photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 16 - Southwest)






Oxfam extension worker


Mengba village, Lancang county, Yunnan


24 April 1997



Section 1
April and May is the farming season in Muga township. People are all busy with their farm work, which will undoubtedly add difficulties for our interview. However, the village leader cooperated actively. He took the initiative to explain the background to the project to the families whom we were to interview.

Early on the morning of 24 April, at 7 am, we set out on time to Mengba. Ah, the 22-year-old Oxfam extension worker, who had completed primary education, was waiting for us at the village leader's house. Last night we heard that Ah had a cold. When we met her, she looked pale. We were told that she had just got married to a substitute teacher (one not yet qualified) in the village. Ah can understand and speak Chinese, but she preferred to talk with us in her Lahu language. Education and dissemination of technology (new scientific knowledge and techniques) were her greatest concerns.

[Translator’s comment: As the extension worker, she is responsible for promoting new ideas and techniques. The term “technology” is used to mean “scientific knowledge” as opposed to “traditional knowledge”, which for many people, even some local ones, implies a degree of backwardness.]

What's your name?

How old are you?

Where do you live?
I live in the No1 commune of Bana; that is the No1 commune of Mengba.

How many people are there in your family?
Nine people. Three families live together.

How many years have you studied?
I finished primary school. My family was in a difficult financial situation. My dad was blind so I couldn't go to school, I could only come back [home] to help in the farm work. My brother and sister got married recently. Originally, I wanted to go to school, but because my family was in a difficult condition, I apologised to the teacher for my not going to school. My niece is attending school now. I think I could not go to school. I let them go to school and learn well. Their thoughts cannot be in a turmoil.
Section 2
What do you promote as a project extension worker?
I promote hybrid paddy. I touch only on agriculture. I am not educated (not literate). I do what other people taught me. I joined the training and planted rice seedlings. The training cannot just be theoretical. Because Lahu people are not literate, you have to demonstrate the skills in the fields and teach them step by step. Usually two people will be responsible for the training: one teaches from the top end of the village; another from the bottom end of the village - and finally the two will come across and meet each other. By then, their training will have covered every family in the village in depth.

How did you teach them? Can you tell us in more detail?
When preparing the paddy field, one has to find a fertile field for nurturing the seedlings, the soil has to be finely ploughed, water put in to wet the soil, and then the dikes (banks of earth) have to be made. Soil dug out from the dikes has to be put back onto the field, the field covered with a thick layer of pig and buffalo manure, then flattened and smoothed and left for sowing the next day. While sowing, women have to make the frames; the plastic film is also mostly put on the frames by the women. The frame has to be 30 cm, the dike 20 cm wide. We do the demonstration first, then we ask the villagers to do it. We teach them again if they’re not able to do it properly.
The seeds have to be soaked for 12 hours before sowing. The seeds are soaked after being mixed with nutrients. The seeds are sowed after washing in clear water. The seeds can’t be sowed too closely together, if they are sowed too closely, they won’t grow shoots. After sowing, people have to fix the frame and plastic film. Two people stand at the two ends of the field when fixing the frame. The sticks of the frame have to be parallel. If they are not parallel on the dike, the paddy seedlings will become pale. The last step is to cover the [frame with] film. This process takes four people, one at the middle holding the film, two others pressing on the film. After covering, they make sure the film is covered with water to a depth of one inch.

What are the reactions of the villagers to your instruction?
The villagers said, “We’ve never heard of or seen people doing this since the ancient time. Oxfam HK supported us with this project, and we learned the technique. Now our problem is that we don't have money to buy fertiliser. But in the future, we will have to buy it. A technique like this is the best. Our life will be much better by the year 2000.”

When did you learn these techniques?
I learned them in 1995. I attended the technical training for two months in December 1994. Later they (parents?) came to look for me so I could not go on with the training.

In what ways did the techniques you learnt improve your life?
It has been very helpful to me; it's helpful in improving one’s life. Productivity has been improved, and fewer people eat the “re-sold” grain (meaning grain bought from or given by the government, possibly low quality and brought in from another area). We have had rice to eat since we grew the hybrid rice. Some who don't have sufficient rice can be adjusted (meaning helped by trading/bartering) within the village. In the past, we borrowed one tube (a local measurement) of rice, but had to pay back two or one and half tubes. However, after Oxfam came and supported us, our village has solved the problem [of rice supplies]. There is no Zero (penniless) Peasant now.
Section 3
How much can you produce every year after the Oxfam’s support?
Two years ago the best yield for tea was 777 kg per mu (1 mu equals 0.067 hectares) of land.

In the [Oxfam-]supported project, what did men do and what did women do?
Men ploughed the land, and managed the rice seedling fields; planting the seedlings was done by both men and women.

How do you manage the land?
Sometimes men do it while sometimes women do. There can be too much water in the field, a little more than an inch above the root of the seedlings should be enough. But if the water is not sufficient, the seedlings won’t grow well. Both men and women attended the training on how to apply chemical fertilisers and organic manure. Seven days after you plant the rice seedlings, you have to put on the chemical weed killer. If you don’t have chemical fertilisers and urea, you can use the dicaoan (a kind of insecticide) instead.

Who was more active in the training?
The group who was selected together with me was more active. They came frequently. When the training was about how to apply chemical fertilisers, more men came; when it was about how to use chemical weed killer, more women came. I told the men that they should do more when women were having their periods.

Did both men and women come for the training?
Both men and women came. There were more men at the training in 1996, and more women in 1997.

After the training, did you feel that women's workload had been reduced?
After the dicaoan (insecticide) had been introduced, women's workload was reduced a lot.

What is the staple food for the households?
It mainly is rice. For Lahu people, the priority is to have rice to eat. If they have enough rice, then they can spend money on clothing or some other stuff. If they don't have the rice, the money they earn can only be spent on rice. Furthermore, more and more people are going out for paid work, so less labour is left at home.

What are the main vegetables you eat?
Green vegetables, and cabbage. After this month, we can eat miangua (a kind of melon) leaves. People who don’t know how to plant vegetables have to buy them from the market.
Section 4
Do you like planting vegetables?
Some people like it. Some plant vegetables the whole year round, but there are many people who don’t know how to grow them well.

What do you do when you don’t have enough grain?
We do work exchange when we have enough food. We borrow from others if we have a food shortage. Some people borrowed [food] in 1996, and repaid it after their own grain ripened in 1997. Some went to the street (meaning outside the village or to the market place) to find paid work. Most of the households had their problem solved within the village, so they didn't have to buy the “re-sold” [government] grain.

What did you plant in the past?
We only planted dry (un-irrigated) paddy, maize, buckwheat and something like that.

What do you plant now?
Now we plant less dry paddy, more hybrid rice. The dry paddy seeds are an old variety. We plant some hybrid maize but most people don't plant it. Some families wanted to plant it but they didn't have land.

Do you want to develop animal husbandry?
I want to. The vet will give one injection each month. Just as Oxfam promoted, we should develop animal husbandry, and tell more villagers about it.

What problems can be solved by developing animal husbandry?
Now most farmers can have rice to eat. If they develop more with animal husbandry, they can sell cows, pigs, chickens - then they could have the money to build tiled houses, buy chemical fertilisers, chemical weedkiller, and have more food. Women’s labour could be freed to do handicrafts and food processing.

What difficulties are you facing now?
We Lahu people have had no chance to receive education, we cannot read newspapers, and we don’t know about the farming experience of other places. As for the technical training, we could only understand some of it - but not all. The difficulties are quite big. Now I’ve solved the problem of food security, but the financial situation is still difficult. I don’t pick up well the knowledge of pig rearing; sometimes the pigs die. I didn’t attend any training on rearing techniques, and I have low literacy levels. It creates a lot of difficulties.

Could the farmers understand when you trained and instructed them?
Most people could understand, they could see what others did. But some farmers couldn't learn; some didn't learn. Now I myself have rice to eat, just some difficulties in economy. I didn't learn the technique of pig-raising, sometimes the pigs died. I didn't attend the training on breeding, so there are many difficulties. Literacy levels are low, we all have low literacy.

Just now you said some villagers don't learn about the technique of planting hybrid paddy very well; some didn't follow the new method of planting. What do you do about that?
I have to do some transformation of their thoughts. However well you disseminate the knowledge, Lahu people can only remember part of what you say. If you only teach through theory, they won't understand. If you teach by demonstration, most of them can still learn well.
Section 5
Why don't they want to learn?
It's not that they don't want to learn, but that some people can't remember the information well. People of my age who have some education can understand theories. We also trained the [Youth] League members.

Have you planted any other cash crops?
We planted sugar cane this year.

You want to improve your economic condition, don't you?
Yes. I mainly want to make some money.

What else do you want to develop?
The women want to do more work on sewing.

Do all the women in your village know how to do it?
The old women know. Young people can learn. They can make Lahu bags, and they want to raise pigs. There isn't a processing factory, otherwise they would want to do some food processing or some related thing. Bangli village can do it, so why can't we of Mengba village do it? Oxfam’s project should be the same - people think like that.

If there was a processing factory, what benefits could it bring to the village?
Villagers could get great benefits from it. It’s good to do the pig fodder processing, or [have] a grain mill, then you can ask for whatever price you like. Some want a fertiliser processing factory.

Do the villagers express the same opinions as you?

What view did they express?
They think that they wish to have a manufacturing facility, but they couldn't explain why they want it. They just want to sell Lahu clothes and bags. If the factory manufactured them, they can sell one bag at 30 yuan.

Do any people believe in Buddhism or in traditional religion?
They do.

Do these religions have any impact on the village?
When people are sick, they don't go to the hospital - they kill a pig [to get rid of troublesome spirits]. So the pigs and chickens are used up in this way, and life in the village becomes more difficult. It doesn't bring any benefits.

Why people do that?
They do that because they don't have scientific knowledge. When people perform jiaohun (literally “calling-the-spirit”), some people get well, but some can't. It doesn’t have any benefits.
Section 6
Do young people believe in these religions?
Some do and some don't.

Are there more young people with a religion, or more young people who don't practise a religion?
Most of the educated young people don't believe in any religion. Some were not happy even when they kill large pigs, but some were willing to do it.

What are the differences between religious people and non-religious people?
I don't know. If non-religious people have a pig worth 100 yuan, they will raise and feed it well. After the pig has grown up, they will sell it and get 500 to 600 yuan. When they are ill, they will go to the village clinic. It's better to be like that. Those religious people, they spend a lot of time at home, planting less maize or dry paddy [than others do], so that they don't have enough to eat. This practice affects their productivity.

What do you think about the quality of education in the village?
We often say that the quality of education needs to be strengthened but there is still not enough support for this idea.

Which aspect do you think is weak?
Scientific farming techniques needed to be enhanced - we need to know when to sow the hybrid paddy, and when to sow the corn. It's not enough just to see, hear and even do. If they also know some scientific farming techniques, then they could introduce these ideas at places where we didn’t do enough [ourselves].

Are the parents willing to let children go to school?
Some parents do support this. They realise that if they don’t have education they are backward; if they are backward they can only depend on others for their living. But schoolbooks are too expensive. Parents have no money to pay for the books, and can't find any money. People who are in that kind of situation won't allow their children to go [to school]. Some people will go outside to other places [to find work], and try to think of a way. When the tea leaves haven't grown [well], some raise chickens to sell. Most parents do support their children to go to school. Some people even say they need to listen to the children [to find out whether they want to go to school]. Oxfam introduced the hybrid paddy, the villagers said that they had never heard of that since ancient times (time immemorial). The old breed of paddy takes 10 days of labour, while the hybrid one takes only five days of labour. Because of this, they believe in the importance of education.

Boys and girls - who will have more opportunities to receive education?
Boys are naughty; girls are more obedient. Now the number of boys and girls who go to school are nearly the same.
Section 7
Are there many children who don't go to school in the village?
No. There are some who go to school but can't understand what the teacher said so they came back. We heard that people have to learn Lahu language now; both young and middle-aged people need to learn.

Are there many children, like you, who can't go to school because the family is poor?
Some children can't keep up with the studying. Some can't go because they have fewer labourers in the family. Some can't go because of their financial difficulties.

You just mentioned that some children couldn't understand what the teachers said and then they came back to study Lahu characters. Are there classes that teach Lahu characters, or any literacy classes?

Are they effective?
As for their effectiveness, some students learn better, some are not so good. In the past, some people were so poor that they couldn’t even afford to plant a banana tree. After learning Lahu language, some people could secure their food supply. Some people who couldn't learn the Lahu language very well went to other countries to work.
[The village is located close to China’s southern border. It is common for them to cross the border to countries such as Myanmar or Laos.]

Are there other situations? (working situations?)

What was the literacy class about?
They studied things about chemical weedkiller, pig rearing, vegetable pickling, proverbs, singing, dancing, book-keeping, etc. Some of the classes were bilingual.

What did the women like to learn about?
The women liked to learn pig rearing.

Are there people who go to other places for work or for other business?
No. There are women who didn't study well and went to [work in] other counties. Because of the financial difficulties in the family, my elder sister has gone too. She went to another place to marry a Han man in the 1980s, so that I couldn't go to school. My parents are illiterate.

Why has your sister gone?
At that time, my family was too poor, my sister worked at home. An older female classmate encouraged her to run away [with her]. My sister knew nothing. Later, that classmate came back but my sister didn't. She was illiterate, she stayed there and looked after the old people every day [could be her elderly parents-in-law or just old people]. Her life was difficult. Later, she came back and said that she was wrong to listen to others. When she came back she saw Muga township had changed a lot, and people's living conditions had improved. She didn't want to leave again. She said she had a child already, otherwise she wouldn't want to leave [here]. She said it was much better to stay in the home town.
Section 8
Did her thoughts change in those years of living away?
She said she shouldn't have gone. After she had gone, her younger sister and brother couldn't go to school [because they were needed to work in the fields, work she could have done if she had stayed]. She cried when she said that. She warned me not to run away with others like her. She told me to stay in the home town, work hard, and take good care of the parents.

How many people have gone like that?
Probably more than 10. Some families had two people left.

Why do they go out?
On the one hand, the family’s situation was difficult. On the other hand, they mistakenly trusted other people, who said you don't need to work [if you] live with the Han, you could just cook at home, knit sweaters, and you wouldn't get wet from the rain etc.

In what season did they usually leave?
Before the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar). No one left in 1997, but many in 1994. Fewer people leave now, and fewer Han [men] come to take the women. It's said that the sugar cane in Shangyun grows better, so many [Lahu] people make connections with people there [for work]. I don't think it's good for them to go away like that. Although our life is difficult, we have Oxfam supporting us. I think our life will eventually become better.

Now people can leave if they want to - no one can stop that?
People can leave if they want to. They cannot get married if you are not the right age. Old people taught them but they didn't listen.

I heard the men also go out to help (find waged work) in some construction projects?
Yes, many do - such as building houses, digging roads. Some people go with a friend or relative. Some young men from team 1 and team 2 went to the foreign country (Myanmar or Laos) to work. There was a foreigner who came to marry a Lahu woman. When he came to take the bride, he took our men back with him to work in the foreign country. Parents were busy with the field work. Those who went out (migrated, often temporarily) made money and sent some back to their parents. And their parents paid for others to help them in the fields here.

Are most of those [who migrate] men?
Yes, most of them are men.

After the men have gone, do the women bear all the work at home?
Yes, but they send money back, so the family can pay for some labour to do the fieldwork when it's busy - such as ploughing, for example, they can pay for someone to do it. As for the housework, the women do it by themselves. In some families, if the children have grown up, they can help their mother with work. Although some of them go off to other places to work, they would come back to help when it's time for the fieldwork. And then they would leave again after they have done the work at home.
Section 9
Does the migration of people have any impact on the village? In which season do they usually go?
Seasons don’t matter. They go when people come to ask. There will be no impact on the family if the woman doesn't fool around. If there are works which need the man to do them, she will send a letter and ask him to come back.

Do they bring back new ideas and techniques when they return?
They don't bring back anything. They only go to earn a living, and make money. Other people don't learn their techniques. After they come back here, some would do fieldwork again; some would help to build houses if someone in the village needed this. They attract (by example) other villagers to go out to make money.

Do young people decide on their own marriage? Or do their parents decide it?
The young people decide it, and their parents decide it too. When young people are at the right age, and are in love, after asking [for permission/approval from] the village leader and the village committee, they can then go and apply for the legal document.

Are the people willing to come for the marriage certificates?
Yes. Because society has developed like this; it won't do if you don't have a marriage certificate.

Do close relatives get married?
The government has announced that close relatives cannot get married, [because] it’ll be harmful for the future children. If you don't listen to this, you'll be fined. People are afraid of being fined. Of course, there are still some people who don't listen to it and insisted on getting married. If you didn't allow them to get married, they would plan to commit suicide together or eat the dog brain (a way of committing suicide?). It's advocated that if you get married at the proper age, the child you have in the future will be strong; otherwise the child will be weak, not healthy.

Do people always like to divide the family and live apart after getting married?
If the family is not harmonious, they can only live apart. In my house, three families are living together. So some like to live apart; some don't.

How do people divide the family? What kind of stuff do they take?
They will build the house by themselves (separately), but will divide the fields. They buy their own quilts and cooking pots. Some parents will build the house for the new couple. If there are many people in a family, and people want to go out to cook for themselves (live apart), then they won't all live together.

Do women have the right to choose the foundation place for building a house?
Sometimes the couple choose together; sometimes the father chooses for them.

Do any couples divorce because of conflict in their relationship?
They will usually say that they want to divorce but never put it into action. People seldom really get divorced. When it’s too difficult to live together, the woman may ask for divorce. If the man doesn't agree, the woman will run away.
Section 10
What’s been the impact on your village since the road has been built?
Like with you who come to visit us, there won't be any [negative] impact. It’s good. Oxfam comes and it's also good. It's not good for outsiders to come to look for women [as wives]. But there hasn't been such a thing in recent years. Oxfam has come to support us, it’s like they are pulling us out from a mire. They taught us what we didn't know. We can think up some new things [ourselves] after we have been inspired.

Are there any disadvantages from many people being able to come in (visit)?
No. But some people like to buy chicken and meat from other places, so that the pigs and chickens in the village easily get ill [from infectious diseases]. Some people came to work; they gave [us] support.

Do you think it's better to live in the mountain or is it better on the plains?
It’s not good to live in the mountain. The plain is much better. All plants and vegetables grow well on the plains, they ripen quicker.

What do you think about the people who live in the mountain and those who live on the plain?
People who live on the plains wear better clothing, they have more access to outside information and have a better life. People who live in mountain areas, because they don’t have access to information, they cannot see what others do well - they appear to be more foolish. Wage labourers have knowledge, they can think out ways to make their living; they are clever. People in the mountain cannot eat well, they wear poor clothing. In Muga, Lahu people can’t wear as good clothes as the Han do.

Can you weave cloth?
I haven't woven any cloth. I can make Lahu bags.

Can you sing Lahu folk songs?
If people sing them, I can learn some. I haven’t sung any yet.

Do you want to learn Lahu songs?
I like the Han songs more. Han people are just like what they sing in their songs: if you work hard you can have food to eat. It's good if we can live as well as the Han do. When people come to visit you can’t just speak in the Lahu language, people cannot understand you. Han songs are better than Lahu songs. I love to sing Han songs.

If a factory manufacturing Lahu costume was set up, will many young people want to learn how to weave cloth?

What kind of help did Oxfam, the provincial government or any other poverty-alleviation organisation give you?
Oxfam came to run the poverty alleviation project, and introduced the hybrid paddy, [so] we can have enough rice to eat. For us it's most helpful. If we don't have rice to eat, we have no choice but to use the money we earn to buy rice.
Section 11
Do you think Oxfam's project and its introduction of the hybrid breed is very important to you?
Yes, very important.

You said you wish there could be a factory manufacturing nationality costume. Besides that, what help do you want to get?
We need to develop technical training more. It's difficult to do anything if you don’t have the techniques. Production cannot be increased.
We are too poor. We want to learn how to inoculate pigs and chickens. If we could learn these techniques, the pigs’ and chickens' diseases would be greatly reduced. We are most in need of practical skills. If we could learn the techniques of breeding and rearing [livestock and poultry], we would be off the poverty level, and our life would be much better.

Does technical training have any impact on the division of labour of men and women?
No impact. Lahu men and women work together.

Livestock rearing, for example - is it managed by men or women?
Mainly managed by women. Men go out to earn money; women bear the workload of housework and livestock rearing.

Does the development of animal husbandry increase women's workload?
Yes, it does increase. However, women are happy even the workload is increased. Though it’s hard, the women are willing as they are working for their own mouths (for themselves, for their food). They are only worried that they will get sick. The Oxfam poverty alleviation project has extension workers; it would be great if the animal husbandry project had extension workers. It would be great if we had our own people to give inoculations to pigs and chickens, because now pigs can be sold at a good price. We are not afraid of working hard; working hard won’t kill you.

What kind of changes do you hope to see in your family?
I hope there would be good changes. I want to learn practical skills. Although I am a woman, I want to learn how to drive. I want to drive and I want to build houses.

You can say whatever you want to - even if I don't ask a question about it.
If someone could support me [to do it], I want to buy a truck. I would repay the money. If someone could support me for one year, I want to raise pigs.

Will you live apart from your parents in the future?
Now we all live together. We'll separate when my child grows up. I am the youngest. My dad has to live with me.

How do you get along so well with each other when you have three families living together?
My family earns money, they farm the fields and secure the food - we live together like that. My mum’s family lives on the mountain to raise the pigs and chickens all year round. They live on their own. My husband helps them to oversee all everything; we are still regarded as one family. The one who looks after the cows is my sister-in-law’s son; we hire two others to help with the pasturing. My elder brother's family farms the land. When we learned the technique of growing hybrid paddy, we taught them. They then follow what we taught them in order to farm the land. I only finished primary education - people gave me written materials [about the techniques/methods]. I ask other people about the parts I don’t understand. I want to become literate. I have learned the Lahu language.
Section 12
Do you have more to say, on something which we haven't asked about?
I want to learn knowledge of animal husbandry and also of cultivation. I want to practise what I have learned - when life becomes better, my mum could live in a good house.

Which aspect do you want to strengthen as an extension worker?
I want to enhance my knowledge on political thoughts, improve my technical capacity. I want to learn more skills.

What do you mean by “political thoughts”?
My thoughts cannot catch up with the Han - my literacy level is low, and I have poor technological knowledge. Is it possible to have the training once a month? My education level is low. I want to learn calculation, what kind of insecticide should be applied to cure youKubin (a plant disease). The earlier training was just about how to plant the rice seedlings; we didn’t have training on these other aspects. If I could learn more techniques, I could teach more things and teach the farmers better.