photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 36 - Northeast)








Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997



Sumeiís husband is Zhenchuan. It was the secretary of the party branch who told us to visit her. There is a slogan written by Linbiao on the wall in her yard. It reads: ďReading Chairman Maoís workĒ - it is very attractive. I entered the room and saw an old woman was making tiger-shoes (found on babiesí feet throughout rural China; handmade of cloth, with toe caps made into a tigerís head, they are believed to protect children from harm). She was not warm towards me at the very beginning, but after she heard her sound on the tape she felt very interested in it. Her daughter-in-law (wife of her second son) was present during the interview

Section 1
I would like to ask you some questions, would you please answer them?
Yes, I will.

What is your name?
I am Sumei.

How old are you?
I am 62 according to the lunar calendar. I was born in March, so I should be 61 years old.

How many children do you have?
Four: two boys and two girls. My younger son is in Baoding. My eldest son lives here; he lives in the north room. This is his wife who carried my second grandson. Iíve made the tiger-shoes for my second-grandson.

It is rare to find tiger-shoes. Why do you make them in red?
This is called red for gentleman and green for ladies. That is boys wear red ones; girls wear green ones.

This is interesting. What about your daughters? Are they married?
Yes, theyíre married. They all live in Wan county. They all wanted to live in places outside of our village, and Wan county is better than here. Their husbands go to work outside of their hometown. My elder daughter lives 60 miles from here, and my younger daughter lives 70 miles from here. They come to visit me by a motor tricycle.

How old is your husband?
70 years old.
Section 2
How about your health?
I have hypertension (high blood pressure).

How did you discover that?
I felt dizzy, and I went to measure my blood pressure.

What kind of medicine have you taken?
I have taken jiang ya ling when I felt dizzy. I felt dizzy sometimes, so I measured my blood pressure. It was 210. I was told that I had arteriosclerosis hyperplasia bone. I took an x-ray.

You should take care of yourself.
My temper[ament] is bad. The wife of my older son never(?) makes me angry. Now she stays at her motherís home.

How old were you when you married?
I was 18 years old. He was nearly 30 years old.

Did you go to the fields to do the farm work?
Yes, I went to work.

Was the dining hall (communal eating area during collectivisation period) in this area good at that time?
Yes, it has been here.

How did you have your meal at the dining hall?
I lived in the south. I was already married at that time. When I came back from farm work, I went to the dining hall with a small budget to buy food, such as a corn bun, and soup. After the meal, I would go to work again.

For how many years did you eat in the dining hall?
For about two years. Anyhow, it was for many years. My husband was the production team leader. The Chinese cabbages planted in my yard were always stolen by the others. We didnít have anything to eat. We ate squash instead of vegetables. We ate cobs of corn and other leaves of Chinese vegetables, and also vines of sweet potatoes. We mixed them with flour. Our life was really very hard when we ate in the dining hall. When the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar) approached, we usually killed a small pig, but the man who was in charge of the dining hall feared someone would steal the meat, so he put nothing on it. Families with more people would be given a piece more.

Did men and women all go to the fields?
Yes, when you ate in the dining hall but didnít earn work points, you should (had to) pay for yourself.

What did the women do at that time?
They cultivated the land, ploughed the field. Two or three people worked together. I was the female production team leader. I assigned the work to them. Five people worked in the east; three people worked in the west.
Section 3
Since people worked in different places, how did you record the work points?
Women got six work points for one day. Men got eight work points for one day. The maximum total work points for a woman was six: if she didnít work well, she would get five points. People who were in bad health would get five work points.

Who appraised the work points?
It was the leader in the production team - people who didnít go to that time (I had five children actually, but the eldest was dead), I had to go to work. [This response in the transcript is unclear]

How old were you when you had your first child?
19 years old.

Could men earn 10 work points for one day?
Men could earn 10 work points if they went to work from the early morning. But for women, they could only earn eight work points if they went to work from early morning.

Do you have the recording books of your production team now?
Yes the accountant has them, but the leader does not take charge of that.

Who looked after the babies since there werenít any kindergartens?
No, there werenít. My mother did - she lived in the southern part of the same village with me.

How many work points did your family earn in one year?
I worked a lot. When settling the accounts at the end of the year; people who worked a lot would pay less money. The work points of my family were quite a lot; we often got money in return. But some families had to pay money to the production team after they worked for a whole year. For instance, families which had many members only earned a few work points.

What did you do besides going to the fields?
I drove a donkey to deliver manure. It was assigned by the production team. I had to do it.

Did men and women do the same work?
Yes, it was the same. Sometimes men and women worked in one field in case of some women acting in a slick (sly?) way.

Did the male leader take charge of all the members in the production team, and the female leader only take charge of the women?
The male leader commanded the female leader. He was responsible for assigning the work.
Section 4
People in those days were very easy to control, and they were obedient - is that right?
Yes, we were obedient. If people had something important to do, he would tell the leader of the group he worked in to find another one to do the work for him.

Which one do you think is better, working by yourself now or working in groups in the past?
Of course it is today. It doesnít matter when you go, early or late. One work point would be deducted if you arrived a little bit late. Two work points would be deducted if you were even later. Now working depends on yourself. It is flexible.

Did women go to work in the fields?
I came back with my husband. He helped me to make a fire. I had to feed my baby at the breast. My baby was waiting for feeding. When we took a rest during the work, we had to pick up firewood. So we could take it back. In the evening we would make shoes even if it rained; I stitched the sole of the shoes. It was not popular (common) to buy shoes at that time, and we didnít have much money.

Who cooked the meal since men made the fires?
There was not much food to eat at that time. I ate a kind of edible wild herb when I was very young. We mixed it with flour, and added a little salt in it. We had to make do with that.

You have much better food to eat nowadays.
Now when I want to eat something, I can make it, I make dumplings, pancakes, etc.

Was your husband only in charge of making a fire, and didnít take care of the baby at that time?
He wasnít good at looking after children, and he was too busy; he helped me make a fire as soon as he came back.

Who took charge of the money in your family?
We didnít waste money, we never squandered our money. Usually we spent 8 or 9 yuan at one time. I never squandered money either. We only bought what we needed.

Did both of you have the right to make a decision? Did you have a discussion when you bought an expensive item?
This TV was bought when my eldest son lived apart from us. When my eldest granddaughter wanted to watch TV, she often went to the otherís home, so my son bought the TV for me.

What kind of woman is regarded as the good woman in your village?
[Thinks for a while.] It is almost the same. You mean the impression of a woman in daily life? It is easy to say if there is an old man in the family, otherwise itís not easy to say. Shuling is quite good. All the people praise her, my eldest sonís [wife] is also kind. Suping is also kind. I am not praising my sonís wife; she doesnít like to speak, she is weak. When she gave birth to my grandson, she almost died, she bled badly ≠ we sent for a doctor by a car from Mancheng. The doctor told me not to worry. He asked me to find a bit of salt. I heard her groans and then the baby came out. I relaxed a little. She is not a healthy person.
Section 5
What does your older sonís wife do in the village?
[Change of topic, something missing here?]
She is your granddaughter? [Section unclear]
14 years old.

What kind of man is regarded as a good man?
Iíll tell you a local saying: ďMen should say little; women say moreĒ. My husband beat his son.

Who made the decision for you to marry?
My parents.

How about now?
My second son found his girlfriend by himself. And so did my older son; she was my relative. My mother and her mother had a close relationship. [Takes out a picture.] This is my mother-in law. She is my mother-in-law. She had cerebral embolism. She had been ill for one year and four months.

Were engagement gifts very popular at that time?
No, they werenít.

Is it true that the bridegroom asks for the dowry, and the bride asks for an engagement gift nowadays?
Some do and some donít. My son didnít ask for it but his wifeís family did.

Are there any rules when you have a wedding?
The family of bridegroom steam the big baozi (a large bun weighing 1 jin, equivalent to 0.5 kg). If you have relatives in the brideís family you should present baozi with the word xi (ďhappyĒ) on it. Some people steam 60; some people steam 10. We steamed 60 buns when my son was married. I presented some to his wifeís family and I kept some for ourselves. I also presented some to my relatives, such as my brother, my uncle; to them I gave one or two.

What did the family of your sonís wife do?
They ate the big baozi.

How many years did your older son live apart from you?
It was about 8 or 9 years. We lived together for 7 or 8 years.

Who suggested that?
They did. Zhenchuan (Sumeiís husband) didnít agree, he cried; but our sons didnít have a house, we had to do that.

How many grandsons?
My two sons have two sons, and I also have one granddaughter.
Section 6
How happy you are!
Yes, I am happy, but I am not healthy.

Do you often get in touch with people of Zhenchuanís (her husbandís) family?
Yes, the wife of one of his brothers lives in Beijing.

Have you gone back to your motherís family?
There is my brother and his wife, my nephew and niece. They all live in Mancheng. Nobody lives in my hometown.

Are there only you and your husband living here now? Do you do the farmwork? How much farmland do you have?
We have the farmland for three people, including my younger sonís. My younger son studied in Qinhuangdao. He just graduated. His wife graduated earlier.

Do your sons both work outside?
My older son can drive. He has a car. Once he knocked someone over. He didnít dare to tell me at first. He was sent to the hospital in Mancheng afterwards. I didnít allow him to buy a car. He sold his car. It frightened me.

Do you plant vegetables, and raise chickens?
I plant beans and scallions; it is impossible to raise rabbits and pigs. I bought two pigs. I have a big one. It is for eating. I will distribute the meat to my relatives in the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar).

Where is the vegetable garden? Who grows them?
Itís outside of my houses. Zhenchuan planted it. I couldnít do the farmwork.

Do you often go to a village market?
There is a market in my village. I donít buy anything.

Have you ever thought of who will take care of you when you are old?
Our sister (Zhenchuanís sister) often comes to visit us. My two daughters also come to visit us. I mainly look to my sonís wife for the future. My daughters come to see me occasionally. I canít look to my grandson. I really donít know when to go [smiles].

Havenít you thought about life insurance for the old?
I just muddle along. I told you what I thought [smiles].

In the plains (ie not the mountains), a family is allowed to have only one child. Itís not as good as the people living in the mountainous area [who] can have two children if they have a daughter - the parents begin buying life insurance.
My nephew and niece in Beijing have one child each.

Yes. In the city, people are allowed only one child. Where did you give a birth to a baby? Who helped you to deliver your children?
In my home. The midwife helped me. It was very successful.
Section 7
Pregnant women go to the hospital to have examinations?
Yes, nowadays people are all very pampered. They always like to go to the hospital. We never had examinations, and difficult labour was very rare. My second grandson was born in the hospital in Mancheng.

How many days did you stay in bed after giving birth?
About two or three days. My mother came to look after me. My mother-in-law is not healthy. Zhenchuan also came back earlier.

What did you eat when you were in confinement? Did you eat eggs?
The eggs I ate at that time were fewer then those I helped her to eat when my second sonís wife was in confinement. I ate 50 or 60 eggs when I had my eldest child; I ate 100 eggs when I had my daughter. My older sonís wife ate 200 or 300 eggs when she gave birth to my grandson. It was in the 13th in the first month of lunar calendar. My sonís wife in Mancheng ate 1000 eggs when she was in confinement. I helped her to eat them; otherwise the eggs would go bad. So I ate more eggs then than I did in confinement.

Your first child was a boy, what was peopleís reaction for having a boy or a girl at that time?
We all felt happy when my first son married, my mother-in-law burst into tears. She thought about the old days. It was too tough. But now her grandson will get married.

Which year did your mother-in-law die?
It was already 13 years ago, 1984. I had a granddaughter that year.

What did you eat in the past?
We ate vegetable gruel, pancakes made of Chinese yam and little bitter vegetables.

What do you eat nowadays?
I eat congee (porridge-like rice dish) for breakfast and flour buns, cakes for lunch and dinner. I buy some vegetables when my relatives come here. And we have meat to eat on New Yearís Day. We would kill pig, chicken and buy fish.

Is the grain enough for you?
Yes, it is sufficient. My family has enough to eat. If the other families donít have enough to eat, they can buy grain after they deliver the grain tax to the state, and [they have to buy?] the grain at a high price.

Did you go to school when you were young?
No, I didnít.

How about your brothers?
Yes, they did.

How about your daughter?
Yes, they all graduated from senior middle school. My younger son graduated from university. My daughter didnít pass the entrance exam.
Section 8
Can women in your village make paper cuts and do embroidery? Can they make the tiger shoes (found on babiesí feet throughout rural China. Handmade of cloth, with toe caps made into a tigerís head, they are believed to protect children from harm) as well as you do? Are there many people who can do these?
[I take a picture of Ge while sheís making shoes].
People in Wan county can do embroidery. And they also export those products. But some women in my village can only embroider pillows, door screens for themselves, they never sell them. My older sonís wife can do embroidery also.

Do you like to watch TV?
No, it is troublesome.

Do you like to watch opera?
No, but sometimes I watch it for the excitement. I just do that [laughs].

Do you like the mountains?
Yes, I like the mountains and water very much. I like to look at the mountain on TV. I particularly like mountains, but I couldnít climb them now.

Which part of a mountain do you think is the best?
I like the scene of real mountains and to watch that.

Which part of the mountain do you think is convenient?
I donít mean the products of the mountain. I mean the scenery of mountain and water. Whenever I see this, I feel very pleasant.

If they invite you to live in the city, can you get used to that?
I donít want to live in Mancheng. The air is not clean. I canít bear that. I am happy to live in my village. I donít want to live in Beijing as the air is not clean either.

Iíve asked about young people, they have different opinions from the old. They all want their children to leave the village.
I like mountains. I donít want to go anywhere else.

What change has there been in your village?
It is great! We didnít have water to water the field in the past. We couldnít plant wheat as there was no water-pump. We could only plant [??]. But now we have a motor-pump well. So we can plant more wheat. It is only a few years since we have had the well.

What do you use for cooking and heating? [I found that there was a heating system in the room, which is home-made. It is rather rare in the village].
In winter we use the stove and we use homemade heating for heat. We burn firewood to cook in other seasons.

Who goes to chop the firewood?
I did when I worked in the production team. But now it is his brother, brotherís wife and my husband. I couldnít do that.
Section 9
What kind of happy life do you want to have?
It is OK now. I didnít expect more. It is all right.

What are the happiest memories in your life?
My younger son went to university, they only chose one person and it was my son. Although I was tired, I felt as happy as if I could live 10 more years for that. My younger son had a son this year. I could also live 10 years more [because of that too]. After my elder son pays the debts and builds the new house, I can live 10 years more. My grandson and granddaughter must go to school in the future, so I will live 10 years more.

You add 10 years after another 10 years; you can be more than 99 years old [laughs]. What do you worry about?
I worry about my age, my health. I worry about my elder son building his house and I worry about whether my grandson can go to school. I worry about my children.

You should be more concerned about your health. Do you think about whether you are happy, or successful?
I am happy now. But I couldnít say I am a successful woman. In the past I could dig the ground and bed down the livestock. I was all right at that time. Now I am too old to do that.