photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary

Nan; Xumei; Yanling

(CHINA 37 - Northeast)


F; F; F


31; 58; ?




Beiwan, Huanglongsi, Hebei


August 1997



Nan, 31, from Wuqiao, Hebei Province, is a strong woman. Her husband is away working outside the village. She has a daughter and lives with her parents-in-law. Her house is newly built, with four rooms. There is a peach garden in front of her house. Xumei, 58, is Nanís mother-in-law. [It is not clear who Yanling is.]

Section 1
Where are you from?
Nan: Iím from Wuqiao.

Oh, thatís the place famous for acrobats. Can you do acrobatics?
Nan: I used to be able to. But not now.

How old are you?
Nan: 31.

Did you have any schooling when you were in your hometown? Nan: I did not finish middle school.

When did you come here? Nan: I have been here for about nine years.

Everyone says this is a poor place, why did you marry into such a place? Nan: I came to know my husband when I was working in the city.

Where did you work then? Nan: I had been to many places. First I worked in an embroidery factory in Wuqiao. The products were made for export. Then I went to Zhengzhou, where my aunt lives.

What kind of work did you do there? Nan: I helped my cousin to take care of her baby for about two years. I came to know my husband there through my cousinís introduction.

Had you ever been here before you got married? Nan: Yes, but I never thought I would come back.

Then why did you come back?
Nan: My husband did not want to work there any longer. He was a contract worker and had worked there for about eight years.
Section 2
Nan: He thought that in the long run it wouldnít do. Now I regret coming back.

So he has been back with you for about nine years? Nan: We stayed there for about three years after we got married. It was difficult for me to adjust to life here when we came back. My hometown is on the plain while here is the mountainous area with far less people. I felt lonely.
Xumei: Her father once came for a visit. He thought our house was too small and very dark.
Nan: We were still in the old house with only two rooms, together with our two brothers.

Xumei: My son was working in Zhengzhou at that time. Zhou Nan was introduced to him.

Now you all live apart.
Nan: Yes, and we built our own house.
Xumei: They managed to build their new house. I help to look after their daughter so that they can go out to work.

Both you and your husband went out to work?
Nan: We are still deep in debt. How could we pay it back without going to work in the cities?

What kind of job do you have?
Nan: Same as men, on the construction site. I would do the same work as them. We have to pay back the debt.

From whom did you borrow the money?
Nan: Relatives and friends. It is more difficult for me since my motherís family is far away. [We borrowed] a bit from this one, a bit from another. Once I went to borrow money from my sister, but on my way back the money was stolen.

How many children do you have?
Nan: A daughter. She is four now.

Do you want to have another child?
Nan: I am allowed to have another one. But I donít want to. You cannot raise a child properly without money. I want my child to have a good schooling, not like us.

Donít you consider it a pity to have only a daughter?
Nan: I donít think so.

How about your husband?
Nan: He said nothing else.

How much land do you have now?
Nan: Oh, very little. The whole family; I, my husband and our daughter, have only four fen also (10 fen equal 1 mu) of wheat land.
Section 3
Why so little?
Xumei: Their daughter was not born when the land was divided last time. Every five years the village will have our land re-divided.

What are you growing on that small piece of land?
Nan: We used to grow wheat. Now there are trees planted.

What kind of trees?
Nan: It is not worthwhile to plant persimmon trees on such a small piece of land. So just ordinary trees. We have to buy our grain and food.

So you are better off.
Nan: Not at all. I have several brothers and sisters from my motherís family. They all helped me. Every year I go back home to visit. They all bring me presents, but I always go to them empty-handed [laughs].

Do you go to visit every year?
Nan: More often. Four or five times a year. I will go whenever I feel homesick.

What kind of domestic animals are you raising?
Nan: Just some chickens.

Do you keep the eggs for yourself or sell them?
Nan: For ourselves.

What else do you do besides working on your land?
Nan: Nothing. I went to work in the cities for about two years right after we built our house.

Then you stayed at home after you gave birth to the child?
Nan: Only when she was very young. We have to go out to work. Sometimes we cannot get a penny after labouring for a whole year.
Xumei: They brought back an engine [a pump? From the contractor? In lieu of payment].

How much did they owe you?
Nan: More than 10,000 yuan.

Did they give you the engine as a payment?
Nan: We took it away.

How much is the engine worth?
Nan: It is said to be about 30,000 to 40,000.

Why didnít you sell it?
Nan: We dare not. It is state property. When we built our new house, we did not have much money. All the stones were carried down from the mountain. I will never think of building a new house for the rest of my life. I hate to be borrowing money all around.
Section 4
From whom did you borrow the money?
Nan: My sisters, I have six elder sisters and two younger ones. They all live a better life than me. My mind wonít be at peace as long as I am in debt.

What are you going to do?
Nan: Iíve got a lot of ideas. The only problem is I have no money.

Suppose you had?
Nan: I want to raise pigs. First I want to buy a sow, then I can have piglets, and gradually I will have more. I am also thinking of raising dogs. I saw on the TV there is a kind of dog specially bred for meat, which I think is proper for the conditions here. It needs a large investment to raise pigs; you have to have at least two to start with.

Do you go up to the mountains to collect medicinal herbs?
Nan: Yes, I get my pocket money for daily necessities mostly in this way.

Do you believe that this mountain area will have a bright future?
Nan: At first I was reluctant to come back, but her [refers to Liu] son insisted.
Xumei: He worked in Zhengzhou for eight years, and every year he got the reward as a model worker. After they got married, they had to come back because they could not find a place to live there.

Where is your husband now?
Nan: He is now working in Xin Le County. He will be back when there is not much work to do. He is not good at talking; he is in charge of marketing and that sort of thing.

How can he do his work if he is not good at talking?
Xumei: My son is not good with words. But he is so honest that he can achieve what others cannot.
Nan: I do not have much hope. I place all my hope on my child.

What do you want her to be in the future?
Nan: Her physical conditions are good. I want her to develop in sports. The conditions here are not good. Kids of her age in cities are all in kindergartens.

Did you ever think of sending your daughter back to your hometown to study acrobatics?
Nan: Yes, I did. But the family do not agree; they are afraid that the child would have to bear too much hardship.

It is not easy to be a good sportsperson either.
Nan: You cannot be successful if you are afraid of hardship. I have made up my mind to send her away when she is six or seven to be trained. There is no chance here.
Section 5
[To Xumei] How old are you?
Xumei: I am 58. When I was three, my mother and my two sisters were killed by the Japanese.

Did the Japanese come to the village?
Xumei: Yes. My mother could not carry me any longer and had to leave me behind. There was a person hiding in the cornfield. My mom said to him that she could not carry me any longer and had to leave me there. Then a soldier of the Eighth Route Army came to warn my mother that the Japanese were coming. The Japanese fired a machine gun at them. There was an old granny holding a child who was also shot down.

Were your mother and two sisters killed by the machine gun?
Xumei: My sisters were killed by bayonet.

How many people died at that time?
Xumei: Four. I was alone in the cornfield. The Japanese killed my mother and then came down and found me. That was November the third. The Japanese found another Chinese soldier and left me [in order] to chase him. I found my mother lying in blood.

Do you still remember what happened at that time?
Xumei: No, people of the older generation told me. My father came down from the mountain to save me. I was the only child in my family left [she starts crying]. One of my uncleís sons was killed in Sichuan when he was in the army.

How about your father? Who raised you up?
Xumei: My father was still alive then. He would be out early in the morning and would not be back until late at night. I was left alone. There used to be a lot of wolves in the mountain. It is fate that I was not eaten up by wolves. I have never been to school. My father died after he raised me up.

How old were you then?
Xumei: I was 19. At that time I thought if I could have enough food to keep me from starving, it was a happy life. I would be content with that.
Nan: I also have relatives killed by the Japanese.

[To Xumei] How many children do you have?
Xumei: Five, three sons and two daughters.

Do people here break up the family and let the children live apart when they grow up?
Xumei: Yes.

Will the parents put forward the suggestion?
Xumei: [laughs] Living apart gives them more freedom.
Section 6
How about the elderly people, who takes care of them?
[Yanling cuts in]: The elderly help in the fields. They will be taken care of when they cannot work any more.

[To Nan] Have your fruit trees brought your profit already?
Nan: Not yet. It takes years before the trees can bear fruit, during which time you cannot have crops.

Do you do the pruning?
Nan: Every year.

[To Xumei] What a nice daughter-in-law you have!
Xumei: This is my first sonís wife. Xiaomei is my second daughter-in-law. The youngest son is now working in Zhengding, his wife is also there.

What kind of daughter-in-law is considered to be the good ones?
Xumei: Those who will not fight with their mother-in-law of course.

What is the good woman? [Yanling now joins in the interview] Yanling: Somehow the same. It is only in a few families that there are no fights between family members. Most families do fight. There isnít much difference [between them].
Nan: Those who do not quarrel with others are good ones [laughs].

Hardworking, easygoing and filial to the parents?
Nan: People here are all filial to the elders.

Women here are all very diligent. Do men in the village do the washing?
Nan: Men will help if women cannot.
Yanling: Both men and women go to work in the field. Coming back some men will help in the cooking while others will not. Some women will not allow their husbands to do the housework.

Women take good care of men, for fear that they are tired?
Yanling: Thatís usually the case. On the whole women cannot be as capable as men, as strong as men. Women can only do the hoeing etc.

What do men do?
Nan: Arenít most men working outside the village?

Which kind of work is more tiring, work in the field, or on the construction site?
Nan: Work on the construction site is more tiring, and you are not allowed to take a rest at noon.

What do women in the village do when there isnít much work in the fields?
Nan: Just stay at home.
Xumei: It would be better if we could do some embroidery.
Section 7
Do you have any entertainment, such as going to watch a play?
Nan: Where can we go?

How about during the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar)?
Nan: There will be plays on show for four or five days.

[To Xumei] Will you go to see the play?
Xumei: No, I dare not go out when it is cold because of the arthritis in my legs.

Do you go to the doctors?
Nan: She takes medicine almost every day.

Where do you buy the medicine?
Nan: In the village, also from other places. Her youngest daughter buys some for her. We cannot afford it.