photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 18 - Southwest)






Oxfam extension worker


Zaishu village, Weining county, Guizhou


21 April 1997



Section 1
On 21 April, I came back from an interview conducted in Zaishu village of Xueshan town. I was struck by the issue of wives being abused which was being reflected upon by the women concerned, and I couldn't calm down. Mingchun is a man who was not on our narrator list. But he lived in Zaishu village and he had received some education. Meanwhile, he was an extension worker for Oxfam. I thought he could reflect upon some situations in the village and also respond to many women's issues from a male point of view. Listening to the opinions of both sexes can help to locate the objectivity of women's attitudes towards these issues. I decided to interview Mingchun. The interview is more like a discussion.

I planned to ask him to sort out the interview record. He spent one whole day and night going through it. Because he added more in written language (but his notes mostly were a summary of his spoken words), I then checked and sorted out his material by referring back to the tape recording. [His notes on the topics he covered are summarised in the interview summary (see CHI18SUM)].

Are you a villager of Zaishu village? Please tell me about the situation in Zaishu village. First, you can talk about the basic situation of the village, and then the women's situation.
We Miao people live in remote and backward mountain areas. Although we have had some development in these years, there is still a big gap between us and other peoples. Take living conditions and animal husbandry, when compared with other nationalities, a big gap still exists. Throughout history, Miao people have had less power; the typography of the area we occupied was worse than others Ė there was a difficult environment, and various other factors. The ecology had been seriously damaged. All the conditions are bad...

How many households are there in Zaishu village?
Zaishu village probably has more than 400 households.

How many in the population?
The population may be more than a thousand.

More than a thousand? All are Miao nationality?
There are a few Han and Yi families. When you mentioned village, I thought you referred to the natural village (administrative unit). The administrative village (larger unit) has over 100 households in addition, and 3 teams. There are more than 400 people in these 100 households, among which there are five or six Yi households and three or four Han households.
Section 2
Are these five or six Yi families and three or four Han families living under better conditions?
Yes, much better.

Now in this village, do the villagers have sufficient grain to eat?
No, not sufficient. Only three or four families have enough grain as food. Basically, 80 per cent of this village doesnít have enough grain.

How many are there of those who don't lack grain?
About 20 per cent [have enough grain]. This is only because they have some small income [with which to buy food/grain].

Your village depends on animal husbandry instead of agriculture, so it's impossible to depend only on grain production. So do you need to exchange grain for livestock?
Yes, we are like this.

From the situation we survey today, your village has a low school enrolment rate. There are quite a number of children who donít go to school. What's the major reason?
It is mainly for economic reasons.

They cannot afford the tuition? (meaning book fees and miscellaneous fees)
They cannot afford the tuition. The tuition fee increases more and more; students' enrolment rate drops. They don't have the money to pay. Itís mainly because of the grain shortage. They have no money to buy grain, so they cannot take their children's education into account. There are many who cannot catch up with enough grain in June and July.

What do you think about the women's situation in this village? What is their status?
Women usually donít feel themselves important in a family...[poor sound on tape]. In their thoughts, women of our Miao nationality are unwilling to leave the family. Such as making skirts or patterned (decorated) clothes, no matter whether theyíve got money or not, they sell eggs to buy the yarn to make patterned clothes. They buy wool for knitting, and buy some white cloth to make clothes with patterns on. They now use sewing machines to make skirts. No matter whether they have enough money or not, they all want to make traditional clothes and skirts. A family should have a plan for its expenses...

How much does it cost to make a set of clothes and skirt?
For making a set [of clothes] with a skirt, the materials cost at least 70 or 80 yuan. It costs more than a hundred if you include the manual labour.
Section 3
Not including the work but only including the material. Do they plant flax by themselves?
They plant flax but it's not enough for making clothes.

Are there good and bad quality skirts made by the women? Do they compare who makes them better?
There is. There is a difference of good and bad workmanship.

What do you think about their thoughts of making skirts? Is it because they like to dress nicely? Or to show off their handicraft? Or is this a tradition that they cannot oppose?
This is a tradition they cannot oppose.

In your opinion, do you think itís better for them to wear Han clothes or their costume?
I always think that making these Miao clothes costs too much time. Conditions are not favourable. After she finishes the dayís work, she canít go to bed early at night. She has to spin the flax or do something else. Thus her time for rest is short. She will not go to bed until 11 pm, and gets up at 6 am. So her rest time is too short. It affects her physical and mental health.

You think women making Miao clothes is one of the reasons for the families' poverty, donít you? Do you think that they shouldnít spend money on buying material to make Miao costumes?
I think they could make just one set to wear in our Miao festivals in remembrance of our tradition. In other times, in daily life, we can completely improve the situation. To make the costume is too troublesome. It costs too much. The brain and all the other aspects are being affected. She is tangled up in those small tasks of making costumes all day long. And it lowers the living standard of the family. There is no money for emergencies, no money to spend on living. When one does anything, one needs to consider whether it can make money.

When they make the Miao clothes, do you think that they are driven by interest or do you think that it's a burden for them?
It depends. Many people think that it's a burden, but there are many people who think that it's interesting. Both circumstances exist.

I have some opinions at this point. From the interviews I did with some women, I think womenís lives are too harsh. From morning till evening, all they do is work, work, work! They have no time to rest. So I think making these clothes allows them to have something to rely on mentally (to put their spirit and thoughts into). It creates a small corner of their own, which belongs to their own private world. Do you think thatís one of the reasons?
This reason exists.

If say, there is a difference between good and bad workmanship, then through such competition they can gain some kind of psychological satisfaction. Besides, it embodies part of their value system in life. I think if there were no such kind of stuff for them, they would have no support for their souls, and then women's lives would be too harsh, too bitter. Do you think so?
The problem you just mentioned is very important.
Section 4
Let's talk about another issue. Do you think men and women in rural areas enjoy equal status?
I'm afraid men and women are equal. But women do more housework, and men are responsible for carrying heavy stuff.

You mean that men and women are equal, but women work more than men. So in which aspect do you mean equal?
They are equal in living, eating and wearing (clothes?). For instance, when going to the market, men need to ask women's opinion on what to buy and use. Women buy what is needed. As for unnecessary things, men wonít force the women to buy them.

When you said men and women are equal, does that mean men respect women's opinions, and discuss things with women?
This is one aspect of equality. Women work more than men but men take on the heavy work.

Then I ask you again, in your village, in a family, who holds the economic power? In other words, who manages the money and the family?
It happens not only in our place, I think it's all the same everywhere. Men spend money, but women keep (take care of) the money. What to spend it on is arranged by men.

That is to say, women keep the money but men decide how to use it, is that right? Men allocate the expenditure. Women can use money only when men say how to use it. For most of the families, if women want to use money, will men allow them to use it?
Yes, the men will allow it. All families are different. If the man thinks it would be spent in the right way, he'll allow the woman to use it.

Let me ask you one thing. Today, there are many cases that husbands beat wives, aren't there?
These cases exist.

Whatís the percentage in your village?
Around 0.3 per cent.

0.3 per cent, so itís not up to one per cent?
The proportion is small. There are only one to two cases in a hundred households.

There are only one to two cases in a hundred households in your village?

But in the interviews I conducted today, the women didn't say it was like that! The women said that in 60 per cent of the families the husband beats the wife. Another saying is that there is probably 80-90 per cent. Thatís a big difference to what you said. Is it because you are a man in this village and you want to protect the men?
No. I think fighting between a couple can be divided into different categories. Some are fighting to divorce; some have quarrels and fights all the time. When I said 0.3 per cent I meant when the man beats the woman for everything all the time. What the women described in your interviews included all kinds of quarrels and fights in a family. In fact, in a family, people live together - there more or less must be quarrels and fights. We need to look at which aspect they belong to. This categorisation should be taken into account.
Section 5
Letís say some of those families - their relationships are normal and they don't quarrel to get a divorce, but itís just that men beat the women whenever there are conflicts. What is the percentage of these families?
Only 10 per cent of the families are like that. I have exaggerated the number even by saying this. There are many things to quarrel about in a family. Only through quarrels can things be done (can consensus be reached). Otherwise you do your thing and I do mine... quarrels are normal things.

Women reflected upon the situations of quarrels too. If it is only a quarrel, women dare to argue with men; but if itís a fight, women would not dare to fight back because they are physically weaker than men.
For situations like this, different families are different. For example, in my family, we often quarrel but it's mainly because of the familyís living conditions...

Are there any families in your village in which a woman holds the authority? Are there families in which men fear women?
There are. But you say ďfearĒ - in fact, it is not fear. But there are families in which women are in charge.

When a woman bears a child, does the husband care about her?
The husband cares. Cares means the man asks her to do some light work. He wonít let her do the heavy work, such as grinding [grain] or fetching water. This is care. If the man doesnít ask her to do anything, the woman will think that the man is working too hard while at the same time he has to take care of her, and so she'll get up to help.

Are many women suffering from women's disease in the village?
Women's disease?

Maybe men do not understand it very well?
Usually, many women have rheumatic problems. Why? I always think that our countryside cannot catch up with the economy outside. Our economic situation is backward. We are especially poor so we are not able to take care of the women. To use an unpleasant simile, our living conditions are not as good as the sows (pigs) of the civil servants. When a woman gives birth to a child, they just throw a bunch of grass in a corner Ė itís damp and infectious. Grass hides bacteria and will easily cause infection. Another common health problem that women suffer is prolapse of the womb. When the womb is being pushed back, one should clean and sterilise everything. But they miss this procedure. For those whose placenta canít be taken out properly [after birth], and for those who have a prolapsed womb, their health will be permanently affected.
Section 6
You said the prolapsed womb means it comes out and then they push it back into the body by hand?
Yes, push it back into the body. So they donít manage it well; they donít have the skills.

All the women with whom I had conducted interviews, did they all deliver the baby by themselves?
Yes, they do it by themselves. They have their own experience and skills.

The women who have never had a child before, do they deliver the child by themselves? What skills do they have?
For those who do not have any skills, they will ask a person to come.

So they ask some experienced people to come. Do you think the methods the experienced people use are scientific?
Scientific? Their experience is from their own experience of delivering babies. Because there is no midwife, women could only ask them to come.

There is no midwife and they have never asked a doctor?
We have financial difficulties, so we didn't ask [a doctor].

How did your wife deliver her child?
Our economic condition was bad. My mum came to help.

Had you any veterinary knowledge at that time?
No, not yet.

If you had, could you help in midwifery?
I could do it in a similar way.

In fact, people like you who have veterinary knowledge - you could help in midwifery after some additional training.
Yes, of course.

If you were trained and went to help in midwifery, would the women accept you? Do they allow men to do midwifery?
Yes, this would be a special case.

Men are allowed to do midwifery? ... delivery is really problematic! Women have women's disease but they wonít go for a doctor until they get very sick and can't get up. They always have to bear the hardship.
They don't go for a doctor mainly because of their poor economic condition. It takes a big sum of money to go to the hospital. Only when people are very sick, will they go to the hospital. They go to the hospital only to get injections and take drugs, but not for detailed treatment [involving check-ups and so on].
Section 7
Women's health is a serious problem.
It is especially serious in the case of dystocia (abnormally difficult and painful childbirth, including breech births). Some women have experience in treating dystocia. For example, if the foetus is in the wrong position (breech birth), experienced women can feel it and correct the position by touch. If the case of dystocia is sent to the township hospital, the doctors have to put their hands in to take out the child by force because they couldn't ...

You mean before the child is born, experienced women can correct the foetus's position. But not many people have those experience, arenít there?
They are usually experienced and older people.

Have any women died of difficult childbirth in your village?
No. As far as I could remember, there hasn't been a woman die from dystocia. But there were women who have suffered for days because of that.

There are no facilities for sterilisation in the village. What do you use to cut the umbilical cord at the navel? Do you use scissors?
We use ordinary scissors for cutting cloth. But the women are experienced. They put the scissors into boiling water to sterilise them. I always feel that women here are tough. They are shy to speak out if they are sick. They feel shy to tell even their husbands. If she has got a disease, she'll bear it by herself...

I interviewed some women. They all reflected that they have pain during their period. They don't know what the reason is. Usually they have period pain when they havenít yet married; it'll get better after they have married and had a child. Instead of getting pain after marriage, they got it before marriage. Don't know what's wrong.
Many people are like that; my woman too.

Normally they shouldn't have the pain.
They shouldn't have the pain. I don't know the reason.

So, is it necessary to have some trained midwives?
...They have no money to see a doctor, and they can only bear the suffering.

Over and above this aspect, what other aspects do you think concern women? The issue of women's disease is serious. provide knowledge for them to learn [cannot hear words on tape], the economy needs to be developed...

During my visit today, many people ran out [into the street] because they thought we were a performance troupe. It seems that they are longing for entertainment.
Yes. But the first thing should be training. We should introduce some trainers to come...
Section 8
It seems that a cultural class is running in your village? People attend the cultural class and learn singing and dancing at the house of the village party secretary. Do you know of it? I heard about it when teacher Zhu mentioned it to a little girl today.
Oh, that's the village evening class [he has misunderstood or corrected the reference as being to the evening class - usually literacy - rather than the cultural class]. I always think that these kinds of evening school that run at the eveningÖ people work in daytime, who will still have energy to learn in the evening? Like those who practise religion, they fix the time on a Friday or Saturday. They separate days for study and days for entertainment. They take one day for entertainment. If people work in the daytime and study in the evening, they canít get to bed until 11 pm. The time for sleep is not sufficient; they will have no energy to work in the day. If they run the class, they should run it during the day, like those religious people. People will be tired after a day's work. If they are tired, who wants to go to the evening class at night? Sometimes the class ran until 11 to 12 at midnight, people couldn't get any sleep...

Do you think itís better to teach some practical knowledge? What aspect do you think the women need most?
...[cannot hear answer]

Do you still use firewood? I think hacking down firewood is another burden for women.
Men are responsible for hacking the firewood. But when men do much work, women will feel concerned. So it turns out that the man will go for a few days, and then she goes for a few days.

Do you need to hack firewood every day in order to have sufficient to use?
Not only hack the firewood; even roots have to be dug out.

What are your thoughts about how to solve the problem of insufficient fuel supply? What kind of resources do you have here?
I still think that we should plant some trees... and the livestock needs grasses...

What kind of nature do you think Miao women possess?
Miao's women's nature... [cannot hear answer]

En. Miao women are all hard working. They won't complain no matter how tired they are and how hard life is. They look after children. They do housework. They work in the mountain as the men do, but it is just that the men do the more heavy work?
En, it's like that.

Do men help their wives do some housework when they come back?
They do. There are many household jobs in a day; the work of grinding corn is particularly heavy.

The corn needs to be ground for eating every day. How many do you need to grind so that it is enough for one day?
10 jin of corn at least; it takes more than one hour of labour. And it depends on the size of the mill. If it's small, it takes two to three hours to grind.
Section 9
10 jin is enough for a day? For how many people?
...[cannot hear] for people eating and feeding livestock.

People eat the finely ground one and the coarse one is for feeding livestock, right?
Not exactly. She would grind 10 jin of corn to feed the livestock, and for people to eat as well.

Is the corn insufficient for eating because you take some to feed the livestock?
Usually it is used to feed the livestock...and people eat ...[cannot hear]

Oh, you buy grain to feed the livestock, even when people don't have enough to eat?
Livestock is fed to make money in the future. If a family doesn't have livestock, it's too poor.

If we don't feed the livestock, even though people would get grain to eat, there will be no money generated. Which option do you think is better?
It's better to buy the grain to feed the livestock. You can exchange money by selling the livestock, and then you can have some small capital for turnover.

Now the two things that bring a heavy workload to women are grinding corn and collecting firewood. Of course, men do the work too, but itís mainly women who take up the work. And there is lots of work in feeding livestock, like cooking and feeding. Do you feed them raw fodder or cooked?
We usually feed them raw in summer, and cooked in winter.

Another heavy workload for women is to make the gunny sacks.

Interview ends.
NB There were many parts of this interview that could not be heard clearly because of the narratorís low voice. The narrator added some written notes. [These are outlined in the summary CHI18SUM, as they were more of a written summary of the topics he had covered in the interview than bringing in new material.]