photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 33 - Northeast)








Longtang, Huanglonsi, Hebei


August 1997



Cuiying is 41. Her brother had been unmarried for some years. Later he married a woman on condition that his sister, Cuiying, married the brideís brother. Her husband, Zhengyuan, works in Bureau of Communications in Mancheng town and is in charge of constructing buildings. They have two daughters, attending a private school in Mancheng. Cuiying contracted a barren hillside and planted fruit trees. She also raises chickens and pigs at home. There are four new rooms in her house and the roofs are covered with tiles. Her family is quite well off.

Section 1
May I know your age?
41. Itís my nominal age.

How many years of education did you receive?
I donít have much knowledge. I was a high school graduate.

Where was the school located?
In Lingxi. I was not an intelligent student. I had meningitis at the age of thirteen. But Iím in good health and I can do lots of farm work.

Did you go back to your hometown and work in the fields right after your graduation?
I worked there until I got married.

Is your parentsí home in this village?

Do you have two daughters?

How old are they? What school are they attending?
The first one is 15. Sheís going to be a junior high school student in autumn. Sheíll attend a private school.

How much tuition is charged for a year in a private school?
We paid over 3000 yuan last year, but we asked someone to do us a favour so we didnít pay as much as others did. This year we have paid 2000 yuan. Meals were free before, but now we have to pay 1500 yuan for meals.
Section 2
What does your husband do?
He works in the Bureau of Communications in Mancheng. Heís in charge of a construction team of 20 people.

Do you still grow crops?
Yes, but the crops are dead because of the drought.

Whatís your income source? Does it come from contracting the barren hill?
Contracting (leasing) the hill hasnít brought us much money yet. We can only break even, our land yields some grain.

How many mu (1 mu equals 0.067 hectares) of land do you have?
All together there are 100 mu or so, including those on the hill. We also have over 2000 fruit trees.

How many mu of land can yield grain?
We have 6 or 7 fen (10 fen equals 1 mu) of wet (irrigated) field and less than 2 mu of dry land (un-irrigated?).

How many people does the land belong to?

What kind of livestock do you raise?
Chickens and pigs. We donít sell them. We eat eggs produced by our own hens. Every year we kill a pig and preserve the meat with salt. Thereís no need to buy meat and oil.

You have over 2000 trees, donít you?
Yes. I planted the trees on the barren hill. There was farmland when the production team existed. Later, because every family was provided with some land, no one wanted to work there. They thought it was a remote place. Little by little it became barren. At first, five or six people joined the partnership, but later they all gave up. Now Iím working alone.

How much is the charge for a year?
Over 500 yuan. Since no one shares the charge with me I have to pay 1000 yuan.

Why did they give up?
There was a man whose wife committed suicide buy drinking poison. They had a daughter and a son. He was so discouraged that he left. He had not worked in the valley for a whole year. His land was full of weeds. He asked us to rent his land, but we declined. Thereís a source of water on the hill that he contracted. We built a pool and channelled water into it. We paid 500 yuan for the water. We think itís worthwhile as long as the trees are alive. We have changed a new pipe and spent 400 or 500 yuan this year. There was a pipe several years ago, but it was always dry so someone removed it [thinking the pipe would no longer be used]. My husband insisted on using a new pipe, but I insisted on using the old one.
Section 3
What trees did you plant?
Mainly persimmon trees. We canít plant other trees, because transport was inconvenient. It is easier to transport persimmons.

Where do you go to sell the fruit?
People from other places come here to gather them. Plums and apricots easily go rotten; however, persimmons can last the winter. We plant some plums for our children.

Did you plant any pepper trees?
We have enough peppers. There is no need to preserve many. Persimmons can bring about more money. We didnít gain any profit from peppers last year.

So planting persimmon trees is profitable, is it?
We got a yield of 400 or 500 jin (2 jin equals 1 kg) of the year before last. The trees got leaf spot last July, so we didnít have much yield. This time one of my husbandís friends helped us spray some pesticide on the trees. Now we have sprayed three times. He comes to help me even though my husband is away from home. He knows that itís hard for me to do the work alone.

You will have a good harvest this year?
Weíll pick several hundred jin.

How much income will 400 or 500 jin of persimmons bring?
The price last year was 0.7 yuan per jin. Small ones were a bit cheaper than big ones. Anyway we sold most of the small persimmons so as not to keep them at home. We canít waste many. The rain was really timely or the trees would have been dead this year. We canít use it to irrigate the trees, because thereís no electricity down here.

There is a pool of water on one hill?

There isnít a pool on another one?
No. We canít expect too much. Thereís a mineral spring halfway up the hill. We have to live on what the mountain provides.

You were the only woman among the contractors, werenít you?
Section 4
What did the others say?
They said, ďIf you succeed you will live in ease and comfort. Youíll be more fortunate than us. You will enjoy a happy life without working hard.Ē But you see itís not easy to do the work. You have to take good care of the trees or they will bring no profits.

You had to cultivate the land while looking after your children.
I didnít hug or kiss them every day as other mothers do with their children. When my second daughter was young my mother-in-law looked after her. Since I had to do the farm work I didnít have time to look after her. I had no choice.

Itís not easy to cultivate the land. How did you deal with the problems such as applying fertiliser, irrigating trees and spraying pesticide?
I tried to find someone to help me spray pesticide. My friends and my sister-in-law often help me. Even my two nieces helped with spraying pesticide. Sometimes I have to ask my brothers and brothers-in-law to come back and help me.

How did you plant these trees on the barren hill?
I just planted them there and let nature take its course.

Who planted the trees?
We did ourselves. My husband was the head of the production team. We got lots of support from the Water Board and the county.

So lots of people joined the work at first.
We planted the trees and left them alone. We even didnít take much care of the saplings. Later we signed the contract and tried to get rid of the obstacles blocking our way. We hired some people to plant potatoes and sweet potatoes in order to draw some water, therefore the trees could grow well. We grafted the young persimmon trees ourselves.

How did you learn the skills of grafting?
We asked a friend to graft a persimmon tree on a date-plum persimmon tree and we observed on the spot. My brother learned the skills. I had to cook meals at home. When itís time to graft the trees, my brother and my brothers-in-law will come back to do the work.

How do you apply muck (natural fertiliser) to trees on the hill?
At first we raised some chickens so as to use their muck.

Where did you raise them?
In the valley. We raised two pigs at home. Later my husband left home to the town. I found a basket and put the muck in it and carried it to the hill. Sometimes I went there in the morning and sometimes I went there in the evening. At that time I didnít have the younger daughter. I had to leave my older daughter alone.
Section 5
Then you worked and lived in the valley alone.

How many chickens did you raise?
Over 200. I bought 300 or 400, but they all died. Later I sold the roosters. The hens laid eggs for a year. When the younger child was born I sold them all. Then I drove the pigs home and sold them.

Why did you raise them at that time?
In order to get their muck: it made the work easier for me in the valley. The trees benefited, too.

Where did you sleep at night?
I built a house there.

Werenít you scared?
I was a little bit scared at first, but Iíve got over it now. At that time I kept a dog. He was my companion. Wherever I went he followed me. If he went home, but I didnít, he would come back to me. He walked very fast on his way back to my place. I could see him wait for me from somewhere far away.

Is he still alive?
No. He died of an illness. I treated him as if he were a human being. He had accompanied me for two years.

Where did you have your meals?
On the hill.

What about your children?
They were looked after by their grandmother and aunts.

Their father was away from home, wasnít he?
He would come back when it was time to harvest the wheat.

Were there any evildoers?
Since the valley was in the recesses (folds) of the hill, strangers couldnít find it.

How many trees have brought profits? Half of them?
No, not so many. Only one third.

There will be more in a couple of years.
If thereís no drought or water-logging and if we can get enough rain in spring, the persimmons will be ripe in the autumn.
Section 6
Whom do you turn to when you are short of hands (labour)?
My brothers.

Do you hire any workers?
Yes. I usually pay my brothers. My husband canít stay at home to help me. I would rather give the money to my brothers than those strangers; besides I donít trust the outsiders. I have to oversee their work. Iíd rather give my brothers some of our grain harvested from the land. One of my brothers got married on condition that I marry his wifeís brother.

Which brother?
My second elder brother. My husband is his wifeís elder brother. I got married at the age of 25.

Were you willing to do so?
I had no choice. My mother was sad, because my brother couldnít find a wife. We were poor at that time. I wouldnít have done so if it had been five years later. He might have bought a wife. I loved my mother dearly. My elder sister was living in Mancheng town. She didnít want me to sacrifice my happiness. She hoped that I would find a husband somewhere down the hill. I was afraid that my mother would get angry. I was not selfish.

Did you know the man that you were going to marry?
We lived in the same village and knew each other, though we never called at each otherís home. But it was hard for me to agree to the arrangement. I loved my mother dearly. She got tooth cancer (mouth/gum cancer?) and she was bleeding all the time. Soon she died.

How many sisters do you have?
One. My mother didnít agree to my elder sisterís marriage. The man was a demobilised soldier. My mother said he had to do the farm work and it was stupid to marry a demobilised soldier. But at that time my brother-in-law could drive a car. He had lots of skills. My sister said that he was the last man that would do the farm work. I said, ďItís no use holding her back. It would be worse if she was driven mad.Ē I said to my mother, ďLet her go.Ē

How many brothers do you have?
Two older brothers and one younger brother.

Are you all very happy?
Though our marriage was arranged we never sparred as others did. We have never been angry with each other. When my mother was dying, the wife of my second elder brother said to her, ďMother, we have never fought and I promise we wonít in the future.Ē
Section 7
When you are busy she helps you to look after your children.
I donít have time to look after them so she often gives me a hand.

Donít you think that giving birth to a daughter makes any difference?
Iím never discouraged by having daughters instead of sons. I donít think that sons are better than daughters. I have daughters so I place my hopes on them; if I had sons I would do the same.

Are there any rumours in the air saying that you donít have any sons?
People also say that girls are more capable than boys. They will take good care of their parents. Many people in the village donít have any sons. There are 14 or 15 families that only have daughters. You canít have some [more] children even if you want to, because there is the policy of birth control. People wonít take it to heart. They donít want to have lots of children.

Did you go into labour at home?
I gave birth to one daughter in a hospital in Lingxi and another one was born in a hospital in Baoding. When I got married I was not very young. It would be dangerous for me to go into labour at home. So I went to hospital.

How many days did you spend in hospital?
As soon as I had given birth to this one in Lingxi I went home to rest.

Who took care of you?
At that time my mother was still alive. The moment my second daughter had been born my husbandís mother and sisters took care of us. When the pool was being built I had an operation. My husbandís sisters helped me with the work.

How did you get the money to buy saplings?
Now I use my own money, but at first I got a loan from the bank.

How much did you borrow?
I borrowed 1,500 yuan the first time and 2,000 yuan the second time. Later I borrowed another 2,000 yuan. Now Iíve paid off my debts. We built new houses last year. Though I hated to part with my money, the houses were constructed. My husband wanted to buy some furniture, but I stopped him. He said we should find a place for the children to sleep so we bought two beds.

If there is any damage caused by insects or drought what will you do?
If there are insects I will buy some pesticide. My husband tries to obtain some, because I canít travel to other places by bus. I have car sickness.

How far have you been to?
Iíve been to Mancheng town.
Section 8
Is there a market?
A small market. Some dozen people sell vegetables at the market. We donít lack anything. My husband buys what we need from the town. Nothing worries me when heís at home. I just do what I should do.

How long does he stay at home all the year around?
Not very long. He doesnít want to do any housework.

So you do the farm work yourself?

What if you are going to harvest the wheat?
I will hire someone who is short of money to do the work.

Do you still sell the grain?
Not any more. There is not much left. We have to feed ourselves and the livestock we raise. Sometimes itís not enough. But usually my husband and my first daughter donít live at home. Only my second daughter and I stay at home. We canít eat too much.

What crops do you plant?
Maize, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Because we donít have much land the yield of the wheat is only about 500 or 600 jin.

Do you plant any vegetables?
We plant some Chinese cabbage.

Is the number of people working outside very large?
The husband from every family has to work outside. If they donít, they wonít make money. Buying fertiliser costs a lot of money. Even though they work very hard they can only pay the charges for water and electricity on the condition that their wives manage the household industriously and thriftily, or they will be short of money.

What jobs do they usually do?
Men go to Shijiazhuang city to [take a] contract for a job.

What jobs do unmarried women do?
Working in restaurants.

Are there any rumours about them?
Anything you can think of. For instance, they say, there are lots of vulgar TV programmes and they have a bad influence on young women. Itís not good for them to work in restaurants, but it is fine for them to work in factories.
Section 9
Is there anyone who left the village to get married?

Do you have any plans for your two daughters?
I will send the one who has the makings of a good student to better schools. The one who doesnít have, will work at home. My husband says that we are not going to depend on them. We have money. Weíll be satisfied if they can come back to see us when we are ill in the future [laughing].

Are you confident that the mountain area will become better and better, since you have contracted to cultivate so much land on the hillside?
Iím confident enough. It wonít do without confidence. We must work in a down-to-earth way. Ten years have passed. We have 20 years to go. I have no choice but to work hard. We buy lots of chicken muck from Mancheng and carry it to the field little by little.

How heavy is a bag of muck?
Not very heavy. About 40 or 50 jin (2 jin equals 1 kg).

You work so hard! Howís your health?
Fine. Itís alright if I can eat enough. But if Iím hungry Iíll have backache. I got the illness at the time of childbirth, because at that time I couldnít eat well. In the rural area if a woman has just given birth to a child she must eat as much as she can, but I couldnít eat a lot.

Do you have a custom of eating eggs at the time of childbirth?
Yes, we do. But I didnít feel like eating. Some women can eat two or three bowls of rice in a meal.

Did you rest for a month at that time?
I rested for a month after the first child had been born, but I rested for 20 days after the second one was born. I cooked for the family. Some old people had warned me not to overwork at that time. [They say] If a woman gets some illness during the month of confinement, after giving birth to child, it will be impossible to cure her. Now when I work my wrists and ankles will be aching [from rheumatism].

If you are ill which doctor do you see?
There is a doctor in our village. He sells some medicine which cures the common cold and diarrhoea. Thereís nothing else. We wonít go to see him unless weíre very sick. His medicine is very expensive. My husband often buys some medicine from the drugstore in Mancheng.

Do you want to contract (lease) more land?
I want to put off the matter until some time later. My husband is often away from home; in addition, my father-in-law is so old that I have to take care of him. No one has contracted more than I have.
Section 10
How often does your husband come back?
It depends. He often takes the bus at noon to come back and leaves the next morning. He canít stay at home for a long time because he has a lot of work to do.

Since youíre a woman of great ability, do you think you are more capable than other women in village?
I donít think I am much more capable then anyone [laughing].

Are you satisfied with your living standard?
Itís pretty good. We are not up to those up (at the top), but above those below.

Do you still collect medicinal herbs?
Sometimes. Iím busy with the farm work.

Do you have to cut wood?
Yes. I cut the twigs of chaste trees (a deciduous tree with flexible branches and twigs often used for basket-making) to light a fire in winter. My husband doesnít want me to cut wood. He says we should buy some. I often say to him, ďLet me cut [wood] while I can work. If one day Iím too old to work, you can buy anything you like.Ē People would laugh at us if we bought wood [laughing].

How are your aged parents?
My mother passed away. My husbandís father and mother are still well.

Who supports them?
They live on their own. They are able to cook meals and do farm work. They have five sons. One sonís wife is a non-local. She is very thoughtless and utterly unreasonable. No one likes her. She never does the farm work. The third son of my parents-in-law lives at a place far from this place. We send the old couple some meat every year. They plant crops themselves. Every son gives them 10 or 20 yuan every month. The amount depends on how much each family earns.

When did you break up the family and live apart?
Four years ago.

How many brothers does your husband have?
Four. Heís the eldest son. The second one works in Xushui town. The fourth one committed suicide by drinking poison.

How many people are there in your parentsí family?
Thereís my father. Heís the only one Iím concerned with. Heís 73. My brothers have divided his land. Now he cultivates the barren land himself. He asked every son for 20 jin of meat and some flour every year. In addition, every son gives him 75 jin of wheat. My father plants maize, millet and potatoes himself and he never asks for these things.
Section 11
How do you distribute the daily expenses?
Sometimes I buy some snacks for the children; besides, I often buy some vegetables.

How much is the charge for electricity?
We donít pay the bills at the beginning of the year. They can be paid at the end of the year. The electrician still owes us 500 yuan .

How much have you paid?
Over 300 yuan for a year.

What do the children do if you go to work in the field?
They play with each other. They wonít go to the fields, because itís very hot there. If they happen to play at one relativeís home they will have their lunch there. This time they may eat at the home of one of my husbandís sisters and next time they may go to the place of one of his brothers.

You donít come back at lunchtime, do you?
Yes. I do. But the distance is too long. It takes me 30 minutes to get home on foot.

How far is the land?
At the top of the hill.

What will you do if the fruit trees bring you lots of money?
I havenít thought about it. My husband has. What will I do if I have lots of money? His sister is going to build a new house; I will lend her some money.

If she borrows money from you will she pay it back?
I don't expect her to pay back. She has two sons. She doesnít have much money. Besides, she often gives me a hand. My husbandís two sisters are both very nice to me.

If people in the village have lots of money do they deposit the money in bank?
Yes, they do.

Is it convenient?
Yes, it is. People go to Mancheng town or Gaoshizhuang village to deposit their money. We usually go to Mancheng. Our money is in current deposit. People donít want to keep a lot of cash. Our cash has been borrowed.
Section 12
Are they going to pay it back?
Yes. If they have money they will pay back. In winter people come to borrow money in succession, because they are short of money. They have borrowed 10,000 yuan from me.

Is there a time limit?
No. They don't pay back until they have the money. Someone borrowed 100 yuan from me. Now four or five years have passed. The money has not been paid back yet. I donít have the nerve to ask.

A temple has been erected, hasnít it?

Do people believe in Buddha?
Yes, they do. People go to burn incense in the temple on the first or the fifteenth day in every lunar month.

How many years have passed since it was built?
Three years.

Do you burn incense in the temple?
Yes, I do.

Do you go to the temple with other people?
No. People go there when they are free. Some go in the morning while some go in the evening.

People raised the funds together, didnít they?

Was there any organiser?
Yes, a man who sells pepper. There was a temple call Lao Mu Miao (the temple of the aged goddess) in our village. People living at the foot of the hill used to burn incense there.

What temple did you set up all together?
San Wang Miao (the temple of the three kings), Lao Mu Miao, and Quan Shen Miao (the temple of the God of Spring).

Which temple do you go?
I go to every temple.
Section 13
Do you ask the gods to bless and protect you?
I ask them to bless and protect people in the village. Call it superstition, but it is a good feeling to keep the faith. However, donít go too far! My husband asks me not to go there [laughing].

Are there many women pilgrims?
All kinds of people, including young girls and young boys. Children will do what their parents do. For instance, they koutou (kow-tow, bow down and pray) before the gods.

Do you think praying to the gods for help is really helpful?
Some say itís helpful. I pray to them for peace and calm. Iím not particular about saying certain words. Itís fine if thereís peace. I am satisfied to see that those who work in other places are very well.

Is there anyone who chants scriptures?

Where can people buy incense?
In the grocery shops.

Are there any recreational activities such as the acting in an opera?
They began to sing the operas as soon as the temples had been completed. We watched operas during three successive Spring Festivals (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar). Actors and actresses began to sing operas from the 17th day to the 20th day in the first month of the lunar year after the Lantern Festival (the 15th of the first lunar month).

Do people play mahjong (popular Chinese board game)?
Very few. Some play during the days of the Spring Festival. People in Wanxian county which lies to the east of our village often play mahjong. But people in our village donít have time; they work to earn more money.

Do people do the yangge (popular rural folk dance)?
No one dances in our village. We always invite a theatrical troupe to our place. A troupe called Wangdu County Theatrical Troupe from somewhere in Qingyuan county comes here to give us a show of the local operas.

Who pays the troupe?
People in our village.

How much do you pay them for a show?
Those who are well-to-do often give more money. Those who are poor give less. We give the driver 500 yuan. Some actors may get 100 yuan while some actor may get around 200 yuan. They have free meals in the village. They can eat breakfast, lunch and supper.
Section 14
Are the villagers willing to pay out of their own pockets?
Some are, but some are not.

Are there any films shown?
Now few films are shown here, because every family has a TV set. When we wanted to see films, at that time we had to walk 7 or 8 li (2 li equals 1 km) to Wanxian county if we wanted to see a film. We had to scramble up the hills. Now no one would take the trouble.

What skills do the local women have? Such as embroidery?
Only one knows how to cut garments, but she is not at home. Since she doesnít have a sewing machine she canít make any money.

If you want to have your clothes cut out where will you go?
Some go to Mancheng town.

What do you do on every season?
In spring, after the first lunar month I begin to dig the land. When March comes I begin to plant maize and potatoes. Later I usually plant some sweet potatoes. Next I must hoe the soil. As soon as I have loosened soil for the maize I have to harvest the wheat. Then itís time to loosen soil for the maize again. After that I must apply some muck and get rid of the weeds. Then itís time to plant cabbages. Next I must harvest other autumn crops. In the eighth lunar month, when everything is settled, I begin to dig the ground and cut the twigs of chaste tree (deciduous tree with flexible branches and twigs often used for basket-making). I must plant wheat around the 7th or 8th lunar month. When the harvest season in autumn comes I must reap the maize. I donít have any free time.

You have to take care of the persimmon trees, donít you?
Immediately when the harvest season is over I must pluck persimmons and try to sell them. It takes half a month to pluck them.

Can you manage that?
I take my time. My brothers and my husbandís sister always help me.

People from other places come here to gather the persimmons, donít they?
If they come the persimmons will be sold.