employment and income
OTHER THEMES IN SW COLLECTION
culture and customs
THEMES IN NE COLLECTION
culture and customs
introducing the china collections
social change in the southwest collection
social change in the northeast collection
All these narrators' stories reflect in some degree the sweeping changes that China has undergone over the last four or five decades, not least as the commune system of the 1950s-1970s was changed to "the household responsibility system". This allowed people to work for themselves and to explore expanding trade and employment opportunities as China implemented radical economic reforms. But the country's minority peoples, many of whom live in relatively remote highland areas far from major markets, centres of employment or educational facilities, seem to have been somewhat removed from these reforms and the accompanying social impact.
Greater access to education, especially for girls, is beginning to have an impact, and many women are seizing the opportunity to trade in the markets. One 72-year-old says: "There are more ways to make money [today]. Like my daughter-in-law, she often weaves bags to sell, and can earn 200 to 300 yuan a year" (China 10). The social changes stemming from growing female economic independence in this group of narrators seem to be neither clear cut nor uniform. Some women run their own businesses; others may in practice run the family finances, but say they must still defer to the man of the house. One woman (China 11) explains: "As I have been managing the money matters of the family all these years, I have to go to the market and I learned how to count and read [money]… I'm the person in charge of the family." Her husband does not have this skill: "If I take out a 10 yuan note, and I say it's 100 yuan, he will say it's 100 yuan… [yet] he's a man so he has authority. If he wants to buy something that I disagree with, he'll insist. I can't stop him." One view which is pretty universal among the narrators is that they wish to educate their daughters just as much as their sons.
What is also clear is that people's homes, diets and incomes are much improved, though a fear of famine remains strong in some older narrators, and life remains extremely tough by any standards. Better access to water, electricity and improved transport links have all eased women's lives, although the following anecdote highlights how isolated some of these communities remain, since a bus coming to the village is an occasion of great significance: "Last year, this small road was built, we were very happy about it… If we didn't have the road, our children…would never have a chance to see a bus. This year and last year our child saw buses twice. When the bus comes, groups and groups of people surround it and look at it" (China 25).
Although almost every narrator welcomed the end of the commune system, a few express concern that higher living standards, plus a more individualistic outlook, have led to more theft and competitiveness. And one interviewer suggests, after an interview with a "woman's officer" yielded less information than anticipated (China 25), that "after the household responsibility system was promoted in the township, interaction between farmers became less. Women seldom contacted each other. No activities were organised." Certainly, the narrator suggests that there is very little communal activity in her village. However, she also confesses that she has initiated nothing herself, and seemed to have taken on her role with reluctance: "I'm old, and don't want to learn."
Overall, when people remark upon change in these accounts, they primarily cite material and economic improvements. "The main changes are in living conditions. Clothes, and many other things… Now, the higher authorities care about us rural people. They take care of the people when their lives are difficult. When we have no money, they allocate the funds to us. We are very happy about this. Children can go to school; the road has been built" (China 25). Social change is clearly underway but it does not appear to be the cause of anxiety that it is in other collections on the site. One factor may be that many of these villagers' hesitancy in languages other than their own means they have taken less advantage of job opportunities in China's growing cities and industries, and so there has been less migration, and fewer returning migrants, both of which are significant engines for social change. But overall, the degree of cultural and social continuity is perhaps a measure of the way these minority peoples have managed to retain their distinctive ways of life - and continue to identify with them.
quotes about social change
"It will be good if the TV aerial can be connected to our village, or to our village office, so that the whole village can watch any TV channels, as we can in the town - so that they could follow the information shown on the TV to improve their living conditions… People will be able to follow the changes in the society…"
Xuefeng, 41/F, doctor, Miao, China 12
"[Before] we didn't [need to] lock the door whenever we went out. You trusted me and I trusted you… Now there are rarely any people who don't lock their doors… In addition, there should be at least one person at home in the day to keep house, because we don't have dogs [to keep guard] anymore, and there are many thieves now. Just the people from the plains…Everyone is looking for money."
Xuefeng, 41/F, doctor, Miao, China 12
"Now it's the household responsibility system, people have more freedom. There are good sides but also bad sides [to it]. In Chairman Mao's time, it was good that there were no thieves, people didn't look down on you when you walked by. After the reform [the change to household responsibility system], people eat well and have better clothing, but then they look down on other people. There are more thieves now."
Xiuzhen, 30s/F, Miao, China 13