photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 3 - Southwest)






Substitute teacher


Wenqian, Bama county, Guangxi


26 April 1997



One afternoon, we two interviewers stepped into the Central Primary School of Wenqian village. A local Yao “substitute teacher” called Xiuzhen was teaching in the school. [A substitute teacher is not yet qualified; they fill positions in areas where the government can’t recruit enough qualified teachers. The salary is lower and the position much less secure than that of qualified staff.] It was Saturday. It was very quiet in the school. We asked many people there but no one knew where Xiuzhen had gone. We walked back disappointed, but just as we got to the gate, we saw her carrying two buckets of water and walking toward us. She didn't know me so she only greeted my companion, Li Juan. Li Juan then introduced me. She looked very enthusiastic. She took us to her dormitory. Because of her openness, I had no hesitation in talking to her.

Xiuzhen is a self-confident and self-reliant woman. After she finished junior high school, she didn’t have the chance to go on to higher levels of study. It was because her parents thought that boys were more valuable than girls, and the family was in a difficult financial situation. She could only go back home to do farm work. In her own words, her family is “like a fortress, there is no freedom in it”. From the conversation, we learn the twists and turns in her life of study, career and marriage. But she didn't lose her confidence because of the difficulties. Instead, she broke through traditional custom, and devoted herself to contributing to society.

We explained our purpose. I said, “I'm from the county Women's Federation. I had the pleasure of going to Kunming (Oxfam) to attend a workshop about women's Oral Testimony early this month. I come here to the project site of Oxfam, Wenqian village, to conduct an interview for the women's oral testimony programme. Would you please say something about yourself, about education and health, etc?”

Section 1
Please feel free to say anything.
I won’t say too much. I was born and brought up in this village. I have many sisters. My dad is an educated man; my mum is illiterate. She cannot speak Mandarin but can understand a bit. Sometimes she is scared of speaking out so she doesn't go to market very often. She is a very straightforward (honest, direct) person. Sometimes [when] you come to my home - maybe you think that she's angry because she doesn’t speak. In fact, because she can't speak well, she just keeps doing her work. This is my mum. Because she didn't have chance to go to school, my dad and her insisted on supporting me to go to school. When I was in primary school, I almost had to stop attending classes because my dad was ill - mentally disordered. I didn't know why he was ill, maybe because of drinking too much alcohol? Or because of his work? I was too young to understand that at that time.
I passed the enrolment exam of the Dongshan Middle School [usually for ages 12-15]. Because my dad was ill, I could not afford to go to school, so I went back home. My mum said there was no money to send us to school, so she didn't allow me to study. My dad came back from Baise hospital in late July. He got better, and allowed me to take the complementary tutorials (extra classes, usually from personal tutor) after school. I finally passed the enrolment exam of the Bama First Middle School. I studied there for three years. Our family was in a very difficult financial situation. Although the tuition fee was not high, the family could only give me 10 yuan a month, plus some subsidies for the minority class (government-subsidised class for minority peoples). My school life could only be maintained at the minimum level. Although life was harsh, I studied very hard. But I failed an [entrance] examination to the high school, just a few marks too few. My dad didn't allow me to study in vocational schools. Some people were not kind to us; they got my Enrolment Letter from the vocational school but they didn’t give it to me.
Section 2
Didn't you get the Enrolment Letter when it came?
No, I didn’t get it. They got my letter but they didn’t come back to tell me. They went to have fun in Bama instead. My dad didn't allow me to study at that time. He said we’ve got no money. My younger sister had passed the enrolment exam of Dongshan Middle School by that time.

How many siblings do you have?
Six. My second younger sister passed the exam of the Dongshan Middle School. My dad said to me, “It’s good enough for you to finish middle school. We don't have money to send you to study further. You didn't pass the enrolment exam of the high school anyway. From those vocational school studies, what do you think you can learn? That's the place for capons and hogs!” In the past, people said that was a place where you learned how to castrate chickens and pigs. My dad was furious and said, “How can a woman learn to castrate chickens and pigs? Those are men’s jobs!”

Did you want to learn those things?
No, I didn't.

Were you willing to learn those things?
En! (yes) Our curriculum didn't include that at that time. Only people from veterinarian stations (government village-level veterinary unit) went to study those things. During that time, students didn't study that but they studied gardening (horticulture). The courses taught in the middle school didn't include English. It's only 90 yuan to study in high schools but my dad didn't allow me to go. Ya! I regret this so much. A guy from this village got a notice from the high school requiring a physical examination. He went there on the 6th. He came back but he didn't tell me that I had got the notice too. A classmate came back on the 10th because of the holiday of Teacher's Day. He asked me, “Did you go to take the physical exam?” I said I didn't get the notice. He said he had asked a guy from our village to tell me about that. That man didn't tell me.
Later, I went to Bama. Although I thought I was a bit late for the examination for the vocational school, [I hoped] they may not be very strict on time keeping. I wanted to ask my uncle to ask the headmaster for a favour, but my uncle was not in. I didn't know where he had gone. I thought if my dad didn't have money to send me to the vocational school, it was no use for my uncle to talk to the headmaster. So I came back home.
My mum is very stubborn. You could not do anything to make money without her permission. Yeah! She sends you out to work every day, and you can't do anything else; you couldn’t even go to the market place. At that time I wrote to one of my friends and said, “My family is like a fortress. There is no freedom.” It’s true. Li Juan knows that. Ya! My mum is really… [laughs]. Before 10 o'clock at the evening, she'll ask you to come back home.
Section 3
Why didn't she let you stay out?
She is afraid that a girl will get into trouble outside [laughs]. She received no education [but] she doesn't care much. She's very strict with you. She doesn't allow you to go out. She won’t let you in if you come back after 10 at night. She asks you to come back on time. She sometimes blames you: “What? Is there so much fun outside?” Even if you don’t go out with a man, she still blames you: “Girl, you deceive me time and again!" If it were you, you would be annoyed about my mum’s thoughts too. I really hated my mum and dad at that time.
Because something happened, I had to get married in a hurry after I came back from Dena. Otherwise, I wouldn't have got married so early. Now I feel a bit regretful. I got married too young, and have a child now. Others could have gone out to work and gone travelling in the big world outside. We carry the child and have to stay at home all our life. We have no opportunity to go out [into the world] again. Even if the man allows you to go out, you are unwilling to go. Sometimes I want to go, but when I think about my child at home, I am worried. So, I don't go out. Even if I go, I wouldn’t feel any relief.

Would you want to go if you were not married?
If I was not married, what would stop me? I came back home and insisted on staying for three years after I graduated. In these three years, my dad introduced me to being a substitute teacher. They said they were going to send me to teach in Kaqiao village. They asked my dad, “Do you agree to let your elder sister (daughter) be a substitute teacher in Kaqiao village?” My dad didn’t reply to them directly but said, “If you want her to go, you can go to my house to test her qualifications.” Only my dad said these words; I didn't know anything about that.
My dad came back drunk one day and told me that he was afraid that we were not firm enough to reject men and would be seduced by bad guys. He said, “They want to examine you [to assess your suitability] to be a substitute teacher. You'd better not go. That primary school is in Fanyao area; only local teachers of Fanyao area teach there. You are a girl and that school is at the village entrance, why do you want to go? Although there is a headmaster and three teachers, they are all local people. When they go back home at night, won't you be afraid of being left alone? Things often happen there.” Later my dad went to tell them that I didn't agree to go, so they didn't examine me. And I lost the chance to go out [leave home] again.
Section 4
If he didn't allow you to go, would you still go?
It’s not necessarily that I want to go to that specific place. Later they asked me to help in sales in the cooperatives [laughs]. They (parents) were afraid too, and said, “Can you do that? You don't know accounting, or auditing. And you don't know how to do calculation. You see uncle Tanhong. He is so good at auditing. He even talked about bribery [laughs]. You could go but you don’t know how to count. It’s better you don’t go.” He said that to me. I know nothing about that, so I kept my mouth shut I dared not to go against them, and dared not to agree with them. My dad is that kind of man that when he says one, then it's one; he says two, then it's two. You could never add any opinion of your own. He wanted you to listen to him only. Later I didn't argue with him any more but just stayed at home quietly.
I had a boyfriend when I was in the school. We were very close. His old parents liked to spread rumours. They said any woman who's gone to study was lazy and was not able to work. They said I was lazy, and wanted to cheat for money. They didn't want me to be their daughter-in-law. I felt this was unfair. Later that man (my boyfriend) asked me, “Let’s leave here together.” I said, “I didn't plan to get married.” Then he left by himself and found a job outside. After he went out, he brought with him a girl. They were about to get married. He still said to me that if I was willing to go with him, he would have left that girl immediately. I laughed to myself in my heart, “How would it be possible? You are about to get married. I won't go with you. Even if you treat me well, it's impossible for me to go with you.”
I stayed at home for another one and a half years. On New Year’s day 1991, a man of our village treated me well. He was younger than me. I regarded him as a younger brother. I didn't pay attention to him. I didn't pay attention to him, and he was not very mature. He always came to my home and called me, but didn't talk to my dad. At that time Li Juan knew that; we were together then. I felt that life changed very quickly. I avoided him and didn't have interest in him. I didn’t know what special occasion it was - my dad got drunk and said to me viciously, "You plan well, are you going to get married?" I got mad at what he said [laughs]. I was furious and really hated my dad.

Did you have a plan to get married then?
No, I didn't have that plan at all. I didn't care about that. He used to study together with my second uncle and with my second sister. Li Juan and I stayed at home together. He was two to three years younger than me. I didn't take him as a friend (meaning boyfriend) at all. Yeah! Because my dad said those words to me, I really wanted to kill myself. I really wanted to kill myself, and my dad didn't care about me. It was a New Year day and I had a plan. I got a friend in my years of study. We were just ordinary friends. He went out and worked in Hainan island. [Hainan province is an island at southern tip of China, with vast natural and mineral resources. It was the largest economic zone in China in 1988, designated as a development priority and targeted for major investment. Special permits are usually needed to work there.]
He said to me, “If you want to come here to work, you can come after you get through the procedures.” At that time we didn't know what an identity card was. We only knew that when we took a look at the others’ ones. They got a special ID card before they could go to Hainan. It was a special administrative district. I knew nothing about it. I didn't know where to apply for an ID. Yeah! It was really funny to think about it. Anyhow, I had a plan at that time. Although I didn't know the way to get there, I could write to him and ask him to pick me up. I planned to go immediately after the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar).
Section 5
Did you have such a plan?
I had such a plan. I didn't want to live here. I couldn't live in this mountainous area! I could not stay any longer! It was true. My aunt had the closest relationship with me. I told her everything a week after the New Year. I didn't talk to my mum and dad. I went to tell my aunt and say goodbye to her. If she agreed, I would go; if she didn't, I would not go. During that week, I went to stay with my aunt for two days. I told her that because my dad said such things to me, I didn't want to stay here any longer. I didn't want to go home. I wanted to go out to find some work. My aunt said to me, “Why must you leave here? What are you going to do? Isn't there a man who's interested in you?” I didn't know who she meant. But it was my current husband she referred to. It's funny to think about it. At that time I was studying in the middle school.

Which year did you graduate from the middle school?
I graduated in 1988.

When were you born?
I was born in 1970. I am 26. I married when I was 20.

What's your name?
My name is Xiuzhen.

Are you Yao nationality?
Yes. She (the aunt) said that. I said that it was impossible because he had a girlfriend. She said he didn't. She said the girl deceived him. When I was in primary school, my dad was ill and it was his dad who gave a helping hand. They were old comrades. At that time his dad sent my dad to Baise to receive medical treatment. My dad was very kind to both of them. My dad said to them, ‘My eldest sister (eldest daughter) will marry in your family as your daughter-in-law.” My dad said those words. My aunt was married to Nongxue where I had never been. I had never had such thoughts of marrying my present husband. We often came across each other but never talked. It was really funny. I wished my dad had never said those words earlier. I felt very embarrassed in my heart. We didn't greet each other when we met – we were even shy to meet. They meant what they said, but I didn't pay attention to it. He was about to get married to the first woman. But only seven days before the arranged date, the woman ran away. Otherwise, how could I marry him?!
Section 6
You hadn’t been courting with him?

How about later?
We got married two months after we knew each other.

Did you get to know each other after your aunt told you about that?
Wu! My aunt said, “Here is a man who likes you. If you are willing, live with me as a family. It’s fine.” Later, my aunt wrote and asked him to come.

Where was he during that time?
He taught in Dongshan primary school. My aunt wrote to him but I didn't know about that. I didn't know he would come to my home. That day he came, I was very shy! He entered my house but my dad and mom didn't know how to respond. They were all simple people. Originally I thought nothing about him. I thought that he came because my aunt wrote to him. It was near the time of the school vacation; he went back home. Since then he came quite often to my home on Saturday. Later we got to know each other better. Then we got married on 10 March.

Which year?
10 March 1991. We started to be in touch with each other from New Year day in 1991.

Do you live well?
It's quite okay. Anyhow, he's an honest person. My husband is not very sociable. He is very dedicated to work. He doesn't care about what others say about him.

Are you satisfied with your life?
After we got married, I didn't go back to my parents’ home. I went to Dongshan to live with him. We had a child there. And there was not much work to do.

How old is your child?
Five years old. He was born in December 1991. After I gave birth to my child, I didn’t have much to do. He had probably talked to the chief of the education department to let me be a substitute teacher. “You are in Dongshan and you want her to be a substitute teacher. But Dongshan doesn't need a substitute teacher. How about going to Nonghan?” I thought it was inconvenient to go there. I have to look after my child. The school was near the roadside where it was insecure. Later, a person in the education department said, “It’s better to make you (my husband) the headmaster of Wenqian school and you can bring your wife with you.” That was how we came here!

Which year did you come?
In 1992. My child was nine months old when we came. Our life was harsh when we first came here. I got 40 yuan a month. My husband got 200 yuan per month as salary.
Section 7
Doesn't the substitute teacher have some subsidies every month?
It's better now. Salary has increased a bit. He gets over 300 yuan. He subscribes to the Party Branch Life, the Party Construction, Hechi Daily (newspaper), etc. There are three to four subscriptions quarterly. He won't subscribe to other periodicals. We subscribed to Liaoning Youth for two years. I couldn't understand it and found it not interesting. We then changed to subscribe to Speech and Eloquence (a more academic publication). It is only me who reads that. He is not interested in it. He reads Party Branch Life, Party Construction, and Hechi Teenage Daily (newspaper). He doesn't care about housework. He is mainly concerned about the work in the school. We are here and I do most of the housework.

You do most of the housework?
Yes, but I don't find it very tiring. For instance, we rear pigs and grow vegetables. It doesn’t clash with the time for school. We do it after school hours.

Do you feel satisfied with this job (teaching)?
I feel it's all right. If I had stayed at home, I would have forgotten all I learned and would not remember so many things after so many years. You have a long-term memory only if you use it frequently. I am fulfilled in this way. I feel it's okay.

What is the children's school enrolment rate?
The enrolment rate in our village is more than 98%.

How about girls?
Girls? There are many from this village. Almost all school-age children go to school. There are fewer from outside. There were three or four girls from Nongshan and Changdong last semester; none this semester.

Why is it so?
They say that girls won’t have good performance (perform well) in school. Girls would become lazy and it will not be easy to find husbands. I did ask them, “Why don't your parents allow you to study?” Last semester I asked those girls, “There are many girls in your place (community), why is it only you two or three who come?” They said that it was because of feudal thoughts (politically incorrect/old-fashioned views) that girls were not sent to school. They were not allowed to study.

How many school-age girls from Nongshan and Changdong village are in this school?
They don't belong to the [catchment] area of this school.

Then they come by themselves?
Yes, they come by themselves. They come when they are in grade 4 or 5 because they have a primary school of up to grade 4 in their village. Only our school has grade 5.
Section 8
How many teachers are there in this school?
There are 12.

How many of them are women?
Now there are three. There are 12 teachers in total in our village; three of them are women.

Is the division of teaching assignments the same for male and female teachers, or are female teachers being taken care of (looked after)?
No, there is no differentiation of work. Our assignments are the same.

Are you the teacher in charge of the class?
Not now. I was. I have enrolled for the distance learning course in Bama. I have to go there once or twice per semester. I need to go in a few days.

Are you going to graduate?
En! I will graduate in July. The time [on the course] will be wasted if you don't study. Originally, we didn't want to apply for distance learning. But if we don’t study, we won’t know much about the methodologies of teaching. It's good to join the distance learning course. We learned many things about the methodologies of teaching.

Is there any literacy class?
Literacy class? Yes.

Are the classes still running?
Not any more. They have reported that there are no more illiterates and the tasks have been fulfilled.

Do you think there are still target groups for literacy classes?
Maybe not. If there are any, they are from the villages over there (meaning other villages).

There is none in this village?
There is none here. The girls who came back home have finished primary school education. Their families don’t have money to send them to middle school. It would be good if the girls could go to middle school [usually ages 12-15]. Some people think that it's no use to study. It’s better to work and earn money than to study. If you finish studying at middle school, and there is no money for you to go to high school or the teacher's college, they won’t study further. They think if you have some knowledge, then that’s enough.

Is it because they don’t want to go to school, or because the parents don't want them to go?
Both. The families face financial hardship; while on the other hand some people choose not to go to school. For example, I have a niece who loves to study, but because the family is very poor, she has to go out to work instead. Like my husband's younger sister, she had only finished grade 2 in primary school. Now she is not able to go out because of lack of education, she's so regretful. She said, “It would be good if I had gone to school. Now I cannot read and write. It's inconvenient (difficult) to go anywhere. If I travel further away, I won’t even know how to come back home. Nothing can help now. I’m getting old. There is no way back. I’m 25 already.” My uncle, Lan Minjiang, has two children. The boy doesn't want to study. Lan has three daughters but they don't want to study either. What a pity! The family is rich!
Section 9
Why don't they want to study?
She said that studying was too tiring so she didn’t want to study. I felt that girls mature early nowadays. They aren’t like us in the past. Like my younger sister, she has made friends outside already.

How old is she?
Around 14. There must be some influence from watching TV and films. Our school has a regulation at night. She studies here. But no one is allowed to go out after the night bell has rung. Everybody must go to bed on time. Sometimes we go to bed after we have finished preparing the next day’s class. We didn't know that they went out to see films secretly. One day my husband and another person went out because two other people invited them for drinking. When they were on the way back, they saw his third sister was playing with others. He shouted to her. She gave up studying after that. I tried to persuade her to go back to school. Now she dares not see me when I go back home. We can do nothing. While we were having a meal there, she ran into her room immediately and didn’t dare eat. I asked them, “Who has a bowl of rice here? It hasn’t been finished.” They said, “It's your third sister. She saw you come back and she hid immediately.” I said, “You don't have to hide. It's okay that you don't want to study. It's fine if you want to come back home. There’s only your mum staying at home.” Then she came out; otherwise she wouldn’t dare to see me.

Was she embarrassed?
I didn't blame her for anything. I told her to study. Her brother was drunk that night. Her brother went back and said to her, “That night I was drunk and I shouted at you. But because you are a girl, I said that for your own good and it was deserved. You were wandering on the street at 12, at midnight. There are rules and regulations in the school. You are my younger sister; if I didn't scold you, people would criticise me saying, ‘You are protecting your relatives.’ ”

Do you have any future plans?
Me? I'm about to finish the distance learning course. I’ll try to transfer to be a permanent (qualified) teacher. I don't have any concrete plans. I feel it's not too bad to be a teacher. Many people who graduated with me together in our village have gone home and got no job. But their life is quite satisfactory. Everyone has his or her own lifestyle. Lanfang is one of our group. If she hadn't married so early, she would have passed the exam and gone outside. Then life would change drastically. If I were not married, it would be impossible for me to be a substitute teacher - because it would be impossible for me to go out to work if I were at home.
Section 10
My dad is the kind of person that doesn’t want you to go out. I had a classmate whose family name is Luo. She studied in Mongmo. She fooled around with someone and got pregnant. My dad took her as an example [laughs]. She married Guihua who was from Fenghuang. He's a driver. His dad works for supply and marketing cooperatives in Fenghuang and is the elder or younger brother of “something-qin” (forgets name) in Dongshan. He's transferred to work in Liuzhou. Do you know him?

It’s Anqin, right ?
It's Anqin's elder brother. My dad took her as an example, and said to me, “I prefer you to stay home and work.” He said that to me. I thought that's pointless. He wouldn't let you rear more pigs even if there were enough grain. He wouldn’t listen to you. My mum has the same kind of old-fashioned thoughts. If you want to raise pigs then you better raise pigs only; she wouldn’t listen to you at all. Our educational background is different. My younger brother has come back home. He used to be a substitute teacher but the job was poorly paid. Now he’s grown up. He wants to join the distance learning [course]. My dad has to subsidise him by 200 yuan a month. My dad said, “Yeah! I can’t afford that. I prefer that you work as a substitute teacher.” He asked my brother to go to Bama sugar refinery and work with my uncle. My brother didn't agree to go. He didn't want to go. He went to search for jobs on his own. Now he works in Jinchengjiang as a security guard. But that doesn't make much money either.

You have six sisters. So how many younger brothers do you have?
Two younger brothers.

Did you ever think that if you were a male, and you were the oldest, how different your status would be in your family?
If I were a male, my dad would certainly love me a lot. At least, he would send me to university. My dad also has the thought that boys are more valuable than girls. I didn't care when I was young. I knew too, when I had my third younger brother. My dad, my mum and my grandma loved him very much. They called after him wherever he went. They worried that he would fall down into the pool, or when he climbed trees with others. People said, “Ya! It seems that only you have got a grandson but others don't!” People said that to my grandma. Later my fourth sister was born. They saw that she was a girl (before she was born?), and the number of children my parents had had exceeded the quota of the family control scheme, so people urged my parents to abort that child. At that time, my grandma was still alive. She said, “We’ve got only one boy. Ask her (my mum) to have one more. It's worth the trial, even if we have to be fined several thousand yuan.” However, the fifth child was a girl again. Ya! My dad and the others all went mad. I never told anyone about that. I kept it in my mind (to myself) that my dad has the thought of (believes in) valuing boys more than girls.
Not long after my sister was born, she got seriously sick and nearly died. My dad was not at home, and my mum was not at home either. It was my aunt in Nongxue who came. There was a clinic in our village. We carried my younger sister there to receive an injection. After the injection, she became better. Later, I gave a name to my sister. I thought if my sister was a boy, she would not have been so pitiful. I named her “Nan”. Now her name is Xiunan. She was not born as a boy, and so was looked down on by my parents. I named her “nan” which carried the same sound as a male [in Mandarin]. Otherwise I wouldn't give her such a name. My dad didn't know why I gave her this name. We brothers and sisters have our middle name as ‘Xiu’. I'm Xiu, my second sister is Xiu, my fourth sister is Xiuzhu. Later, she changed her name by herself as *** Qiuhua. After that, she changed it to *** Lizhu. She changed the middle name. My fifth sister is called Xiunan; this was given by me. My dad didn't know why I used this name. I didn’t want to use the written word nan which means “male” exactly because that didn’t look elegant. I used the radical mu (every Chinese character in the written language is composed of one radical and several strokes) which means “tree”, together with the character nan which means “south”. It carries the same sound as “male”. I used it to show my repugnance to my dad. My fifth sister didn't get any share of land.
Then my brother, the sixth child, was born. When my mum conceived him, she wanted to abort the baby. She took many drugs but my brother survived. You see, that year was really strange. You see, my mum reared a sow and it was very fat. It went out and got pregnant. My mum didn't know about it. My dad was preparing to kill it. However, it delivered piglets at that night. Later, my mum was very sick and always had a cold. She didn’t get well for a long time. My mum was pregnant and my dad said, “We have to try everything.” He got some tetracycline from the clinic. He gave all kinds of medicines to my mum to take. Then my mum got well. My mum didn't remember how many months it took to bear a baby. She didn't know when she would give birth to the baby. Like our birthdays, my mum could never remember them. If you asked her, she couldn’t answer you. She could only remember the year. Later we looked up the cloth (calendar?) ourselves and we knew. When my mum was about to deliver, it was about nine months. Some people came to persuade my mum to have an abortion; otherwise, my dad would be expelled from the Party membership and would be fined several thousand yuan. My dad and my mum had decided and had packed some light luggage to prepare to go to Bama for the abortion. But then my mum felt pains and my brother was born.
Section 11
Do you think your brother's life is a lucky thing?
Yes. My dad was then expelled from the Party membership, and was fined several thousand yuan. It was deducted from his salary. My dad used to be a Party member. Now, I don't know why, my brother's brain is so good though it is slow.

Maybe because your mum took medicines when she was pregnant?
My mum feels pity for him.

Has your mum and dad's attitude changed?
It is only my mum staying at home now. My two younger sisters have gone to study in Dongshan. Another sister is going to graduate this year. My dad said that after my sister finishes middle school, he could not afford to send her to study further. My second sister got married too early. If she hadn't got married so early, my dad probably would not have such thoughts. It was because my second sister went to teacher's college after graduating from middle school, and as soon as she finished the study in the teacher's college, she got married.
Section 12
Did your second sister ever study at teacher's college?
En (yes). That was why my dad was angry with her. [He felt he had] handed a good daughter to another family. Ai…my dad is very stubborn. One good thing is that he cares about us very much, especially because he's a pragmatist: he doesn't believe in any gods and ghosts. My home town is in Donglan. You see, I'm at this age and I haven't been back to the home town once. I don't know how to explain it. Never go to the graveyards [where the ancestors are?]. He told us not to go and we didn't go. He doesn't allow you to go.

What's the happiest thing in your life?
Happiest? I think there is nothing that makes me happy. It seems I started to be happy after I got married. Before that when I lived with my parents, you know that kind of family - I dared not talk. My dad was a stubborn person and was very strict. You had to be careful when you spoke. When I was at home, I never talked to him. I never talked to him about issues of boyfriends and girlfriends. My dad said, “You should stick to only one person. If you said you got along with one person, you should not get close with another one.” When I was about to marry, I didn't tell my mum. I was afraid that she'd oppose my decision and cry, because she was sentimental. Say, I was going to get married on Friday, I wouldn’t tell her until Monday.

Did your husband’s family send you meat and alcohol when you got married?
We had a free marriage (love marriage; not arranged). We didn't tell either of our families. We didn't spend a cent when we married. We had a free marriage

Did you deliver your child at home or in the hospital?
My child was delivered in the hospital. I don’t want to have a second child even if it is allowed.

Did you give birth naturally?
Yes. But after the delivery, I continually got sick. I had serious postnatal sickness.

Did you go to the hospital?
I did. I got better when I took the medicine but some time later I had a relapse.

What kind of sickness did you suffer from?
Pelvic infection.

Can the pelvic infection be treated in the hospital?
I got better after taking some medicines, but some time later it relapsed.

Taking medicine is one way of treatment. Another way is to have some kind of frozen treatment (?). They have medicines for this infection every year. You can receive injections. One has to be treated as early as possible because it'll be difficult to cure when you get older. It's inflammation at the early stage so it's easy to cure.
Now I have had an IUD put in. I often have pain in my abdomen.
Section 13
Maybe it is because of salpingitis (inflammation of the Fallopian tubes). Can you go to the hospital to check?
I went to check and they said it was the pelvic infection. I took medicines and received injections. I was ill but I couldn't blame my husband. He's very kind to me. Every time when I was about to recover by taking medicine, I felt sick from the smell of the medicine. I vomited immediately after I took the medicine.

You can tell the doctor and perhaps he could use another kind of medicine?
I went to Fenghuang. They gave me the same kind of medicine. I don't know which kind of medicine is good, and which kind is not good.

Do you always travel to some far away places?
No. The farthest I've gone was Jinchengjiang.

Which year did you go there?
In 1987 or 1988. I'm a bit afraid to travel farther away. It seems that society (the outside world) is becoming complicated (harder to deal with). Even if you allowed me to go, I would feel scared. I saw some people who were illiterate but they went everywhere freely. We’ve read some newspapers. People wrote about society (the outside world), which seemed very difficult. I dare not go. I get easily scared. Not to mention going outside (let alone leaving the village), I feel scared even when I stay at home. I'm frightened when it's dark at night. When my husband is at home, I can sleep. When my husband is away and other teachers are not around, I can hear the noise of the mice going near the door and I feel frightened. It seems I'm very cowardly.

Maybe when you were at home, your parents were too strict so it had some impact on you?
Maybe. Sometimes I feel my cowardliness has been inherited by my child. If I am here and I ask him to play somewhere else, he does not dare to go.

Did you take him to the hospital to check whether he has ill health?
He doesn't have ill health.

He'll be better when he grows up.
I don't know. Why does he feel scared? Sometimes I wanted myself to change, but I could not. I have never gone to see a dead person in my life. I cannot see dead people. If I see them, I would be disturbed for a month and could not sleep well. Here when women get sick, men don't care much.

Women get sick and men don't care much - is that because of any ethnic taboo?
He said sickness is not a big deal! He said it would not cause you to die. He said that. Unless you said it's very serious, he would not give you money to see a doctor. So there are many people who are sick. They become old very quickly, and easily get tired. Many men in our village don't work much; women work more.
Section 14
Women do most of the work?
Women provide the main labour of the family here.

Then can woman play a major role in the family?
Some families are like that. Here, there is a woman who's the same age as me; her man doesn't work even at home.

Who manage the economics of the family?
The wife rears pigs and chickens, and makes money out of them. They use the money together. Sometimes the man goes out to work and earns some money back.

Did he give this money to the woman, or did he keep it to himself?
Ya! In our village, mostly it’s men who keep the money. But in my family, he (husband) lets me keep it. Although I don't like to keep it. I spend money quickly. There would never be enough for me to spend no matter how much I have.

Do you think it's convenient to work like this?
I prefer he keeps the money. I don’t want to keep it. I would rather ask him when I need some. I'm like that.

Does he give it to you [if you ask]?
Yes! I ask him and he'll give. Anyway, we are equal in this family. We live together. Although it was a free marriage (not arranged), we didn’t love each other when we got married. But after we got married, we got closer to each other. We never quarrel. People often say swear words when they quarrel, but we never did that. We would argue with each other but that’s all; nothing more serious than that.

Concerning what you have told us, if we organise it and get our minority people involved to publish a book, and if we sort out some parts in our conversation that can be used, would you agree that we can use it?
Use it if you think it’s useful. There is nothing special in what I said.

I talk to you about these things mainly because I think these experiences can be shared with other places. The project covers not only the area here, but also includes other provinces where other ethnic groups live, such as the Miao, and the Yi in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.
I think we ethnic minority women have a low level of education; we do not know what to do and how to change our lives.

Well, I just want to know, in your own opinion - just think about yourself - what are your ideas about change?
I only feel that it is impossible to change by individual effort. I feel we need the whole society to press or to push for changes. Like in our home town here, our situations are slightly better than others. Many girls have been sent to schools. But look at the other villages around here - there are so many girls who can’t go to school and have to stay at home to do the family work. And there is one more point that is worth pointing out that nowadays: girls mature very early. A girl of 15 or 16 starts to have love affairs! I am confused by this and do not know how to change it.
Section 15
So, in your opinion, changes have to be made with the help of the whole society?
Yes, there have to be some measures enforced on people. And also the parents have to take their responsibilities seriously. If parents do not supervise and look after their children, there is no way the children will manage themselves well. There are many parents who do not send their children to school. You know that, don’t you? You come here often, you know the children from Nongshan. They are very young and they are wandering on the street because they could not go to school. In their area, children who could go to school don't want to study. They prefer to go home and make friends. I think it's good for girls to study more. Now we want to study, but no one will teach. We bought books to learn by ourselves. If you don't know anything, even if you bought the books and you study them, you could not understand them.

So women must be educated?
If you cannot get into higher education, it's good for you to read and learn some more knowledge.

One needs knowledge even if one stays at home!
Yes, one needs knowledge even if one stays at home. Now people feed pigs and chickens by scientific techniques. If you don't go to school, you can’t understand the books at all. Many families talk about scientific pig-feeding - in fact, they don't know about the scientific techniques. They just feed the pigs with old methods.

Both planting and feeding need techniques. I think you are busy too. We stop here today. Thank you.
Well, I don't know what to say! Just chatting.

You talked well. I hope you can be transferred to be a permanent teacher and be qualified.
Bless you!