photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 40 - Northeast)






Petty-trader; previously nanny


Huanglongsi, Hebei




Section 1
“My Life: Ups and downs: an account of a country woman”
This testimony is different to the others in the collection in that it is not a transcript of an interview, rather it is an autobiographical account.

My name is Fengxian. I am an ordinary countrywoman of the mountain area. However, my life has a great deal of ups and downs. People say that women are born for sufferings. As a result, I have great sufferings to tell.
My family lived at the foot of a mountain. At that time, I was quite young and was just at the age of 15. All day long, I ran here and there with bare feet. My mother didn't know how to do needlework while my father learned it at home because he had an illness and couldn't earn work points (points gained for working hours under collectivisation; these entitled people to a share of the produce farmed collectively). Father made a pair of male cloth shoes for me. I jumped with joy when first wearing them but Father burst into tears. I said to him, “Father, don't be sad, I will do all the work at home when I grow up.” He said, “You've grown up. You are my only daughter and you should shoulder the heavy burden from now on.”
I lowered my head and said unhappily, "Father, I am still young and I want to continue my studying…." Before I finished my words, father interrupted, "Study! This has no use for a girl. You'll marry sooner or later and do work for others. You've learned enough words. All right, I decide that you should stop studying." I could do nothing but obey my father. I believed that my life would have no promise because I had had got little education. Since that time, I did all the work in my family.
Radios became my good friends during the days when I worked at home. I liked the Huang Mei opera the most (Huang Mei Opera grew out of traditional Chinese country folk dancing, songs, and performances. It is known to many as the opera of Chinese villagers, who relate strongly to the stories and emotions depicted). It has been an unforgettable song for my life and has brought happiness to me.
The trend of reform came to the country (household responsibility system, when people worked for themselves rather than cooperatively). We carried out the principle of fixed farm output quotas for each household and it brought us a lot of benefits. Many people went to towns and cities to make money. My daily work was much lighter than before. I wanted to work as a children's nanny in big cities. When I told father my ideas, he said, "All right. Since you cannot go on to study, you'd better go." Having the consent of my father, I went to find a close girl friend of mine named Xiong. Her father was a cook in the army and he often looked for children's nannies. After I told Xiong that I wanted to look for a job, her mother said, "There is no problem to find a job. But people say that children's nannies are like servants. This kind of job is being looked down upon."
I said, "Don't worry. I regard it as a glorious job. We country girls have nothing to do at home. It's too dull. If I have a job as a children's nanny, I first can learn skills; secondly, I can have a good look at the capital Beijing; thirdly, I can do something for those sisters and aunts (used generally to refer to older women) so that they can do their jobs better and make more contributions to our country." Thus, through the introduction of Xiong's father, a car came to meet me. My parents felt a bit concerned and they gave me pieces of advice repeatedly. At last, I said goodbye to them.
I was too excited. It was the first time that I left my remote mountain village.
It was not long before I arrived at the army courtyard of the west of the Five Ridges. Xiong's father told me that there were two soldiers who were going back to their home town, Beijing. They would take me to Beijing where the family I would work for lived. I, together with the two soldiers, came to the Yong Ding Gate in Beijing by train. At the exit of the station, I was met by another soldier. It took us a long time by subway to reach the place. Up till now, I still don't know the name of the place. I remembered that the place was very beautiful. A garden stood in the front of a large building. There were [different] kinds of flowers in the garden.
From then on, I began my life as a children's nanny. I washed diapers and the clothes of the family and did the cooking when the baby was sleeping. After she was off the duty and went back home, the baby's mother just lay on the sofa. When she finished her dinner, she began to examine my work. She unfolded a diaper and looked at it carefully under the sun, then she said, "The diapers are not tidy. You should wash them again and you should keep [them] clean of everything." I had to do all the things once more according to her command when the baby was sleeping. I didn't want to argue with her. I thought that there was no easy work. I did what she told me to do.
One day, when I was washing diapers, she came back home. Sitting on the sofa, she saw my cup, which was on the writing desk. She became very angry and shouted at me, "Why did you put your cup there? Your cup is so dirty!" I argued, "I eat nothing dirty, how does my cup become dirty?" My words irritated her. She jumped up and threw herself at me. I said calmly, "What are you doing? I was working for you. If you think that I haven't done a good job, send me back home tomorrow. I'm sure that I can make a living at home." She gave me a snort of contempt and said, "OK." In the afternoon, her director came and tried to persuade me. I said sadly to her, "It is not easy for me to work far away from my home. I do not have any acquaintances here. In order to be a good nanny, I have made efforts. My cup isn't dirty at all. What she said shows that she looks down upon me. How could I live with this kind of people?" Her director could find no reply.
I came to her mother-in-law's home the second (next) day. The aunt was not satisfied with what her daughter-in-law had done, but she could do nothing to help me. She asked me to accompany her to see the doctor and buy some vegetables on the way. When we got to the vegetable market, people had stood in two queues. She said to me, "I go to see the doctor, and you wait in line." I said yes to her and she went away. I was not willing to leave Beijing, so I asked those who were waiting whether they knew of some people looking for a children's nanny. A girl with an Anhui accent said to me, "The other day, someone there [pointing] looked for a children's nanny and asked me to find one from my hometown. But my home is too far." I thanked her and went back home with the aunt after buying the vegetables. I made an excuse and went out of the aunt's home and went straight towards the direction in which the girl pointed just now. I looked for a long time before I finally found it. An aunt (older woman) was airing quilts.
I said to her, "Is there anyone who is looking for a children's nanny?" The aunt asked, "Where are you from?" I replied, "I'm from Baoding." I told her my experience from beginning to end. The aunt was warm-hearted and she said, "It is really not easy for a girl to work far away from home. Come here, anyhow we are fellow villagers." I was very happy when I heard this. Since I came here to look after the baby, I had many difficulties. In order to bring credit to myself and remain in Beijing, I looked for a job from door to door with tears in my eyes. I was a little country girl and had no acquaintances in the big city. But now I was very happy when I knew that I have met a fellow villager. The aunt went on to say, "You go into the room to have a rest. I'll ask about it for you." I followed her into the room, an aunt of about 50 smiled at me and said, "Sit down, please. My surname is Sun. You may call me Mrs Sun." She asked me about my home address and I told her. I also told her that I had met a woman so unreasonable that I did this out of sheer necessity. Mrs. Sun said, "Bring your luggage here, we'll help you."
I went back to the baby's grandma. I didn't tell her that I had found a job. I lied to her. I told her that I was going home.
Through the introduction of Mrs Sun, I came to Mrs Li's [household]. They were neighbours. I enjoyed my life in Mrs Li's because she treated me as her own child. The baby's mother was kind to me, too. Apart from looking after the baby, I also washed clothes and did cleaning. They were so kind to me. How could I repay them for their kindness? I tried my best to do a perfect job.
Time fled quickly. I had stayed at Mrs Li's for almost a year. One day, Mrs. Li took out a parcel of clothes. She asked me to send it by post to my father and brothers. I was deeply moved. She was so kind as to keep my family in mind.
I loved life and I loved to express my happiness through Huang Mei opera. One Sunday, the baby's aunt came and she also liked Huang Mei opera. When I was washing clothes by the washing machine, I couldn't help singing Tian Xian Pei. The sound of the washing machine became the accompanied music. When I finished my singing, she turned on the recording machine and I heard my voice coming from it. I wondered what was the matter. She laughed and asked me to sing another one. I blushed and would not sing any more.
The baby's great grandmother would come to Mrs Li's. She was quite well and Mrs Li no more needed a children's nanny. Mrs Li said to me, "I can look for another family for you. What do you think of that?" I answered, "OK. I have been away from home for a year. I miss my parents and my home very much. I want to go back home. If you find a job for me, you can write to me."
I said goodbye to Mrs Li and Mrs Sun and went back home. At that time, I couldn't reach home by bus directly. I had to walk on foot for more than 30 miles. My parents were glad when they saw me. Father said, "Will you go back to Beijing later?" I said, "I still want to work for a few years." Father agreed.
Half a month passed and I received a letter from Mrs Sun in which she asked me to return to Beijing as soon as possible. My parents and I were worried since I had to go by myself. It happened that a young man named Yi in our village was going to work in Beijing. I could go with him and hearing this, my parents were at ease. When we got to Baoding, I looked after our luggage and he went to buy the train tickets. The trains whose tickets he bought were not at the same time. He said to me, "You go first and wait for me at the exit of the station. I'll send you to the destination and then I’ll go to my place." I got on the train and when I arrived at the Yong Ding Gate, it was in the late evening. Standing at the exit, I looked for Yi just like looking for a needle in the ocean. I was scared to tears. Just at this moment, a few men came out from the corner and walked towards me. They said that they knew where I intended to go and they were going the same way with me. A man with a pair of glasses said, "We go to the same place." I stood there and wondered [what to do]. Thanks to a soldier. It was he who saved me. He told me not to believe anybody rashly. He helped me to find the bus which went to the Shi Jing Shan and entrusted me to a middle-aged man.
Sitting on the bus, I could not keep calm. I thought I had seen Lei Feng. There were thousands of Lei Feng nowadays. He lived forever in our hearts.

When I got to Mrs Sun's, the family were worrying for my safety. I brought some persimmons and walnuts to Mrs Sun and she was very glad. She told me that the family she had found for me was a senior official in Beijing. She said, "If you cannot do it, I'll look for another one for you." I said that I would try.
At 7 pm the second day, a black car came to meet me. I said goodbye to Mrs Sun. It was not a long time before I heard the sound of the opening of a large door. I got out of the car. An attendant called Miss Li brought me to a room where I would live. We walked across the second gate and come into the inner yard. Miss Li introduced the family members to me. I came to know grandma, grandpa, the elder aunt and the younger aunt etc. Then Miss Li told me to have a good rest. I went back to my room. I thought that this was the house of the Minister of Foreign Trade. She was so great. How could she treat me as an equal?
On the morning of the second day, Miss Li told me what I should do. When it was time for breakfast, the family were all sitting at table. I stood up and said, "I'll have breakfast later." Grandma said to me, "Fengxian, sit down. We'll have breakfast together." I hesitated a moment and sat down. I felt very embarrassed when I had breakfast. It was a mystery to me. I came to know the truth after a long time. Grandma had devoted her life to our country. She loved the subjects as if they were her own children. Most of the old senior officials had the same spirits as grandma.
The whole family regarded me as one of their own family members. One day, grandpa said to me, "Grandma will go to BeiHai. You come with us." I agreed readily. It took us almost half a day to get to BeiHai. Grandpa said, "If grandma feels dull, you bring her to BeiHai for relaxation.” A few days later, we visited the Imperial Palace, BeiHai and Jing Shan. Ditan Park was one of the places we went most. Life had brought much happiness to me.
The summer came and it was quite sultry. Grandma, grandpa, and the whole family and I went to Beidaihe (Bei Hai?). I would remember every moment which I spent there. Except for doing my own work, I spent all my time at the seaside. It was the first time that I saw the sea. I had seen it on the screen, but this time, it was real. It was too wonderful. We visited the Temple of Meng Jiangnu and the Number One Pass of the World. We saw sunrise at the Nest of the Pigeon. I was proud that I could go to this place. When I said goodbye for the last time to the sea, I said to Miss Xu, who went together with us, "You may have another chance to come here. But it is the first and last time for me." I reluctantly left the sea and went back to Beijing.
Another month passed by. I was extremely happy in this big family. But I received a letter from Father one day, in which he asked me to go home immediately and said nothing else. I felt awkward and asked advice from grandma and the third aunt. The third aunt said, "You'd better go home. If there is nothing wrong, you can come back here." In this way, I parted with grandma, grandpa and the third aunt. My eyes were full of tears. I seemed to have a feeling that I would never come back to Beijing.
I asked Father what had happened when I arrived at home. Mother said, "There’s nothing wrong. Your brothers are not at home, and a lot of work hasn't been done. So we wrote to you to come back to do the work." I didn't say anything.
I was busy with picking persimmons, gathering wheat and picking peppers. I took great pains to finish all the field work. Some aunts (older women) dropped around and one of them asked me, "You've grown up. Do you have a boyfriend?" I blushed and answered that I was still young. She said with a clap of her hands, "You shouldn't look down upon our country boys. Nowadays, except the girls who do huanqin (exchange marriage), the rest all go to cities. If it goes on like this, our village men will all become bachelors." She went on to say, "I know a man, do you want to make a huanqin for one of your brothers….?" I interrupted her and said, "Thank you for your kindness. But that is not a voluntary marriage. Have you ever seen any good for (come out of) huanqin? Either the man is too old or he has no houses. Besides, if there is no attachment between the couple, they'll quarrel with each other the whole day long. How could they make a living? How can I play a joke on my own happiness? From now on, you'd better say nothing about this again. I will never agree to it."
Father was not glad when I drove the go-between away. He let me stand in the front of him and said, "Fengxian, tell me the truth. Do you want to make a huanqin so as to exchange a wife for one of your brothers?" I answered angrily, "Never." Father got angry, "Your brothers are all nearly at the age of 30. You are the only daughter and you should think more for me…." I broke in and said, "Say no more of this kind of thing to me. I will never agree to huanqin. Isn't there any freedom in life?" Father lost his temper at these sentences. He came to tears and said, "I am nearly 60. None of your three brothers are married yet. The girls in the village all go to cities except those for huanqin. Do you want to go away? If none of your brothers have a wife, our family will have no offspring. If you're willing to exchange a wife for one of your three brothers, I will be able to close my eyes in my grave (rest in peace). What's more, exchange marriages are not new. It has been a tradition for all these years." Seeing my father's tears, I felt as if a knife were piercing deep into my heart.
At night, I couldn't go to sleep. I was thinking what I had said to father and I felt my heart was aching with sorrow. Father had been working hard all his life. What did he want now? He thought of only his sons and he wanted only to exchange a wife for one of his sons. Hadn't he thought about his only daughter? Tears ran down my face. If I didn't agree to the exchange, I would let them down and I was unworthy of their love and care. But if I agreed to it, the happiness of my whole life would be ruined. I wept out my grief to the heavens. Why was it me to pay the debts just because my family couldn't afford a marriage for one of my brothers? Where was my freedom?
My tears drenched my pillow cover and I felt that I had been greatly wronged. I slowly put on my clothes and plunged into the night. I walked without aim. Who would listen to my complaints? Who would understand me? I asked the heavens, "Why? Why is my life so hard?" Suddenly I slipped and fell down. Winds blew the sounds of cuckoos into my ears. It seemed to say, "Fate, it is your fate." I shivered, stood up and slowly went back to my room. I thought, "I have to resign myself to destiny. I am a female. I can do nothing." I decided that I must be worthy of my parents' care even if I died. In order to please my parents and my brothers, I at last agreed to exchange a wife for one of my brothers.
I had no courage to resist the marriage. I had to swallow my own suffering. I refused many people who came to propose and my father told the situation to his adopted son. My adopted brother said to me, "Fengxian, I've found one for you. His looks are quite good and he is only one year older than you. Do you know Mr Bao?" I said, "I know him. He looks all right, but…." My adopted brother questioned me closely, "But what? You can find no faults. What else do you want to say?" "I know him but I don't know much about him. How can I marry him? I need to think it over," I said. "Besides, XiGou is too remote. It is at the foot of the mountain and it produces no wheat. Although it is not far from here, its living standards are much worse."
My adopted brother said, "Huanqin couldn't be matched in every respect. There are many places worse than XiGou. You'd better think it over." Father said, "I believe that it's all right." "But it does not produce any wheat." I said. "XiGou is too poor a place." My elder brother said." "Don't be afraid of poverty. We produce wheat. We can help you." My second brother said. I thought that my second brother was right. It depended on my own hands to make a happy life. So I agreed.
With the repeated request of my adopted brother and the go-between, we saw each other at Mr Bao's home. His home had nothing but three shabby bungalows. Mr Bao looked like an honest man. But I didn't know his nature. I had no chance to talk with him. I was very embarrassed and he stayed taciturn. The go-between said that it was decided and they would go to our home the following day.
The following day, I was busy serving them. The go-between said, "Since you all have no objections, you should go through the formalities of marriage tomorrow." I said, "We need time to communicate with each other." The go-between said, "It's the same whether you do it tomorrow or later. Do it as soon as possible so as to spare the gossip." I consented and went through the formalities of marriage with Mr Bao. We first managed my second brother's wedding ceremony. My marriage took place on the 29th, the first month of the lunar year.
My own marriage was impending. I could do nothing but compromise for my family. The people who met me came to the front door of my home with a small donkey. I pretended to be sleeping. My parents were agitated but they had no way. I didn't get up until mother knocked at my door for a long time. The two aunts who would accompany me to the bridegroom's family persuaded me and then I began to dress up. I ate nothing. The people who came to met me urged many times and they shouted outside, "What's the matter? Hurry up! It would be unlucky if we should miss the lucky (auspicious) time." I went out of my room, hearing the sound of firecrackers. Someone asked, "Who will carry the bride to the donkey?" I answered, "I can walk myself." I walked to the front of the donkey and the two aunts accompanying me asked me to ride on it. I said that I'd like to walk but they pushed me on it. With an umbrella in one of my hands and a red bridal veil covering my head, I wore a red silk short Chinese-style jacket, a pair of blue trousers and a pair of black leather shoes.
The people who came to meet me pulled the donkey and the two aunts rode the other two donkeys. My elder brother, my third brother and two of my relatives carried a pair of cupboard, quilts, washbasins and thermos bottles, etc. Our small group walked slowly along the winding mountain road. I was very sad and tears ran out of my eyes. I thought, "It is my fate. My heart has been broken." A moment later, someone said that we were arriving. I heard once again the sound of the firecrackers. The two aunts helped me off the donkey and I stood on a stool. After the firecrackers finished, I walked on a red felt rug and then on another. When I walked to the door of the yard, I saw a fire pan. My bridegroom was standing behind it and was pouring alcohol into it. Then, I went into the room and was asked to pass a parcel of something before I could be on the kang (heatable sleeping platform). I'd like to sit on the kang while the aunts who met me let (made?) me come off it . They took off my bridal veil, washed my face and changed my clothes for me. Having done all these things, I was permitted to be on the kang. This was the way that every woman had to pass. Women want to seek happiness with their whole life, but no one can run away from these rules. In the evening, my mother-in-law brought me a bowl of jiaozi (steamed buns) and asked me to eat them. I said that I don't want to eat anything. The aunts beside me broke in. They said, "You eat these jiaozi tonight and you can have a boy first." I told them that I would not eat them since they had said these words. My mother-in-law had to take away those jiaozi.
I set up my family in this way. I asked my husband, "Do you know what love is?" He answered, "I don't know. I am a peasant. What I know is that we ought to bear sons and daughters. What use does love have?" I was very angry and said, "You fool! How can we set up a family without love? We should understand each other and love each other. This is love."
We were different by nature. I love talking and smiling while he was quite the contrary. We often quarrelled. After 20 days of marriage, he went away. He was going to work to pay off the debts for the wedding. Since then, I lived in this remote mountain village. Every day my father-in-law and I did the farm work while my mother-in-law did the cooking at home. Half a year later, my father-in-law said to me, "Fengxian, we'd better live independently." I understood why he said it. We had to pay the debts of more than 1,000 yuan. My parents-in-law would suffer a great deal if they lived together with us. I agreed and said, "All right. We can't depend on you for our whole life." My husband came back a few days later and we divided up the family property and lived apart. All we had were two shabby bungalows and some food. I lived alone after my husband went away. I was grieved, for I could hardly feel any kindness in my new family. It might be my fate [to live like this].
At the end of the year, my husband came back. He paid off our debts and gave some money to his parents. The remainder was 300 yuan. We decided to borrow money and build our own houses. A few months passed and our new houses were set up. But once again we had debts of more than 3,000 yuan. The sum was too much for us.
I was expecting my first baby. Our home was very far away from the hospital. The pains were so great that I had to walk to and fro. I asked my nephew to look for a doctor. In a while, my first baby was born. My mother-in-law carried it in her breast. I was very pale for I was bleeding freely. My mother-in-law supported me with her hands and shouted to my husband, "Carry her to the kang." I just walked to the edge of the kang and felt dizzy and lost consciousness. Both he and my mother-in-law shouted at me. I later realised that I was lying on the floor. My husband pulled my hands and burst into tears. I opened my eyes gradually and he smiled at me. I asked him, "Where is my baby?" He said, "It's here. Look, it's a son." I nodded and closed my eyes again.
In the country, women in wealthy families can have some nourishment when they are in confinement. But my confinement was too miserable. I couldn't afford any food made of wheat flour, let alone some nourishment. I had nothing except some dried noodles sent by some neighbours. I began to do housework just a month later. At the beginning of the spring, my husband left home once more. He had to earn money to pay back our debts. My life was even harder. I did the farm work while carrying my son on my back. When I fed the pigs, the baby was sprawling on the ground. I often had no supper. In the day, my mother-in-law helped me to look after the baby while I did the farm work. At night, I made cotton-padded shoes for my baby.
The summer came. I harvested all the wheat in the field. I had altogether 50 jin (2 jin equals 1 kg) of wheat. My son was having a fever. I carried him in my arms and asked my mother-in-law, "Please help me to winnow the wheat." She said, "If I winnow wheat for you, what about my other daughters-in-law?" My father-in-law said, "We always helped you, but we haven’t had a bit of benefit. Couldn't you be independent? We don't depend entirely on you. If we help you, what about the others? I've looked after your son. Do you want me to do the farm work [as well] for you?" He pointed to my mother-in-law and said, "From now on, you should not do anything. Otherwise, they will all complain." Hearing these words, I was furious and tears ran down to my face. Why was life so difficult for me? My fate had been connected with my husband. Why should I alone suffer? I thought about death but I hated to part with my son. I could leave this place with my son and I was sure that I could raise him alone.
In the early morning of the second day, I got on a bus with my son and came to Baoding. Getting off the bus, we sat at a corner. Suddenly, someone shouted, "Get on the bus to Beizhang." I then had an idea. I could bring the baby to my husband and then part with him. So I got on the bus with my baby.
When I found my husband at his working place, I couldn't help crying. He was very surprised and didn't say anything. I cried, "I couldn't live any more at home. I’ll give you your son and I will never enter your houses. I'd like to be a fugitive." He said nothing but smoked continually. Many people stood around us and they advised me to go home.
The old saying says, "Who will not make any mistake?" I took their advice and went back home. There were many sorrows and happiness. This was life.
Another New Year came. My husband came back. He talked with me about buying some sheep. He said, "We will spend 3,000 yuan to buy 30 sheep and we'll get cashmere and some lambs in a year. It is [more] worthwhile than working outside." I consented.
He bought 90 sheep the following day. Half belonged to my adopted brother and the other half belonged to us. The sheep cost each family 6,525 yuan. I was dumbfounded at the spot. My husband had taken a big risk. He didn't even consult me. I became angry and said, "What have you done? How will you earn so much money?" He said to me, "Don't worry. We can ask my elder brother to provide a loan for us." I said, "To provide a loan? That will not do! Anyhow, you should return those sheep." He said, "You should understand me. I do all things just for you. Besides, we are going to have our second baby. I haven't the heart to see you suffer a lot with our two children. I'll keep my word. Please give me some face (respect)." I sighed, "I understand you. But you should not take a risk. What you have done relates to our future." He answered, "Come on. We can earn money."
We had our second son. We worked hard to raise sheep for a whole year but a disaster came in the spring. An epidemic disease spread in the sheep. Many poxes grew on the sheep. We lost 30 sheep all at once and some lambs. Misfortunes dropped from heaven. Since then, our home was dull. My husband sighed all day long. The autumn came. Besides the loss of the sheep, the price of sheep had dropped greatly. We could only set them aside for another year. Our life became even harder.
My husband became rude. He couldn't lead such a life either. He often got drunk and we often quarrelled. He once threw a wineglass at me and missed. I threw myself at him. Our two sons cried loudly while embracing both my legs. He then swung at me with a spade and I bumped against him with one child in my arms. Our neighbours came, grabbed the spade from his hands and dragged him aside. I wailed at the top of my voice.
When he seemed sober, I talked and complained to him. He was still a bit drunken and wanted to beat me. We fought together. I was not his equal and was beaten down to the ground. My eyes were swollen because of crying. I sorted out some clothes and came back to my parents' home, pulling one child in my hands and carrying the other in my arms. I said to him before I left, "I can no longer bear this kind of life. I'll divorce you."
I sent my application for divorce to the leader of the production brigade. Father got news of this and said, "You'd better go if you want a divorce." I couldn't help my tears. I said, "I can bear the hardship in that poor village in order to exchange a wife for one of my brothers. But he doesn't listen to my advice and ruins our family. I can no longer live together with him. I've already written an application for divorce, and I am determined to divorce him." Mother said to me in a mild tone, "You'd better go back. You should continue to live with him for the sake of your children. Can a divorce solve your problems? One child belongs to you and the other belongs to him. Which one can you spare?" My heart was torn into pieces by mother's words. My mother was right. These two children were my life’s hope. I came back to my home.
The leaders of the production brigade came to make peace between us and criticised him [for drinking]. The knot in our heart disappeared and we began our new life. We didn't have complaints even though our life was much harder than before. After the autumn, we sold our sheep and lost almost 6,000 yuan. Together with the cost for raising sheep and the money which his parents helped us to borrow, we ran into debts of almost 7,000 yuan. I was extremely worried and he left home to earn money again in the spring. Each day that passed was like a year. But whenever I saw my two young sons, I felt that life was still hopeful. I didn't wear a sad face any more. I faced life with confidence. I thought that I could overcome all the difficulties. I still had a lot of things to do. I now had a strong will.
In the autumn, he came back and helped me to harvest the wheat. Then, he went away. I was so lonely. All the incidents passed before my eyes. I decided to write out all the incidents. Otherwise, I would be smothered to death. Every time I took up a pen, I couldn't help crying. My tears dropped on to this manuscript paper. It seemed as if I were talking to my dear ones. I remembered the days that I spent at grandma's [in Beijing]. So I made a decision. I went to visit her.
It was quite worthwhile for me go to Beijing. I understood now what life meant. Coming back home, following the advice of grandma, I bought some pigs and 200 chickens with the money given to me by grandma. I was busy now. Every day, I cut strips from the mountain to weave baskets. At the end of the year, I had earned altogether 2,000 yuan.
I learnt to make sesame seed cakes and began to do some small business. Shaking a drum-shaped rattle in my left hand, I carried two baskets of sesame seed cakes to sell each day.
Then came the year 1997. In order to pay off our debts, we had to leave our children at home and asked my mother-in-law to look after them. I was very sad when I parted with my children. I had to go. In Man Cheng, we started to sell sesame seed cakes with the help of my third brother and his wife. Although life was hard, we could earn 20 or 30 yuan each day. We paid off all our debts within five months.
Our children now came to Man Cheng too. They were studying in a primary school. We sold steamed stuffed buns and noodles and later, meat pies. Working hard for a year, we had done a good job. We now lent money to others and we never owed debts. From the end of last year, I changed my job to repairing shoes. It was because the local government didn't permit us to sell food in the streets. They said that we affected the appearance of the city. I adapted to the situation quickly. I thought that I could do whatever job as long as I could earn money. I earned 39 yuan each day for repairing shoes. It was even more than a male labourer, who could only earn 20 yuan each day. But my job was not tidy and had a bad reputation. I thought it was without promise. But my master encouraged me, "Work hard and I am sure that you can earn more than 10,000 yuan per year. We also need females. If you like, I could make you become the very best."
I wish I could be the very best. I hope that I could earn a lot of money for my children. I have planned their future. I wish that I could have a hopeful future, too.