photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 9 - Southwest)






Farmer and weaver


Xuelin village, Lancang county, Yunnan


17 April 1997



Section 1
Team 3, Xuelin Dazai, Xuelin Cungongsuo, Xuelin village, Lancang county
We entered the village from the east; we talked while we walked. Without noticing, we arrived at Yeai's home on the left. She was weaving a wool blanket carefully. Having seen that we were coming to her house, she smiled and asked, "What are you doing taking these Han people to the village?" I said, ďWe come to talk with you, do you welcome us?Ē She nodded and smiled, and our interview started.

Are you weaving to make blankets, or to make clothes and trousers? Who taught you this? Can you tell us?
After I finish weaving, I use it as a blanket when we sleep. You ask me who taught me. I learned it by watching how other people weave. My family was very poor. My dad left home, left my mum and me because we were poor. My mum could not afford to buy the yarn so she didn't teach me how to weave. She wanted to buy [cotton] yarn to weave but she had no money. She could only go to work for others to earn our living. I remembered once she used cotton and rubbed it into yarn by hand. She said she would use it to weave clothes. But before I could wait for her to finish making the yarn, I was married. I got married but my husband's family was also very poor. They had only a pot, a ragged bamboo mat [to sleep on] and a small bowl. My mum saw that my husband's family was poor, she gave me one worn-out gunny (flax or hemp) blanket she had used. During that year, my husband and I just used that worn-out blanket.
The next year, I asked my husband to learn from others how to weave a bamboo mat. In that year, he made one mat and got 8 yuan from selling it. We also grew some corn and cereal; some was kept for eating, and some for sale. First, we used the money to buy some utensils. Later when we had some savings, we bought two pieces of cotton wadding. You asked me if the society at present is good - of course I say itís good, much better than before. It is just sometimes we are too busy. Like the blankets, I wove [only] a few pieces. When my father-in-law and mother-in-law died, they were wrapped in the blanket I wove. Now people seldom weave this kind of blanket, they just use the cotton sheet made by the state (factory-made; mass-produced). I think people should make use of the old generation's traditional tools and skills. Why don't they want to learn?
Section 2
Why don't people want to learn those things from the old people? If you know, can you tell me? And how will you compare the past and the present, can you tell me?
When Han people (meaning the ďliberation armyĒ, which was under the leadership of the Chinese Communist party) came to our place [around 1949], I was still young. I cannot remember it clearly. I only remember that we were short of grains; we poor people worked in the landlordsí home but they gave us only a half mu (6 jin) of cereal per day. I knew the landlord gave us a very small amount of cereal; to earn our living, we had to work. I was not very good at pounding rice for others. I used a special bench and stood on it so that I could reach up to pound the rice. Life was very difficult. Now when I recall it my tears are ready to fall.
Two years after ďliberationĒ [from the Nationalist Party by the Communist party], because our family were poor peasants, those Han people (the ďliberation armyĒ) asked my husband to be the head of a militia and gave him 20 yuan as salary (living allowance) each month.

Do they still give him this now?
They havenít given him it since the Cultural Revolution started (period of widespread political purges from mid-1960s to mid-1970s), up to now. During that time, they said that what he did was incorrect (violated the regulations), so up till now they haven't given anything to him. You ask me why was it so? I cannot tell even now. And I didn't know what the reason was at the time, and we never asked. If you really want to know, you can go to ask Daoga [an old director of that time]. He's still there. He has been the director of this place since I was young. Maybe he can remember something.
Because he was not the head of the militia any more, we had started to do farm work together. At that time, I thought that it was good that he was not the militia's head, so we could go to the mountain to work together every day. At that time, I wished to have two things: a tobacco pipe made of silver, and a bracelet. I wanted these two things very much. I thought that this year I had to grow more crops and different kinds of crops, so I could sell them and get more money. If I had the money, I could buy these two things.
That year, we had a good harvest. However, I didn't expect - even in my dreams - that my dad, who had run away and left my mum and I when we were short of grain, would bring back the children he had with his second wife. Because my mum had gone away, he had no place to go, and could only come to live with me. Both eating and living were difficult. The grain my husband and I worked hard for throughout one year was all consumed by that time. We couldn't go to other places to work for half the year, and I couldn't buy the tobacco pipe and bracelet. In June and July, we had to go to other places to dig up tree roots to eat. It's another tragedy - so up till now I still cannot afford to buy the tobacco pipe and bracelet.

Do you still fancy these two things now?
I do think about them but I'm old now. My daughter and son have all got married. I couldn't afford to buy them at that time, so I could not even think about them now.
Section 3
Then how about your life at present? Was it easier in the past, or is it easier now? Can you tell me?
Of course it is much better now. Who still wants to live the life of the past? It was not easy when we had the collectivised commune system [in the 1950s]. Because of this system, some people worked slothfully, and the grain you worked hard for one year [to grow] was not sufficient to eat. Now, it's all up to you how hard you want to work and how much you want to eat. Grain is not in short supply. There are different varieties of grains. Now we have the household responsibility system (when people worked for themselves rather than cooperatively). We ordinary people like it more, but are just afraid that the policy will change in the future, and don't know what will happen then.

So your family has enough to eat. Is there enough money to spend?
Iíd say itís enough! Money, this thing, will never meet people's needs. My family, if compared with the past, is much better off now. Especially my son, who basically learned how to repair tape-recorders and TV sets, and had made some money from that. We also make money from some other business. Money is not the problem. Anyway, it's better than before.

Your son learned how to repair tape-recorders and TV sets. When did he learn it? And who did he learn from?
When he was young, I took him to the school to study. After finishing the primary school, he went to middle school. After middle school, he failed the exam for the high school. The teacher said that he was five marks lower than the requirement. My son asked us to let him repeat the class for a year, as he was willing to study one more year. However, we didn't agree that he could repeat it. So sometimes he blames us.

He's willing to repeat the class but you didn't let him do so - any reasons?
We were too pigheaded. We thought that by finishing the middle school, the knowledge would be sufficient to use. And we worried that we would not be able to afford his tuition fee in the high school. Now when I think about it, I'm really regretful. If we were not that stubborn and were willing to support him to study, he probably would be a university student now.

Just now you said that your life is better than before - then do you often buy meat to eat?
We eat more meat than before, but less than other people who receive a salary. They eat meat at every meal. Ordinary people buy 2 jin of meat at most in a week. But compared with the past, of course, it is much better now. As I told you, the grain was not sufficient to eat in the past. We had to dig up tree roots, cut edible wild plants and the stems of banana trees for food. Now I have persistent stomachache. It is because I ate too many wild plants and banana stems. When I look back at life in the past, my head aches and I feel dizzy.

You said the [household responsibility] policy is good. In what aspects, can you tell us?
You ask me to tell you but I donít think I can say much. Because I didn't attend school, I received no education. I cannot tell much. I just said that now we have the responsibility system, we can decide how hard we want to work. Itís not like before. There is no landlord exploiting the ordinary people. Now, I think, we work for ourselves. We can make money from [livestock] breeding and cultivation. But my family has not been successful in raising buffalo, pigs and chickens. We bought a buffalo to raise, but it got a disease and died. The year before last, we bought a buffalo which cost 2,620 yuan. I raised it for only four months, then it got sick and died. I was so sad that I cried for three days. The more I think about it, the madder I become. It took much hard work to get the 2,000 yuan. Later, we bought pigs and chickens, but, all the same, they all got sick and died.
Section 4
When the buffalo, pigs and chickens were ill, didn't you ask the vet to come and check?
Why wouldnít I ask them to come? It was only when the buffalo was ill that I didn't ask them to come. When the pig was ill, I asked them quickly to come and give injections. They came and gave injections for three days, but finally it died. And it cost me tens of yuan for treatment. I feel puzzled. Why did the buffalo, pigs and chickens get ill and die so easily? What's the reason? I don't know whether the vet had used expired medicine, or if God in Heaven doesn't want us to be rich? I don't know.

Do you believe in superstitions?
Of course we ordinary people don't believe in superstitions. We are not like you who work outside, you should still remember our Wa custom.
[Interviewer is also Wa, but works for Oxfam.]

I can remember some, but not others. The area has been liberated for so many years. Letís not twist our conversation - but you should not believe in superstitions any more.
If I say there is no change - in fact, it has changed a lot. Don't you see now the young people's clothes, trousers, all are made by the state (factory-made)? They donít want to wear traditional costume. And like the blankets I'm weaving now; they don't learn to weave these any more. My girl doesn't want to learn either. She said it's too troublesome. Can I not weave? If I die, I'll ask them to wrap me in this blanket. I'll leave one for my husband.

After you make them, won't you take them to sell in the market?
If someone wants them, I surely will sell. But I'm afraid nobody wants them.

If you want to sell them, how much will you ask for one piece?
If someone wants it, Iíll sell one piece at 50 to 60 yuan. Don't you see things are more and more expensive now? I buy clothes too.

Then where do you get the money to buy yarn and salt?
Some from selling pigs and chickens. As I said, if the pigs and chickens did not so easily get sick and die, I could often take them to sell. I can raise them well. Besides, my husband can weave bamboo mats to sell. One sheet of them can be sold at 30 to 40 yuan. [He stops] just because there is no light when it gets dark; otherwise, heíll usually cut the bamboo in the evening, weave it early in the morning and in the evening, then go to work in the daytime. As to a small business in the market - we cannot make money from that. This was said to us by my father-in-law, so we don't do the retail business.
Section 5
Your father-in-law said so. Do you believe it?
I believe some of it.

Itís not right! Did you ever try it?
We have tried. The first time my son had a rice business; he lost money and was in debt. Since then, he doesn't do such business any more.

I'm afraid it's not quite true.
You don't believe what the old people said. But I had tried, and some parts of what they said were correct! They were certainly not entirely correct. But I think there is some reason in what the old people said.

Who manages the money in your family? You or your husband?
We manage our own money by ourselves. Sometimes when we buy big things (buffalo, pig), we pool our money. If the money is enough, weíll go to buy them. But usually I manage the money.

The money is managed by you. Then who does most of the housework?
If both of us are not sick, we do it together. We have a fear of experiencing hunger again. We work together when we are not sick. My husband is not like other men who just wander around. He's always been a simple person (direct, honest) and does the work in the fields to earn our living. We are afraid of living the kind of life we did in the collectivised commune period. At that time, we were often in debt. I'm scared to death even when I think about it now. So he is not like other men wandering around all day and just chatting with other families. He would rather work hard for the family.

Can you tell us more about which aspects of your life are good?
It's good that I can eat, wear and use whatever and whenever I want. If I have money, I can buy whatever I want. In the past - even the salt we ate, it was so difficult to get as we could only go to Shangyu to buy it. It took us several days to go and buy the salt each time. And we were scared on the way, because there were many bad people. If we encountered them they would rob all our stuff and you would have nothing to bring back. It was good that they wouldn't kill us, but just robbed us. Now, why is this society not good? Everyone has freedom. If we don't violate the law, we can work peacefully. No bad people come to threaten us. Why wouldnít I say the present society is good!

Then has your lifestyle changed?
We eat rice every day now and we are reluctant to eat coarse grains any more. Itís not only my family, but other families are the same; they all eat rice. The bad thing is that we cannot eat meat at every meal. We are not able to eat like you who receive a salary and have meat every meal.
Section 6
Is the rice you eat now pounded by hand, or milled by machine?
We don't pound with hands; all is milled by machine. Don't you see our pestle lying on the ground that shows that we don't pound rice anymore?

How much is the bamboo mat woven by your husband sold for? Can you tell me again?
The price was very low before. One piece only sold for 7 to 8 yuan. Now the price is better; one sheet can sell for 50 to 60 yuan.

This kind of blanket that you are weaving, how much can you ask for one piece?
I spent over 100 yuan to buy the wool thread. If I sell them, one piece will go for 50 to 60 yuan. But Iím not going to sell them because I'm old now. I'm afraid that I wonít be able to weave in the future. Iíll take it with me when I die. We, the older generations, are unwilling to use the red blanket made by the state (factory-made).

Why donít the young people want to learn your old generation's traditional handicrafts?
As I have said just now, they said it's too troublesome, and they don't want to learn. If I were them, I would learn even now - because it's the handicraft skill from our ancestors, and we should maintain it. It is just because young people are lazy that they don't want to learn. If you have time, you can take one to sell to Han people, and show them our Wa people's handicraft.

I'm sorry. I don't have time to help you to take them to sell. Would you weave Wa bags for sale?
This year I'm not able to weave them. I haven't finished this blanket. If I have time, I want to weave bags. Now the bags are worth some money. Don't you see that we need to pay for the water we drink, and to pay for rice milling? Now the running water is much more convenient than before, but we have to pay for it.

In the past you had to go outside the mountain to fetch water back. Now you have running water, you don't need to go and fetch water, don't you feel pleased?
Only when we have no money [Iím not], [when] the person who's in charge comes to collect money and I cannot pay. I felt very embarrassed. Anyway, it's much better than before. In the past, there were only two ponds for the whole village where we could fetch water. If someone was hardworking, his family often had water to drink; if someone was lazy, he could only drink muddy water. I often went to fetch water when the rooster had crowed once or twice. Usually I'd be the third or fourth person, if not the first or second, who went there. Compared with the past, it's certainly much better now.

Who collects firewood in your home usually?
The firewood is usually collected by me. In the past, we had regulated seasons to gather firewood. If it was not the permitted period, you couldn't collect any; otherwise the village head would scold you. Now people don't care anymore, they just go to collect it whenever they want to. Some people even cut the green wood, but no one is punished.
Section 7
Now young people can go to school. Can you tell us what's the advantage of attending school?
Certainly there are many advantages to attending school. I couldn't go to school when I was young. I remember when I wanted to go to school, my mum forcibly held me back. Anyway, I grew up then. If I could go to school, I would be the same as you are now. You don't understand that we people who didn't attend school; we know nothing. I let my daughter go, but her performance is not good. My son is not bad, just as I told you, but we parents influenced him, so he didn't continue to study. Now he often blames us.
They (Oxfam?) had asked me to learn making and sewing clothes in Menglang Ba (Lancang). I thought because I had had no education, I may not be able to learn - so I didnít go.

You said your son knew how to repair tape-recorders, and TV sets. Who did he learn it from?
At first, he found a broken tape-recorder. He opened it and studied it, then fixed it again. Gradually, he mastered some basic things. He wrote to a factory and bought some materials and some spare parts. He studied the materials while he learned to repair. He studied slowly and up till now it has been seven or eight years already. Then he knows how to repair [them]. He was thinking about strengthening his theoretical knowledge, but because the tuition fee was too high, he couldnít afford it. Finally, he said, ďForget it. I studied by myself for several years and now I know how to do repairs.Ē And he decided not to go.

I'm afraid it's you who didn't let him to go?
No. It's because the tuition fee was too high. All together we had to pay more than 1000 yuan. We couldn't get such a sum of money immediately, so he didn't go to study. He's repairing Jiela's film machine (cinema projector) in these days.

Can he fix it?
He knows. He has repaired it twice.

What things do you think can bring you rural people the most benefit?
I think it should be wood and cogon grass.

Because I see that the trees on the mountain are disappearing. Our generation almost does not have firewood. If we don't manage the forest well, what firewood would the next generation use? We would have no charcoal to burn either, nothing. And the cogon grass (tough grass, used for thatching) cannot grow now. Without cogon grass, what can ordinary people use to build houses? Look at my house - if it was not for the fact that the country (state) gave me these tiles [under government poverty alleviation schemes], I really don't know what I could have used to build it.

You didn't pay a cent for these tiles, did you?
No, I didn't.
Section 8
Then is the country good? Don't you feel grateful to the country?
Of course, I am very grateful to the country. If the country (state) didn't give me these tiles, I might still live in a ragged thatched home. Iím personally grateful to the country, but I don't know how I can thank and repay the country.

Country policy is too good, isn't it?
En !

All you have told us today, if I take this for others to listen to, would you agree?
You decide if they can listen to it; I don't know (ie I agree).