to ask me, but I agreed to neither of them. The next year, my first husband asked me again. He was from Zuodu. I married him afterwards. We lived together for over two years, and he died of disease. Then I came back to live with my mother and married my current husband. He rarely labours in the mountain so I got a bit angry at the beginning. Later I heard his mother say that he was the only son; they rarely restricted him. He did what he wanted. It was up to him if he didn't want to work. After I knew that, I didn't care about him either. In the day time, I went with his mother to labour in the mountain. When I think about it, it seemed that I was his mother's daughter, but not a woman who had a husband.
At that time, I thought about getting a divorce but did not dare to ask. Usually we Wa people do not divorce easily. Once a woman wants to divorce, she will get herself into trouble - because unless you had affairs with other men, or intended to go with other men, they wonít resolve it for you. Otherwise, women would not get a good result. So, I could only follow the same way his family treated him. I never asked him to go with me to labour in the mountain.
Section 2
Did he ever work with you?
He did, but very rarely. He helped more after his mother died. When the weeds in our field grow too high, it's me who trims them with the sickle. Men should do the work but he did nothing! I had thought that if he would not work with me, how could I live with him? I had such thoughts but did not dare to tell anyone. That year our village Xuelin was ďliberatedĒ [by the Chinese Communist Party, late 40s or early 50s], but then he died of sickness.

Do you have sufficient food?
I donít know the situation before I came to his family. But since I came here, the food has never been sufficient. Particularly after our house caught fire, life has been more difficult. We had two children and nobody took care of them. He was healthy but he didn't help me. We almost starved to death that year.

What did you eat when you bore the children?
On the day I gave birth to my first daughter, I still had to work in the mountain. I felt pain twice. In the afternoon when I came back home, I had my first child.

Didn't your husband kill a chicken and cook it for you?
He didn't. I had four children for him but I haven't eaten one chicken.

Then how many days you could rest after giving birth?
I could rest at most for 10 days; then I had to start working.

You got only 10 days rest? Didn't you feel pain when you went to labour in the mountain again?
I felt pain. Sometimes I had bleeding and I still had to work. I had no strength when I worked in the mountain. I resumed some energy after a month. I remember that the most difficult time was when I had my son. It took me three days and two nights to deliver him.

Didn't you ask the doctor to come?
At that time, we had no doctors around. A midwife of the village looked after me for three days. She saw that I had difficulty with the delivery so she asked my husband to find a white cock to be (to represent?) a spirit [traditional village healing practice]. The spirit had been made (created) but the baby was not able to come out. Finally, my husband got very anxious. I didn't know where from but he got some herbal medicine for me. The third day my son was born by the door [of our home]. I almost died that time.

What does a man do when a woman has given birth to a child?
He cooked for me for five to six days but he could not find any meat for me.
Section 3
You had so many children but didn't eat chicken or eggs. Your body is very strong!
You say Iím healthy. It probably is because I was trained to be tough. Otherwise, I could not have lived till today. My husband died over 10 years ago. He should have lived till today, but he went 10 years earlier than me. Is this arranged by God? [Laughs]

What do you think about the life of people nowadays?
Todayís women, from courtship to marriage, and when they have children, are much happier than us. Their health should be better than that of people in the past. However, I canít see that they are much stronger. Like my daughter-in-law, she has a three-month-old child. When she had the first child, I asked her to rest for a month. We killed chickens and boiled eggs for her, but she often got sick and felt pain. I think that maybe she took too much rest so she got sick easily.

What medicine did you take when you were sick?
We all took herbal medicines. But the people who know medicinal herbs are all men, not women. Even now I haven't heard about any women in this place who knows about herbal medicine. Iím not sure about the situation in other places.
I remember I was seriously ill twice. Both times I trembled all over. People rarely have such diseases nowadays. You see, people's living conditions are so good - including the medical aspect which is much better than before. If they are short of grain and money [today], it would just be because they are too lazy to work.

What are the differences between the farming practices of the past and present?
In the past, it was tough for people to farm the land, especially ploughing new land. Trees were thick and weeds were tall. The hoes we used were not the same as those we use now. They were thicker and narrower which made it tough for us women to plough. Now the hoes are easy to use, wide and light; both men and women can use them. And the land has been farmed for many generations. It becomes easy to plough and plant. Fields are ploughed and corn seeds are sowed. Weeds are no longer pulled up by hand but killed by pesticides. If crops donít grow well, people can use chemical fertilisers to boost the yield. A lot of labour has been saved in farm work. They don't have to cut big trees and tall grasses. Don't you see that every mountain is barren?

What's the reason why the mountain is barren?
Itís because there are too many people. Forests are not managed well. More people need more firewood, but trees wonít grow in one year. Now even the cogon grass (tough grass, used for thatching) doesn't grow. Every mountain was covered with cogon grass. Not to mention (let alone) the next generation, even this generation doesnít have the cogon grass to cover (thatch) their roofs. Only a few people keep some growing around their houses, otherwise people wouldnít be able to see what cogon grass looks like. If the state (ie factories) didnít [mass-]produce asbestos tiles, what could we ordinary people use to cover (roof) our houses? If they don't manage the forests well now, people wonít have firewood anymore. Now there is almost no pasture for the cows.
I have told Old Guo (Chairman of the People's Congress Committee) to organise people to manage the forests well, because our place is not like other places. The water and soil in other places are warm, and grain can be harvested twice a year; in our place, the water and soil are cold, we can only harvest once a year. If we don't manage the forests well, people in the future may have difficulty growing crops. I asked my son to plant trees around the fields. Some just grew but were secretly cut down by other people. They canít grow any bigger. The area that was allocated when the household responsibility system started (when people worked for themselves rather than cooperatively) gets smaller: half the area has been occupied by the construction of the Nanban road. There is no more area to expand. It's good that I only have one grandson. If I had one or two more grandsons, how could they have enough land to farm?
Section 4
The government is promoting family planning. Do you agree with it?
Agree?! If we don't have family planning, how could people live in the future? [In my day] People kept having children till they got a son. If family planning had been promoted in our time, how nice it would have been! The women of our time diced with the god of death [in childbirth], it was too horrible. Now people cannot have more than one or two children. They eat well and dress well. When they grow up [and have children], they don't look like a mother. They dress well and still look like a young girl. You see, my daughter-in-law is a mother of three children, but she looks like a young girl.

How many days did you allow your daughter-in-law to rest when she had children?
I allow her to rest for a month before she started to work on the land.

Did you kill chickens and cook for her?
I killed and cooked for her. She didn't have much to eat when she had the first child because we were poor at that time. When she had the second and third child, she got more to eat. She prepared eggs by herself before she gave birth to the child; five to six chickens were killed and cooked for her. We are not like you government workers who can eat 20 to 30 chickens. But they ate more than our old generation. But these days chickens get sick and die easily. If my daughter-in-law had a child in these two days (ie now), we could not kill any for her. Our two chickens died of disease and there are no more left.

Why do chickens often get sick? Do you know the reason?
There are too many people engaging in the business. People want to make money and they don't care whether the chicken is sick or not. They sell them in the market, and the bacteria are easily spread to other places. We haven't raised one since last year. When it was raised up and ready for sale, it got sick. In the past, our chickens seldom got sick. Only once a chicken had sore eyes; we used green onions to apply to its eyes and it got well. Now the common sickness for chicken is diarrhoea. When they suffer from diarrhoea, some might have a twisted neck, and cannot pick up food to eat, very strange. Pigs and dogs also get sick easily.

Don't you ask vets to come when pigs and dogs are ill?
We ask! Some pigs can be saved if we treat them in time; some die because of delays in treatment. But for chickens, there are no ways to help. Once chickens get sick, no one can save them; even the vet has no way to save them.
Section 5
What's the difference in dress between people at present and in the past?
Todayís people wear clothes and trousers - not as tough as we were! It took us a long time to make a set of clothes and trousers. Some incapable women couldn't make one set to wear in a whole year. People would laugh at them. Women all are the same now no matter whether you are capable of making clothes or not. If you have money, you can buy clothes to wear any time you like. They donít hold back on the expense of buying clothes and trousers.
In the past, we did not run many businesses; most of the business was opium trading. People invested most of their money in opium trading. We didnít buy many things. We didn't spend much money. In the past, meat was sold at 3 to 4 jiao (10 jiao equals 1 yuan) per jin (2 jin equals 1 kg), but we didn't buy it often. People rarely ate meat - unless the pigs and buffaloes got sick and died, or they broke their legs; in normal situations people would not eat meat. Unlike today, people kill and sell them freely.
I heard from my son that one jin of meat is sold at 70 to 80 yuan; one hoe cost more than 7 yuan. In the past, one jin of salt was only 5 cents, now it's up to 7 to 8 jiao. The price level has been increased many times. Well, yes, there are more ways to make money. Like my daughter-in-law, she often weaves bags to sell, and can earn 200 to 300 yuan a year. My son helps others to build houses; in one year he can have several hundreds yuans of income! Money comes and goes. We make more money and spend more. Now it seems that money is not being valued as much as in the past.

Do you think that people of this generation are clever?
Of course people are much cleverer now - including my eldest daughter. I say she's clever. By year that she graduated from the middle school, the village asked her to be the broadcaster. She worked there for two months; then they said they didn't want her. They asked her to come back and promised to give other arrangements to her one or two years later. So she came back and waited. She waited for many years and the leader didn't come to talk to her. She didn't think she did anything wrong or broke the law. She thought that it was a shame to stay here, so she went off with her present husband in anger. She has been gone for three to four years already. I couldn't sleep after she left. And I'm mad when I think about it. If it were not because of that, my daughter would still be by my side. But her life is fine now, she has a job; otherwise I could not close my eyes when I die (otherwise I could not die peacefully).

Do you think life is better than before?
Better! But I'm old now and will not live long. I'm a dying person but I'm still thinking about the mountain and water. My family's fields are all dry land. Now the forest is cut down, and the water source becomes weaker and weaker. How can our children farm the land in the future? Iím worrying about how later generations can survive.
Section 6
Now your life is not that difficult compared to the past, does this make you happy?
I'm very happy. Drinking water was the most difficult thing [to get] before the government installed the water taps. At that time, we went to fetch water when the rooster crowed for the second time. If you didn't go early, you couldnít have clean water for drinking. Now the tap water in front of my house runs every day. Itís very convenient. I do not need to worry on rainy days or in the evening, because water is always there. I don't need to worry about fetching water. I often blame girls who donít take care to close the tap after they have finished using water; they often leave it running. When I see the water running, I feel heartbroken and bad. I often blame those young people. They turn to me and say, ďWhat are you afraid of? We drink and don't have to pay.Ē I feel very sad when I hear that. Maybe because they were not the same as us, the older generation, [and] they have never tasted any hardship, they don't know how to value the things they have. You see, even if I don't say it and blame them, they should know it - just because with the lack of water supply, our hydropower station canít operate normally, and electric power cannot be generated. If the electric light is on, young people should be happier than I am. I don't know what the young people are thinking.

In the past, you lived with your eldest daughter. What do you think about living with Han people?
Han people pay more attention to eating and clothing. And when women bear children, the men kill chickens, and do all the cooking and washing. Women need not go outside [to work] before the confinement month. Not like us Wa people who go to work only a few days after the child is born. We Wa people are worse off than Han people in this respect.

If I take what you have said for outside people to listen, do you agree?
If you take it to them to listen, I'm afraid that what I have said is not correct. Will others come to criticise me? [She laughed as she asked this.]

That wonít happen, you can relax about that!
That's fine. When you let them listen to it, it would be nice if my daughter can listen to it too.