photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary

Shuling (L); Dong’er (D); Xiaoyan (X)

(CHINA 32 - Northeast)


F; F; F


40; 26; 31




Longtang, Huanglongsi, Hebei





Section 1
When did you begin your contract (lease on the hill)?
D: The production team allowed the villagers to develop the hills. Because we all have children, we can’t leave home to work. Then we thought that if we could sign the contract we would bring about some money.

Who initiated the plan?
L: Dong’er and I first signed the contract. They wanted to work together with us.

When you reached an agreement you went to see the village leaders, didn’t you?
L: I did.
D: After we had signed the contract we began to work. We don’t fear to bear hardships. [If you] Just stay here – you will get nothing.

How many mu (1 mu equals 0.067 hectares) of field did you contract?
L: Last spring (1996) we leased more than 10 mu and we have developed a few. We call the hill “The Economic Valley”. It means “bring about money”. [Laughing] This is our dream. We don’t know whether we can realise it or not. A year has passed. We have cultivated two mu and planted trees there. The number of trees depends on how many stretches of land we can develop. We dig a hole first and we plant a tree.

There are only four people in your group, no one else?
L: Only we four women.
D: Most of the men are working outside. We are left to do the work.

What’s the time limit of your contract? How much do you have to pay every year?
L: The time limit is 40 years. We have to pay 430 yuan every year. We have paid since last year. The money is equally divided. Everyone has a share. It’s 108.25 yuan [laughing].

You must have invested a lot at the beginning? How much did you invest in the first year?
L: We didn’t invest much last year. We couldn’t afford to buy saplings. We mainly dug for saplings from other places and planted them in our field. Last year we got lots of support from the village and the county. We were exempted from a year’s charge. We should have sent the money to the production team. Actually, it was the production team in our village that exempted us from the charge. We will continue to do the rest of the work this year. If we can succeed in 40 years the success will belong to us all.
D: Who knows what will happen in the years? Our dream is beautiful.
Section 2
It’s good to work with a vision! Had you discussed the matter with your husbands before you signed the contract?
L and D: [Laughing] At that time they were away from home. We decided ourselves.

So without discussing the matter with anybody you decided yourselves?
L: At that time Dong’er’s husband and my husband went away from home. Mr Liu, the accountant, was at home. He had a talk with his wife. He said, “The members of the group are all women. If you want you can work with them.” [Everybody is laughing.]

How did your husbands react when they got back from work?
L: They were glad to hear that. They gave us lots of support.

They must have admired you very much. [Everybody is laughing.] Did you ask the Lius first or did they ask you first?
L: They asked us first. The wife came to ask us if she could work with us together. We all live in Longtang.

What do other people think of your contract?
L and D: After we had signed the contract we heard some say, “Do you really think they will succeed?”

Shall we have a look at the hill?
L: It’s not far from here. I guess you want to see if there is such a hill!

How did you contract (lease) the hill at that time?
D: I wanted to contract it and Shuling wanted to, too. We didn’t discuss the matter. At that time a contract was made through public bidding. There was only one contract so we decided to co-operate.
L: At that time Dong’er and I both wanted to make the contract. Then I said, “Shall we work together?”

Did you find it hard to do the work?
D: We didn’t think so. But it was not easy to dig holes. There were so many rocks. It is a bit easier after it rains in summer. We can’t dig in winter. Since it’s too dry in spring it’s not easy to dig the ground.
Section 3
How deep do you have to dig before you see the soil?
D: First we must get rid of the rocks. If we find loose soil we will plant trees there. Now we have developed two mu and planted 100 trees. The problem is that we don’t have the resources to go on with the work.

You said you don’t have the resources. What do you mean? Is it because you don’t have money to buy more saplings or anything else?
D: Money is a problem. In addition we are short of hands (labour). Mr Liu (the accountant) always does us a favour when he has some spare time. The husbands usually come back before the time to harvest wheat. Some of them come back in December.

What specific ideas do you have at present?
L: When we have got some ideas we’ll discuss them with Mr Liu. We are going to look for some saplings. We also wish to graft walnut plants on date-plums and plums on peach trees. At present the major problem is that we are short of hands. We are looking forward to our husbands’ help.
D: Since we have signed the contract we are afraid of nothing. Fear brings no help. Though we are having a hard time now, things will look up in the future.
L: Some people say “Now you are developing the hill, but I’m afraid that you’ll be too old to pluck the persimmons.” I say, “What we are doing now will benefit future generations.”

How much have you invested so far?
L: Last year we paid some of the costs. According to the contract we have paid this year’s charge. The total sum was 800 yuan.
G: [Shuling’s nephew’s wife - she had been silent and was a little bit shy.] Once we dug a hole we planted a tree.

How did you find water to irrigate the trees?
L and D: We carried water from other places and used one pail of water to plant a tree. There is a ditch halfway up the hill. The water comes from a spring. The 100 grafted trees are all alive.

How did you learn the skills of grafting?
D: We were taught by others. Mr Liu’s father and Xiaoyan’s father know how to graft trees so we learned the skills from them. The grafting is to be done in March, when new leaves are sprouting and the cutting is to be done when summer’s coming. We should have the courage to carry out our plans. It’s no use to fear the hardships.

In addition to funds what else do you need?
D: We need a pump to draw water. But it’s hard to imagine. First we are expecting the persimmon harvest.
Section 4
Why isn’t Peng’er here?
D: She left home to work outside. Her husband is the accountant of the village. He can’t go to other places to work. Therefore, she has to work outside.
L: We help and understand each other. We should hold on to the end.

It would be more difficult as year plans are being carried on. How are you going to deal with the problems? What are your specific plans and measures?
L: Mr Liu said that we should try to look for some saplings. Our husbands will come back to help us.

What’s your major difficulty?
L: Buying saplings to plant.
D: We don’t care much about the results so long as we are doing the work.

How much have you invested all together?
L: Over 1000 yuan.
D: We have paid two years’ costs.

You said that you had been exempted from charge.
D: The contract has become effective since last winter. It was counted as a year. We have to pay this year’s charge.

In addition to the costs charged according to the contract how much did you invest to cultivate the land on the hill?
D and L: We haven’t invested much at present, but I’m sure it will cost us a lot in the future.

Finally could each of you tell us a sentence that you want to say from the bottom of your heart?
L: When the trees bear fruit please come back to see if we are successful.
D: I’m sure we’ll see the hope of success in three years.

Xiaoyan, what do you think?
G: I hope we will succeed in 15 years!
L: What Dong’er said seems too short but what she said seems too slow. [Everybody is laughing.] My way is the sooner the better. We must hold on!

Is the hill far from here? Shall we go and have a look?
We climbed the hill together, panting all the way. When we walked about two li (2 li equals 1 km) we found a low-lying area full of clear water. This is the place from where the four women often carry water. Then we began to climb the steep slope. The paths were covered with twigs of the chaste tree (a deciduous tree with flexible branches and twigs, which are often used for basket-making). If we hadn’t paid attention we would have stumbled. It was hard to imagine how these women could carry two pails of water while walking through a place like this. They said one pail could only water one tree. When we were passing by a stone weir we found clear spring water flowing from the crack. We scooped up some water with our hands and drank it in one gulp. Later, we climbed with our hands. The road was steep and the area was barren. Then we stopped below a cliff. This was the place which the four women call “The Economic Valley”. There was a stretch of land where a few scattered trees were standing. They told us these were the date-plums on which they had grafted persimmon trees. It was said that they would bear fruit in 10 years. We used picks to dig among rocks, thistles, and thorns, trying to experience the feelings of remaking this barren place and striving for a happy life. We took photographs of these women while they were working. Then we descended the hill and went back to Xi Goukou.