photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 13 - Southwest)








Cuihua village, Luquan county, Yunnan


21 April 1997



Section 1
With the scorching sun overhead, the fields around Songyuan, famous for its aridity and treeless aspect, looked extremely dry. All the women were busy filling small nutrient bags to grow tobacco (seedlings), or with harvesting beans and wheat. They were too busy to meet us. The women who had the appointments with us were always not at home. We strolled in the villages for a few days. About 1 km away from the village office was companion Xiao's hometown. The place was flat and fertile. People were hard-working. People’s lives here were better and they were better-off. On 21 April after dinner, again, I went with Xiao to visit her eldest brother. By coincidence, we met Xiao's sister-in-law who came back from working in the fields and was having her dinner. Her eldest brother was out and hadn't come back. I took this chance to interview Xiao's sister-in-law: Xiuzhen. The interview took place in Dachangdi Dasongyuan village office.

What's your name?

What's your animal year? How old are you?
I was born in the year of Tiger.

The year of Tiger, so you are 35.
35 - probably 37, or 38.

Just now [we were talking and] you said all the pigs and chickens were sold by his dad (your father-in-law) and you didn't go with him, why?
If I go I'll be cheated by others, by those businessmen. They don't offer me a reasonable price. Some weren't intending to buy but they always came to ask, “Will you sell it at 10 yuan? 20 yuan? 30 yuan?” They asked me like that but they never bought anything. I could go to sell if we have only one chicken. If there are many [things to sell], I dare not go. Pigs, we women don't sell. Woman can only go to sell if her husband’s dad goes together with her or if she goes with other people. I dare not sell corn. His dad sells corn for rice. He carried the corn to sell [in the market], to exchange and to buy rice. If we want to buy rice, his dad will go to sell some corn and buy the rice back. We women dare not to do business. There are some opportunists who don't weigh the produce correctly; we dare not do selling, only literate people dare to go.
Section 2
Are you literate?
I'm illiterate.

Hadn't you studied even for a year?
I had studied. I was small and I was a girl; I didn't have the confidence to study.

You didn't go to school. What did you like to do when you were young?
Playing, when I was young. I couldn't study well.

Which grade did you up to?
Grade one or two. I could only read my own name.

To support children to go to school, does it all depend on selling pigs and chickens?
Mu (yes).

How about other resources? Any other resources?

You can make money from planting tobacco.
Mu, we planted some tobacco, bought a diesel engine for milling flour. The machine saved us some labour.

Is the diesel machine yours? Do all villagers all come here for milling?
Mu, it’s mainly our villagers who come to mill flour, and to thresh rice.

The living condition of your family is not bad.
We are still in difficulties.

Can you make money from planting tobacco?
It (tobacco) cannot make much money.

How do you use the money which you earn from selling tobacco?
In the days when we are short of grain, we use it to buy rice; [otherwise we use it] as pocket expenses, and to buy some chemical fertiliser.

Do you support all your children to go to school?
En (yes).

Do you think it's good to go to school, or not go to school?
It’s good to go to school.

Do all your villagers support the children to go to school?
Ei, some don't support so much.

The family has no money. They cannot afford it. Some children came back because the family couldn't afford to support them.
Section 3
If there are a boy and a girl in the family, which child will the family support to study?
They support both. Some cannot afford the money; both children have to come back. Some support the younger one to study but ask the elder one to come back because they cannot afford [both].

Are there any people who have the thought of valuing boys more than girls, who don't allow girls to study?
There aren't. Children go to study, like as I said just now - they studied for some time but had no confidence to continue. They would say, “Ai, I don’t want to study, I'm coming back to pasture the buffalo.” Then they come back. Some want to study, but the parents don't allow them to go because they have no money.

As you said just now that men go to sell pigs and chickens. Is it all the same in (thoughout) the village?
Ei, some women who are capable will go too.

Who is the head in your family?
Don't know.

Who manages the money?
My man (husband) manages more.

Don't you manage?
I manage [some], but less. He manages more. He sells tobacco. Big sums of money are managed by him. He just leaves small money like 10 yuan or so for me. When the children ask me to buy books, I'll give them. He'll leave some money in the family if he's away, for the children to buy pens.

Your TV, did you ask him buy it? Or did his dad want to buy it?
All wanted to buy it, all of us like to watch.

If you had money in your hand now, what would you want to do most?
Ei, if I have money, I want to make the house better, to furnish the floor of that room. The floor of another room hasn't been furnished. I want to make these better. My house, ai, people came to see and told my child's dad, “You are so poor, you even cannot afford to make the roof frame better, one can see the moon from inside your house!”

If your family has no money, what do you do? Will you borrow?
Ei, I’ll borrow if my family doesn't have money.

Where will you borrow?
Go down to... Let me see, what is it called?

Section 4
Go to apply for a loan?
En. loan.

How do you get the loan? Do you need to pay the interest?

If you get a loan of 1000 yuan, do you know how much you need to repay?
Ai, I don't know.

Is it you, or anyone else will go to get the loan?
His dad.

Did you ever ask for a loan?
I didn't, I don't know. I'm very poor, but I don't how to ask for a loan. I don't even know where to go for a loan.

Who came to tell you that you can ask for the loan?
There wasn't anyone who came, my child's dad (my husband) knows.

You can only get a bit more than 1000 by selling three to four nutrient bags (small bags of nutrients and rich soil used to nurture seedlings). Some people have started to raise silkworms. If it's profitable, do you want to raise them too?
Ei, it's hard work.

Probably it's better to raise silkworms than to cure the tobacco?
It is. I saw that they worked really hard raising the silkworms last year.

They just need to pick the leaves to feed the silkworms. We went with them to feed [the worms] today.
Well, this lot has just started about seven days ago. They will be really busy just before the time when they are about to spin the silk, when they just grow up. You need to carry two to three baskets of leaves to feed them; they eat more during that time.

I didn't see the later part?
My child's dad said, “It's worthy to raise pigs only, don't raise buffalos.” [Because pigs are cheaper and give quicker cash return.] Our children are all out studying, only two adults are at home. We need to find the fodder, to pasture the livestock, and to take care of the horses. We cannot manage all this. My child's dad has said, “If they won't do it this year, I'll do.” I said we have fewer people, we cannot afford to do it (raise silkworms). People who have many labourers can do it. We have fewer people, we cannot do that. There is no labour in my parents' house, only two of them, our old parents.

Where is your hometown?
Over there, over the Xuanwotang, you don't know? Over there in Tanglangqing, it belongs to Tanglangqing village office. My mum and dad belong there.
Section 5
What other units came to support this village?
Just Oxfam and people who raise silkworms came to support us.

Which project running here is most useful to you?
Oxfam is useful to us.

What did they teach you?
To prevent the infectious diseases of pigs and chickens; it's helpful to us. They also came to teach us how to make shoes, and sew clothes.

Is it useful to make shoes?
It's useful . I made them for my children to wear. But they are very slippery. It's not convenient to wear them for picking leaves (tea? fodder?) in the mountain slope. It's not suitable for our mountain areas. Even if you make them (shoes), you won’t like to wear them. So I don’t want to make them either. They have come twice to teach us. The first time they made one pair with me. The second time, I bought the cloth; they asked me to make four pairs. These four pairs, they make one for me; I made two pairs. Children also said they were very slippery. We don't wear them.

Do you wear them yourself?
I wear them. My younger daughter said, “Ei, we Miao should make our Miao clothes, draw our Miao patterned skirts, spin flax, do sewing work. At the same time, we have to pasture livestock, embroider patterns, and things like that. We don't have time to make shoes.”

Is there a troupe organised to sing and dance in your village?
There isn't now. There was a troop few years ago, but not in the last two years. No one joins the troops now as the old members have all become husbands and wives (got married).

They didn't teach the young people?
Very few people taught the young people…no, no one taught them. Young children - the age of my younger daughter - all go to school.

What's the difference between the commune (when people worked collectively) and the household responsibility system (when people worked for themselves rather than cooperatively)?
Ei, a lot has been changed since the responsibility system.

Which aspect has been changed?
Food and clothing have changed much.

Becoming better or worse?
Becoming better. Like I told my children, at that time - not to mention that I had four to five sisters - even if there was only me, I couldn't (wasn’t able to) wear good clothing. I had only one pair of shoes, only that pair. I could only buy another one after the first pair wore out. Now those shoes [points to the children's shoes thrown in the corner], there are children's shoes everywhere. [Laughs.] As for clothes, after they wear them for some time and when they become old, they can buy new clothes. Lives are becoming better now.
Section 6
How about the relationship between people? Is it becoming better or worse?
Some relationships become better, many become better. If you have some work to do, other people will come to help you.

Who is the most influential and authoritative person in your village?
There is no such person.

Is the village leader useful?
Ei, not so useful now. People work on their own. The village leader only informs people when there is a meeting, he follows up government tasks or helps the government to distribute chemical fertilisers.

What do the villagers think about the village leaders?
The village leaders in recent years, I don't know.

Do they have any complaints about them?
Just about water, they don't have confidence (?) to draw the water up.

When someone is being robbed in the village, how do you deal with it?
Ei, we don't deal with it because it’s difficult to catch the person.

What if the person could be caught? For example, a couple has a quarrel, or someone has been robbed, or if Miao people were being bullied by others - are there regulations to deal with these problems?
There aren't. If a couple has a quarrel, it will be managed by the family; there are parents in the family. Parents will give advice; parents will solve it.

After the road has been built, many people come here from outside, does it have any impact on your village and on the women?
It doesn't have any impact on the women. It’s just that when the fruits are ripe, the plums and peaches are ripe, people come to pick the fruits just as though the plants are theirs and we owe them [the fruit]. People can come to beat you. In Chairman Mao’s era, there were no thieves, but now thieves are more numerous.

Where are they from?
Ei, some are from Yitadi, the village down there in the Guangzhuang.

Why do they come to pick the fruit?
They often pass by here to cut firewood. When they return from cutting firewood, they come to the village to pick fruit; they pick even the fruits which are still green. The plums are still small, cannot be eaten yet, but they come to pick them.

They pick [fruits] from the front- and back-yards of the houses?
Section 7
And you dare not scold them?
If you scold them - just even for a few words, they’ll beat you.

Do many people come?
Many people come so we dare not scold them.

How many people come together usually?
Two to three, two to three people. If there are only women at home, we dare not to speak out. If you speak out, they would beat you.

For how many years have these things been happening?
Probably five to six years. I have been here for 15 to 16 years. There were two to three years when we could have plums to eat. In recent years, we haven't got any to eat. You saw people caming to pick them, you scolded them; then they came to beat you just as if the trees has been planted by them. At that time, we dared not... We women only scolded them from here; we dare not go close to scold them.

If a man is at home, will he scold them?
Even if a man is at home - ei, if they just pick one or two fruits, it’s alright, we won’t scold them much.

Did they only pick two or do they pick many?
Some picked many.

How many? What did they use to carry them?
They put them in their pockets. If they have four to five people in a group, the whole tree will be finished up by them.

Didn't you report this to the village office?
We didn't report it. If you report it, they would have a score to settle. In the future if you went to the market, they would catch you on the way and beat you up. So we dare not to report. People dare not to report [such theft] now.

Did they come to pick the fruits without any shame?

Is there much stealing and robbery happening?
There isn't in these years. Sometimes there will be a chicken lost, this happens every year.

Did these things happen at the time of collectivisation? Like picking the fruits and stealing them, did such things happen in the past?
It did happen in the past. Places near the roadside or the plain were more likely to be disturbed by people. For example, at my parents' house, the fruits were ripe and fell all over on the ground. But they lived far from the plain, so people seldom went to plunder their place. We here are close to the plain; people come to cut the firewood all the time. They drove tractors to collect fodder, there was a lot of fodder in the mountains in those days. They drove a tractor to carry the fodder back. On the way, whenever they saw that there was no one around, they would pick the melons and steal people's vegetables.
Section 8
Did they steal corn?
They didn't steal this year, but they stole last year. I haven't heard of any family has lost corn this year.

Which year did you come here?
I cannot remember.

Had the household responsibility system (when people worked for themselves rather than cooperatively) started?
It had just started.

When you came here, did people from the plains come here to steal?
Before I came here, they often came here to plant crops. We Miao didn’t have much land, even on the mountain. People on the plain had land all over the mountains. They came to bring firewood back. Before I came here, people often came and passed by here. I don't know how it was in the past. During Chairman Mao's time, I'm afraid it was not like this. Now it's the household responsibility system, people have more freedom. There are good sides but also bad sides [to it].

What are the good aspects?
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 the household responsibility system), people eat well and have better clothing, but then they look down on other people. There are more thieves now.

What do you think about the people on the plain and those in the city?
It’s all right that they come to do their work, but they shouldn't pick our fruits, shouldn't plunder our place. They come and pick our fruits all the time. It's all right to pick a few fruits. That’s still okay if they leave after we scold them. When we scolded them, they said, “If you are capable of it, come and beat us.” They spoke like that.

What are the advantages of living in the mountains? What are the disadvantages?
Ei, everything is inconvenient. Such as water. Here there is a lack of water. It’s also inconvenient to go to the market, or to buy vegetables.

How long does it take to walk to the market?
To go down from here, it takes one hour.

Do you walk or take a bus?

What are the advantages of living in the mountains?
We live in this high mountain, it's close to the place of collecting firewood, close to the place to pick the leaves (fodder?).
Section 9
Is it convenient to plant apple trees?
Ei, it's convenient to plant apple trees, but one cannot keep watch on them well. When they are big like this, people come to pick up the apples. We Miao people are afraid when people come to ravage (plunder), we don’t dare to guard them (fruits). If we guard them there, people beat you when you scold them. These apple trees are given by the government. We plant them but we don’t have confidence that we can take care of them well.

Oh, was the planting supported by the government?

Who came to support this?
I don't know.

Do you pick mushrooms, or things like that, in the mountains?
Some people go and pick a lot. Not many people from our village go and pick them. It’s quite far away from our village, we seldom go there. We prefer to stay at home to take care of the chickens, pigs and livestock.

Do you pick mushrooms for your own consumption or for sale?
I take them to sell, sell them to those on the plain. Sometimes people come here to collect by themselves.

Do you like to live on the plain or in the mountain?
I like to live in the mountain.

Ei, our Miao old generation has said, “We like to live in the mountain, it's good to live in the mountain.”

In what way is it good?
We live in the mountain; it's brighter in the mountain (meaning more sunlight and fresh air). It's close to the corn field and the place of collecting firewood.

If I ask you to leave this place and go to live in other places, would you miss here?
Ei, I would miss here.

What things would you miss?
I would miss this place, the life of planting potatoes, I like to eat potatoes, and planting radishes. When potato crop yields, I think of eating potatoes; when the radish crop yields, I think of eating radishes.

Since you married here, have you seen any changes?
Ei, when I came, nobody lived in tiled houses, only my old people (parents-in-law). In these years, it has changed greatly. Almost every family lives in a tiled[-roofed] house. But our village doesn't have many woods around it. We need to buy from outside, we need to buy the tiles too, everything is bought from outside.
Section 10
Where did you buy the tiles from?
Down on the plain.

Besides the change in the houses, are there any changes at the surrounding mountains and about water?
No, no changes. These… the mountains, these years, we are running out of firewood.

Was the situation as bad when you first came here?
It was bad when I first came. However, it wasn't as difficult as these years.

Where did you go to cut firewood?
I went up there, in the direction of Lumula, over the plantation area.

Do you still go there for firewood now?
I still go there. But there’s nothing to cut, there isn't any firewood now.

How about water? Was it like this when you came?
En. It was like this when I came. We had to go there to fetch water back. When I came, we carried two buckets with a stick on our shoulders. Later we used the handcarts to carry it back. In recent years, we use the horse carts to carry it.

Do you know why Miao people live in the mountains?
Don't know. Our ancestors said, “We’ll be away from earthquakes if we live in the mountains.” We Miao people live in the mountains, we aren't afraid of earthquakes. We lived in the battlements (the old army defence post used during the war between the communist party and the nationalists, before 1949), so that we won’t be affected by the earthquake. So we Miao people live in the mountains, we seldom live on the plain.

Do all Miao women wear sackcloth (traditional cloth woven from flax)? Are there many who wear sackcloth?
Ei, there are only a few wear sackcloth now.

Is it difficult to make? Or it is that women don't like to wear it?
We like to wear it. Spinning flax is not easy, young people are lazy, they prefer to buy the ready-made clothes. Sometimes they are too lazy to spin flax, they prefer to buy instead.

Lazy? Or do they work too hard?
They work hard. But they also go to watch TV in the evening. They don't feel like spinning flax. It is also because of pasturing livestock. There is no place for pasturing, so they don’t have time to spin flax. In recent years, we have no place for pasturing, so when you take the livestock out, you have to stand by the side of the fields to avoid the livestock stepping into the [cultivated] fields.

Do you think it's a pity to stop spinning flax?
Mu, it’s a pity. We need to do everything. We need to wear our costume when we are invited as guests. We seldom wear it at home. When we go to be the guests, we need to wear the Miao skirts and clothes.
Section 11
Didn't you teach your daughter to spin flax?

Will you teach her in the future?
I will. I will teach her after she graduates from the school.

Is this handicraft passing on to the next generation through the teaching by mothers to daughters?

Now the mountains are barren, did you think about planting more trees?
En, I wanted to plant some, but we don't have land on the mountain.

You have, on your forest land?
Our forest land is far away, very far away. I’m afraid no people would go to keep a watch on it if trees are planted there. Our village leader didn't organise people to go and keep watch on it. You get nothing from planting there. If you plant trees there, you need to keep watch on it every day. Last year, our child's dad and my younger brother, and Pan Xueqing, were there for three years. They watched for three years and so we got some wood to cut for a year. They were this big [shows the thickness of the tree with her hands].

You cut them when they were this small?
Mu, a village leader was changed later. After that year, the village leader didn't organise people to go and keep watch on it. These years, we don’t have firewood to use. Even the stakes were dug out.

Oxfam came to teach you to plant eucalyptus, did you try it?
Our family, and the whole village all planted.

You planted in your own mountains?
I have planted it for two years.

How big are they now?
Those planted last year are this big now. Those planted this year are just this tall, we planted down there. However, the villagers of Yitadi claimed that the areas were theirs - only a small plot was left, we don't know whether it still belongs to our village.

You don't know whose forest land it is? Not your village's?
I know, but the village leader didn't take the case to the village office, and they didn't take any action to resolve the case. They would come only if the village leader and the secretary referred the case to the office. I don't know – the old ancestors said that the area belonged to our village. Last year, my family planted some rice seedlings, we planted in that area. There is a large plot down there, which was opened up by them as fields. Up here 3000 to 4000 trees were planted. Since the village office didn't come and solve the issue, I don't know how the situation is now. They (the Yitadi villagers) came to claim their fields. The trees are growing, but I don't know if the trees will still be ours when they grow up.
Section 12
How did you go to manage them after planting?
Ei, down here, no one managed.

Did the buffalo and goats go in?
No one managed them, no one cared. The small pine trees over there are watched by people, they don't allow the livestock go in. It's watched everyday.

Watched by the villagers or from the family?
People from our village. It is our own mountain, we have a person watch there every day; we don't allow the livestock to go in. Only a few of the tree seedlings from outside survive. Those we spread by ourselves grow well.

What's the reason [that the seedlings from outside can’t survive]?
Probably because the roots were squashed and damaged when they were delivered here. We planted them but only a few managed to survive. Those we sow by ourselves, only one in ten died - most of them grow.

Were the seeds brought by them? You sow the sprouts (seedlings) by yourselves. Did they teach you how to do that?
They brought the seeds. At the beginning, they helped us in sowing them. At that time, even my child's dad didn't know how to sow. He sowed them up there and didn't cover them with soil; the plants didn't grow well that year. Later, I asked my child's dad to go back to help my parents, I went to water the plants. I said, “Well, these sprouts grow so big, why didn't his dad cover them with soil?” We pulled out the pine leaves, chose some plots and covered them with soil to see which plots could grow well. Later we found out that only the plots of pine covered with soil grew well. Those we didn’t cover with soil grew very thin.

You moved there to plant. Did individual families do the planting or the whole village plant together?
The whole village planted together. All family members were involved in planting except the one who was pasturing livestock.

Did every family sow from seeds [rather than seedlings] or only your family?
Only my family do the sowing from seed. My family sowed the seeds. We filled the nutrient bags (small bags of nutrients and rich soil) with the seeds and nurtured them to seedlings. When the seedlings were ready, we told the village leader and asked the villagers took the seedlings to plant them together.

Your family did the sowing; did the villagers pay for that?
Oxfam gave the money, two cents for each seedling.

Is it good to plant trees?

In what way is it good?
Ei, we planted, we planted for two years then the trees got some leaves. It provides us with firewood. It's convenient; we don't need to pay money to buy fuel.
Section 13
Is the water pumped up?
Last year, it was pumped up last year, pumped up from Yitadi. We used the water for the vegetables and tobacco. If there is more water, we’ll irrigate the corn too. If there is no water, we’ll wait for the rain. After it rains, we wrap the roots of the corn with plastic film, then plant it into the soil.

Can the pumped water be drunk?
It can be drunk. But if you see that pond, you won't feel like drinking it. People threw in dead buffalos, dead horses and pigs into it. The buffaloes sometimes bathe themselves there. [Recorded interrupted because of changing tape.]

You saw the dead pigs and things like that?
I saw them. [Power is cut off; she talks about her young daughter again.]
She usually carries the small basket to pick firewood after she comes back from school. Then she’ll go to look for fodder; after that, when it's getting dark, she can do her homework. A young girl’s life is not so hard. Some parents are hard-working, so they don’t have to ask a girl to do many tasks. Here we ask when she is able to do the work. When she was just this tall, we took her with us to carry the firewood.

Do you think it's better to have boys or to have girls?
Ei, both boys and girls are good. We like both. Like my fifth uncle, he only has two boys; he would like to have a girl.

Do you have [a large] enough area of field for farming?
I have enough. The fields aren't to be re-allocated but still enough.

How many fields do your family have for five people?
Ei, I'm (not?) clear about this.

Does his dad (father-in-law) know?
My man (husband) knows better. We women don’t know so well.

If your young daughter was to marry a husband in the future, would you allocate some fields to her?

Are there people who had the groom married into the bride’s family?
No. We don’t have much land here, it’s very rare that the groom would marry into the bride’s family.

If you had only one daughter but no sons, what would you do?
I don't know how they would do.

Companion: We Miao people rarely have the groom moved to our house after marriage; he wouldn't stay long even if you had him moved here.
Yes, we rarely have the groom moved to our house. I am the only daughter, and I came out to get married.
Section 14
Oh, you are the only child in your family?
Mu, I'm the only child and I also came out.

No brothers?
No older or younger brothers and sisters.

Why didn't you take her (companion Xiao) brother there?
Ei, when they came to ask for marriage, my mum had already agreed to let me out.

What will your parents (narrator’s parents) do with their land after they get older?
When they get older, I have said, I have two sons, if the children won't go there [to my parents], let them take care of our fields here, we'll go back to take care of my parents and their land there.

What will you do if your children’s dad doesn't agree to go?
I'll go if their dad doesn't go. [Laughs] The children will grow up in a few years.

You mean you'll go back to farm their land? You'll go back to farm their land when your parents die in the future?

Since your residence was registered here, will people give your parents’ land to you?
En, they don't care abut that. People don't care about the residence registration. The land is not re-allocated here; it won't be re-allocated in that village either.

Do your parents have brothers?
They have brothers. But their brothers are over here in Xuanwotang. My mum went to live with her elder brother in Yancaodun. My dad's elder brother is here, and my mum's elder brother is there.

If in the future when your parents died, your mum's elder brothers could farm the land, would they give it to you?
They would. They won't take care of my parents. If they did, the land would be theirs. They won't do it and I'll take care of my parents, so the land will belong to me. My land is also there when the land was allocated in the past.

The problem is that you have been married here, and your residence was registered here. I wonder whether you have the right to claim the land there?
I have. I don’t have any brother there. I have the right.

What's the happiest thing in your life?
The happiest thing is that all the family members get together happily.

What is the thing you worry most and don’t want it to happen?
I'm afraid that my parents will get sick.
Section 15
Would you mind if I take all you’ve said to compose a book?