photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 34 - Northeast)








Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997



Shuqing is Fengxianís mother (see interview 40). We entered Shuqingís yard, located on the hillside. There were two quilts being aired in the yard, and a large basket with half-crushed red beans on the ground. Her grandson was climbing the tree; several chickens were pecking the earth. Xiaoqin was present for the first part of the interview.

Section 1
Would you please tell me whatís your name?
Iím Shuqing. I have a nickname but it sounds funny. [She smiles, but says nothing about her nickname.]

How old are you?
Iím 62 years old. I was born in the year of the mouse.

What is the name of your husband?
His name is Zhanlin. When he was alive, he took charge of the household affairs. I didnít do it. I married him here, after divorcing my former husband. When I married my former husband, I was insulted every day. There was nothing for me to eat and wear. My baby died. Then I came here; one of my brothers-in-law was the matchmaker.

Where is your motherís home?
Itís in Beiwan.

How old were you when you first got married?
I was 17 years old at that time. He was four years older than me. He was introduced to me by my nieceís adoptive father. After the marriage, he complained of me as ďhaving no cailiao (ability)Ē.

What is ďhaving no cailiaoĒ?
It means being hopeless, having no bright future and [someone who] canít do anything. He beat me everyday. His parents were unfair to me. If I talked to the women in the street, they would say I was bad. If I swept the floor, they would say I had swept the treasures away. They didnít let me sweep the floor. If I drank the water from the earthen jar, they would say it was dirty. He didnít want to live with me, neither did I, so I came here.
Section 2
How about your motherís home?
It was even poorer. Nine people only had 1 jin (0.5 kg) of food to eat. My mother sold steam buns at that time. Later my mother was ill, and when I was three years old, she died. I lived with my father; I got ill at that time. I would be in a state of coma at any time and didnít know when to go to the toilet. My elder brother said I should be ďthrown awayĒ. But I survived in the end... I couldnít eat or speak. I would eat straw if I got hold of it. I became dumb from missing my mother. I couldnít speak. Once, my elder sister said: ďLook, who is that?Ē I could finally speak, gradually. But I was a fool (stupid). My sister was married when she was 12 years old. So she couldnít take charge of the household affairs. Later I was married; my brothers-in-law served as the matchmaker. I was 17 years old then; I didnít know anything. I went with them when I heard I was going to my husbandís family. I didnít want to go, but it was no use; I was obliged to.

Who forced you to do that?
The adults. I didnít know until I arrived there on a donkey. It was in the second day of the first month in the lunar year. I wore two brightly coloured pieces of clothing, but they were poor in quality. The clothes were bought by his family. My family was too poor to buy clothes for me.

Are there any relatives in your motherís family?
I have two elder brothers and an elder sister.

How about your life after you got married?
I gave birth to a boy in the second year of my marriage, but he died a short while after his birth. He was born on the fourth day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, and died on the 19th day of that month. He had been alive for half a month. I divorced my husband three years after our marriage. It was I who demanded a divorce. I didnít want to live with him because he swore and beat me everyday. After going through the formalities of divorce, I went to my sisterís home, had a meal, and then I was arranged to be matched with another man.

What did your second husband do?
He was an ex-service man. Two of us shared only one ration of grain. It couldnít meet our needs. I didnít have the provisions at that time. He was 18 years older than me. He was 38 years old, and I was 20 years old. I knew he had a good temper (temperament). I didnít mind his poverty and being advanced in years. His name was Shun. [Earlier she calls him Zhanlin.] He had his own house and had a happy life. Somebody said they wanted to arrange a match for him, he agreed.
Many people came to see me that day. The little room was so full with people. He didnít mind that I was divorced. He said, ďI am old. I have to get a wife so as not to live a single life.Ē His parentsí life was even harder. His father was dead. His mother went away. He went to Qingyuan County and married there, but his life was not happy. So he stayed here. When I came here, people in the village all congratulated me. And people in the village when I got married first time, all praised me too. Itís not true that I congratulated myself, but it is true that all the people congratulated me.
Section 3
How about your life when you came to Changshunís family?
The grain ration was not enough. We ate vegetables. We couldnít get [more than] one bowl of porridge in three days. We ate certain vegetables, certain plants, and certain leaves - we got those from different plants. It was okay to eat them. We worked for the agricultural producersí cooperative. We worked during the daytime, and came back to cook together. Then we had our first child who was born on the fourth day in the first month of lunar calendar. Then there were three people in our family. And the grain ration for us gradually increased. Our life improved year after year. And then we had our second child. Altogether we had four sons and one daughter (Fengxian) - she was the third one.

Who helped you deliver your children?
It was myself. I cut off the umbilical cord, tied a knot and wrapped it. The women usually gave birth by themselves at that time. When my husband came back, he asked me why I didnít make a fire. I said, ďWe did not make a fire today.Ē My son said, ďThere is a little doll in our family.Ē

Wasnít your husband in your home when you had your children? Who looked after you when you were in the confinement?
Sometimes he was at home. I cooked for myself three days after I gave birth to my youngest son. My husband took care of my first child.

Where did you deliver your children?
On the floor in my room. I stood to give birth so the baby was on the floor, where nothing covered the floor. My husband knew nothing and couldnít give me any help. I gave birth to all my children [in this way]. We didnít send for a doctor or go to the hospital as the women do today.

Did you do any housework when you were in confinement? What did you eat at that time?
I did everything. After my baby was one month old, I went to do the farm work. I ate congee (porridge-like rice dish) and vegetable gruel when I was in confinement. I ate several eggs when I gave birth to my first child, and nine eggs for my second child. I ate 25 eggs when I gave birth to Fengxian. After the birth of my fourth child, my husband was ill. He was ill when he was 55 years old. I looked for medicine for him. We were too poor to raise all the family. Our fourth child had to be adopted by another family in Longtang village.

How many people were in your family at that time?
There were seven people in our family with only one able-bodied person. There was no other way. We owed a lot of money to the peopleís commune every year. We had to sign an IOU to the others. We sold the firewood, and killed and sold the pig we raised, with nothing left for ourselves. One year we bought two and a half jin (2 jin equals 1 kg) of meat to celebrate the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar). Our life was so hard. Our life became worse year after year after my husband was ill. Our fourth child was adopted by others when he was four years old.
Section 4
Who made the decision to give your child to the others?
I decided. We didnít have enough food to eat. My husband agreed with me, and so did his brother and sister. His adopted parents came here to meet him. They gave us 20 jin of wheat and 50 yuan. Now this son is over 20 years old. He was born in the year of the sheep. He knew he was adopted, and we had contact with each other. I went to see him when he was ill one day. I heard that he quarrelled with his adopted father. His adopted father said he (the son) didnít provide for him. I said, ďWhy not? I was his mother, but there was his adopted mother here, why didnít he support you? He should not do that.Ē I told my son, ďThey bring you up, you should provide for them when they are old at any time.Ē My little grandson said, ďWe never support them!Ē I said, ďNo, you shouldnít say that.Ē He was only six years old, he knew nothing. His grandpa and his father bickered over that. They quarrelled, so his adopted father complained about that, but in fact he didnít behave [badl4y] like that.

How many children are there in your husbandís family?
There are five children in his family. His mother had gone away while the anti-Japanese war began. After his father died he went into the army, becoming a dispatch rider. He was demobilised from the army when he was ill. He was 23 years old that year. He married me when he was 38 years old. During that time, he had several girlfriends. But he was too fastidious to get married. Later, he thought it difficult for him to get married, so he made do with me [laughing].

Werenít you a good wife?
Yes [smiles], I never quarrelled with him. He never blamed me, and he never beat or swore at me.

Who took charge of the household affairs?
Both of us. We talked it over. He made decisions on major events, and I made decisions on smaller matters. I was a woman so I couldnít (could?) handle much matters while there were no major events. We usually talked things over. When we had a major event, he usually discussed it with me.

Who took charge of the money?
We didnít have money. One labour force could earn 2 or 3 jiao (10 jiao equals 1 yuan) each day. It was not enough to pay the money to the government. Where could I get the money?

Who made the decision when your son married?
It was the childrenís business. They decided for themselves.

But Fengxian didnít agree to the marriage that you made use of [in order] to exchange a wife for your son in return?
She agreed to such an exchange marriage for her second elder brother. She worked away from our village at that time. We wrote to her and called her back. Our neighbour said, ďYour son canít afford to get married and no one will look after the old people. Let Fengxian get married to exchange a wife for her brother in return, and also to find a person to look after the old people in the future.Ē I agreed with them.
Section 5
Who was responsible for [arranging] that marriage?
I wasnít. I did nothing in my family. My husband was responsible for that. We spent 3,100 yuan buying a wife for my eldest son. She was from Qin Huangdao. She was abducted and sold by the others to us. We gave the trader in wives (middleman) 3,100 yuan. My God! She was taken back by her parents in the end.

Couldnít you spend 3100 yuan to find a wife for your son in your village?
No. We couldnít. These girls didnít think well of our son. He was too stupid and too poor, and also ugly - although he worked well. He didnít have the marriage registration and didnít [even] have one month [with the wife we bought], but [they] didnít sleep together. Our son was too weak and incompetent; people coming from the girlís family kicked up a row. And then he married this girl. She didnít agree either; she was introduced to my son by a person in our village. She was also abducted. We spent 1650 yuan on this marriage. Meanwhile, someone provided 1800 yuan to marry her. She didnít agree. She stayed here with her son on the way (pregnant). She didnít divorce her husband, and she had a daughter left in her home. She was abducted [from there]. Her family didnít know she was here. When she came here, she was pregnant. It was her son, she didnít have a child with my son. She said she had asked for the birth permission for the second child. My son was 42 years old. I didnít know the age of his wife. She said that she knew the age of his wife; she said she knew nothing about her age.

Did she want to go back? How did you know she has a daughter?
No. She didnít want to go back. She told us she had a daughter. She said her mother-in-law was very severe with her and never did housework at home and never cooked. She said her ex-husband always liked to play mahjong (popular Chinese board game) and asked her to hold the bowl for him when the meal was ready. She didnít want to go back and she didnít divorce him. She made the marriage registration with my son and then they married here.

Did she make a marriage registration with your son without divorcing her ex-husband?
Yes. It was in the township that they made the registration. My second son married first, and then my last son married. My second sonís wife is very good, very beautiful. And my eldest sonís wife is also very good.

Did you live with your sons or live apart?
They didnít get on well with me. My second son suggested living apart from me. My third son lived apart from us before he married. We lived our own life. When we divided our property, my first two sons were given the houses. And each of them gave 300 yuan to my third son to build a house. Later, my third son went down the hill (away from the village), repairing watches for others, and didnít come back. He sold their house to his second eldest brother for 2,500 yuan.
Section 6
Was your third son married into his brideís family?
Yes, he was. He lived in Mancheng. He need not give his wife anything. Their sonís surname was Liu for her surname was also Liu. Otherwise, the child should follow the surname of his mother. It didnít cost us any money when my second son married because it was an ďexchange marriageĒ. Each family member bought several articles of clothing for their own daughter. I bought bedclothes and cloth wrappings for Fengxian and her elder brother bought a pair of suitcases for her. We asked her opinion; she agreed.

Fengxian worked quite well in the place outside of your village. Did you tell her it was for an exchange marriage when you called her back from Beijing?
No, we didnít tell her that. We told her after she came back. She didnít know what to do; she was cheated. But her life was alright after marriage. At first the young couple didnít get along very well. They quarrelled. But now they get on very well.

What did she say about her marriage?
She said, ďIt was for my brother, and we could also find a person who could look after my parents; otherwise there would be no offspring in our family.Ē She said that.

What was her second elder brotherís reaction?
He said nothing. Originally he said he would give me 50 jin (2 jin equals 1 kg) of wheat. After we quarrelled, he gave me nothing. He gave me 5 yuan every month. Last year he gave me 60 yuan, 600 jin of firewood, 70 jin of wheat, 80 jin of corn, 30 jin of millet.

Did you live alone?
Yes, each son gives me 30 jin of millet, 70 jin of wheat, 80 jin of corn, 15 jin meat each year, and 5 yuan for each month. Now I have meals with my eldest son. My third son would give me these things if I didnít go down the hill to live with them. I told them, ďIf you are short of money, you could give me all the money in one time in the end of the year.Ē Each one 10 yuan. Now I could dig up some medicinal herbs to exchange money to spend.

Did you dig up the medicinal herbs when you were young?
Yes. How could we live if I didnít do that? My husband was ill at that time. I went everywhere, this village and that village. I had been to every mountain when my husband died. The higher authorities gave us two quilts, one was for him, and there was no cotton stuffing in that quilt and the lining for the quilt should have been changed but we didnít have enough money. They are all short of money; we donít have any income.
[The two quilts aired in the yard were half new - they were not worn out, but very dirty.]

How much income do you earn in one year besides that which your sons give you?
I dig up some medicinal herbs and chaste twigs (from a deciduous tree with flexible branches, which are often used for basket-making) to exchange for money. It was my income. They could be sold for no more than 30 yuan at one time in one year. We plant neither Chinese pepper nor persimmon. We only have a few fields. My sons cultivate them, and they give me some grain.
Section 7
How did you spend this money?
Itís too little. Itís only enough for eating (food). If I want to eat more, I would spend it buying some fried twisted dough and bean curd. I also spend it buying medicine; getting an injection when I am ill. I always have pain in my chest. I was [in] too [much] pain to live when I was ill. I usually donít borrow money from others.

From whom do you borrow the money when you have to do that? For instance, the money you spent buying a wife for your eldest son?
I borrowed money from my neighbours. It was the borrowed money that I spent buying the wife for my eldest son. I borrowed the money from Donggou, and the other families. I borrowed 3000 yuan. I borrowed money from relatives, friends, and neighbours. I pay them interest: 150 yuan interest for 1000 yuan for one year, and it was 150 yuan because we were relatives, otherwise we would return 400 yuan in the next year. Some asked for the interest; some didnít. But if I borrowed the money [from the government] I must pay the interest.

Did it - when you borrowed the money with interest - influence the relationship between neighbours?
Yes. But if you borrowed today, you could return it tomorrow - it doesnít matter. Some said, ďI donít want to lend it to you.Ē Someone would say, ďI will save it.Ē One of my relations said, ďDonít you need 5 jiao? Let me pay for you.Ē I would pay them later.

Was there a witness when you borrowed money?
No, we knew each other. Our life was too hard. I didnít buy a pair of tennis shoes when I married.

Do you have any debts today? How do you pay the money after you spent thousands of money to buy the wife for your son?
No. I donít have any debt. Or it is only a little amount. My eldest son owed 300 yuan to my third son when my husband died. The money for buying a wife had already been paid. My eldest son worked in a brick-kiln and earned enough money to pay the debt in over one year.

How much farmland do you have?
I donít know. They do the farm work. I take change of the household while my eldest son works outside.

How much money do you spend on marriage in your mountain area?
It costs people a lot of money. Someone with higher conditions (status) will ask for a lot, if the people donít meet her needs. If she is satisfied, she will ask for 3,000 yuan or 4,000 yuan, in addition to flour, rice, salt - altogether it will be 4,000 or 5,000 yuan. When I bought a wife for my son, she was the most beautiful woman in our village. So she asked for 3,100 yuan. It was decided by the trader in wives (middleman). Beautiful women ask for more money normally.
Section 8
What animals do you raise in your family?
I have raised a pig. Since my life is getting better. I donít sell it. I save it for consumption.

Do you attend a village market?
There is a village market in Longtang on the first and sixth day in each month of the lunar calendar. I donít go there. People buy or sell in the market. I sold eggs to support my children to go to school in the past years; I never ate eggs at that time. Now I raise chickens and I eat the eggs. But because I donít have any spare money, I donít attend the village market. In the [past] I usually took a basket and picked up dung to earn the work points. I had to pick up dung on the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar. I dig up the medicinal herbs to exchange for money. I havenít done that in recent years. But I did it this year. The only work my second son did was digging up the medicinal herbs. He never goes out to work. He has earned 500 yuan this year. My eldest son worked in a brick-kiln in Mancheng.

What do these people do when they go out to work? Are there any impacts on their family when they go out to work?
Most of them take up building work. There is no impact on the farm work when they work outside. Men work outside; women do the farm work, raise pigs, etc. When my eldest son went out to work, I came back from my third sonís home to look after his home. Because his wife came from the other places, I was afraid that she would be abducted by the others. So they have to go out to work, otherwise we donít have money to spend.

Are there any women going out to work?
Yes. There are a lot of them. Married women usually go out to work, but itís rare for unmarried girls to work outside; if they do, they usually sell goods.

What do the village people think about women going out to work?
They donít think it is good, as they (married women) wouldnít be able to look after their family when they go out.

To whom do you go to ask for help when you are in trouble?
I tell my nephews. When my husband died, he told my nephew to take care of me so I wouldnít get insulted. My eldest son took care of me much more when I was ill, as we lived together. When my husband was ill, I attended to him. I looked after him for 2 years, 2 months and 4 days. The lives of the children are also bitter, and they are also too tired.

Did you have entertainment in your village in the past?
No. There was nothing beside the opera performances presented by the actors from other places.
Section 9
Do you help each other in the village?
Yes. If I had a problem, people would come to help me, no matter where they come from and so do I.

Do you know who takes charge of your village or your town?
I didnít know that. But I know Zhenshuan is the Secretary of the party branch. Zhenmu is responsible for security. Yinger (Fengying) is the former director of womenís affairs committee. Zhanshuan, who is my nephew, is responsible for civil mediation. I donít know the cadres (government officials) in the town.

Whom do you often ask for help?
Zhanshuan is responsible for the civil mediation. Zhenmu is responsible for the security of our village.

Do you have TV set?
No I donít have money to buy one. I owe people money. I havenít paid the electricity bill yet. She let me pay it. I wouldnít.

Do you know who came here from the other places?
I donít know. They came to teach here. I didnít go to see them.

Have you got any subsidies?
No, my husband had a pension before. It was 19 yuan.

Do you need help?
Yes. I am too old to do anything. I hope my grandson goes to school. I would like to pick him to go to school. But this grandson likes to swear. His mother likes to swear.

Do you know who is the chairman of our country?
No, I donít know.

What kind of diseases occur most in your village?
It is stroke and hemiplegia (paralysis on one side); my husband had this kind of disease. People got this disease every month before. But now more and more old men get these diseases. Children also have cancer in the head. We usually donít go to the hospital if the illness is not serious.

Since you often go to dig up medicinal herbs, do you know what type of herbal medicine can treat the diseases?
No, I donít know and I never go to see the doctors. I often feel pain in my chest, but I never take medicine. It wouldnít work if I took it. When I was young, I was knocked over by a bull, and I got this disease.

What do you eat? What is the staple food in your diet?
We eat congee (porridge-like rice dish), millet and flour. Now we donít lack food. But in the past, we were short of food. We had to eat bran.
Section 10
Do you have meat to eat?
Now we have. We killed a little pig, and salted it. I cut a little and eat [some] every day. It is salted meat.

Have your children been to school?
My eldest son stopped learning when he was in the fourth grade in primary school. And my second son attended less school. My third son stopped learning when he was in senior middle school. Fengxian learned a little.

Could you afford for Fengxian to go to school?
Yes, but she didnít want to go. She found a job in Beijing. And later she was called back for marriage.

What are women in your village skilled in?
Nothing but stitching soles. Some old women embroider quite well. Some younger, aged 60 or 50, can embroider lions, jujube flowers - and women over 50 years old embroider.

Are there any common sayings, stories such as Yu Huang Ding or any proverbs and old sayings?
There are no stories. There is an old saying: ďCrows and nightingales never send things to youĒ; treasures will not come to you if you donít work. And ďGod makes great riches for you; activity makes small riches for you.Ē

Do people burn joss sticks and koutou (kowtow, offer prayers) to Buddha? Iíve heard a temple has been built in Longtang.
Iíve never burned joss sticks and koutou to Buddha. There are a lot of women in our village who koutou to Buddha. But I donít believe in that. Crow and nightingale never sent things to you; and treasure never comes to you if you donít work. Everything depends on yourself.

Do you like the mountain village? Is your life convenient?
I like this mountain village. No matter where I go, such as Mancheng, I would miss this village, miss the people here, and this place. This place is pleasant. The other place is too hot. I feel that it is convenient to live in my own home. If I had enough money, my life would be even more comfortable.

Do you feel great change in your village?
Yes, the change is great. The change is mainly in transport conditions. It has come to be more convenient than before. When my husband was ill, I had to walk for 40 miles to Lingxi to get the medicine. It made my leg very painful at that time. And sometimes I couldnít get the medicine after making a round trip of about 80 miles. But after the road was built, there were buses on the road. I give thanks to our Party. There are great changes in our village. In the past, we didnít have water to water the fields, and we couldnít plant. Life was too tough when I couldnít eat flour.

When was the electricity brought?
In the past, there was no electricity or road and we had to walk 30 miles to take a bus. There was no electricity and, using domestic animals, we used rollers to husk the grain. Comparing today with the old times, I think our life is better than before.
Section 11
Is it expensive to pay for the electricity?
It is 5 or 6 jiao for one kilowatt. But the electricity is often cut off.

What changes have happened in this mountain?
The changes are also very great. There are fruit trees on the mountain. But when I came to the village, there were only elms on the mountain. People did not allow you to take a handful of elm leaves. It belonged to the others. However, there was a plague of insects then the elms all died.

What is the product in this mountain?
When I was in my 20s, there were nothing on the mountain - there were few trees, there was only straw. We burned firewood in October and November. Otherwise we didnít have anything to burn in winter. We had to chop the firewood for the whole year, and we would cut the twigs of chaste tree in winter. In the spring, we did farm work and did the odd jobs for the others.

Is there any change in drinking water?
We drank the well water in the past, now we have running water in every family. There were two wells in our village before.

What do you think of the happy life?
I think it is living in ease and comfort. We donít lack food and money. It also means that life is not hard. But my life is a little bit hard, my quilt is damaged.

What kind of thing do you feel make you most happy? And what do you worry about?
I am very happy because I have a grandson. I worry about myself. My income comes from selling some medicinal herbs. I just sell for 10 yuan.

Are you satisfied with your life? What things make you worry?
I think my life is OK, but I couldnít get on well with my [second] sonís wife. But I couldnít behave the way she did. Otherwise, if we quarrelled, she would run away, [and] my son would come to blame me. My sonís wife likes to swear at me. I wouldnít swear like she does. What would I do if she ran away because I swore at her? I suffer injustice for my sonís sake. She could do as she liked. I didnít take notice of her, so how could I feel happy about this? It was not as well as in my third sonís home. His wife is good.
I donít get on well with my second sonís wife. She doesnít allow her children to call me grandmother. It is because of the exchange marriage. She didnít agree to the marriage. We quarrelled once over a plastic basin. My eldest son and second son quarrelled. They both blamed me, and then both of their wives quarrelled. Fengxian does not get on well with my second sonís wife. It is also due to the marriage. My second sonís wife swore at Fengxian. So they donít have a good relationship. My second son and his wife donít come to visit me. But they must give me what they should. My second sonís wife swore ďbig foolĒ at me before we quarrelled.
Section 12
Wasnít your second sonís wife satisfied with the exchange marriage?
I donít know anything; they should support me.

Do you know the laws for womenís rights?
Yes, there was a man in Donggou who was arrested by the town because he didnít allow his wife to eat. I could hear the others talking about that even if I donít know the law. Her father-in-law accused his son and his son was picked up in the street. He was arrested by the town. So it was impossible not to support his father. We know this when people talked about these things. My second son was annoyed with me, and said, ďI wouldnít support you!Ē I said, ďIt is impossible. If you didnít, you should pay me for nursing you with my breast!Ē[smiles]. Later he didnít have any other method and he gave me, he gave me what it was impossible for him not to give me. His wife swore at me. I didnít pay attention to that - anyhow, they should support me. My third sonís wife is good. They knew each other by themselves, of course, they were their own matchmakers. He lives with his parents-in-law. Alright. It is late. I should cook for myself now.