OTHER THEMES IN NE COLLECTION
culture and customs
THEMES IN SW COLLECTION
culture and customs
employment and income
introducing the china collections
economics in the northeast collection
economics in the southwest collection
Households are involved in the cash economy in different ways: as wage labourers with at least one member working outside in the cities; through marketing of village produce; and by providing or taking out loans. Narrators talk of expanded opportunities to earn money since China's economic reforms took hold, and express a preference for the new system of working for oneself rather than communally.
Many men get work outside to provide the majority of the household's cash income. This money is required to cover children's education, water and electricity supplies, weddings, and additional food items. It seems that households are able to get a substantial amount of their basic food from their own fields; there is little reference to the purchasing of food. Despite the fact that many men are outside the village for long periods of time it seems that they are still largely in charge of household income, One woman (Junrong, China 39) says this is to do with respect: "My father-in-law [is in charge of the money in the family]. He is the head of the family. It is the way here to show our respect to the older generation… My husband hands in all his income to his father." Other narrators claim that expenditure decisions are always made after discussion between husband and wife.
Households earn additional income through the marketing of local produce such as livestock, fruit and medicinal herbs collected from the mountains. Some mention gathering the flexible twigs of the chaste tree, used for basket-making, for small amounts of extra cash as well. The remoteness of Huanglongsi means villagers can only market produce that travels well, which include persimmons and apricot kernels. One woman describes an impressive number of income-generating activities that she undertook to clear the family's debts: "Every day, I cut strips [of wood] 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… Shaking a drum-shaped rattle in my left hand, I carried two baskets of sesame seed cakes to sell each day… Although life was hard… We paid off all our debts within five months… 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. [Then] I changed my job to repairing shoes…because the local government didn't permit us to sell food in the streets… I adapted to the situation quickly…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" (China 40).
One narrator (China 31) says that families "who are well off usually kill a pig and preserve the meat with salt. Those who are poor have to sell the meat". However, it would appear that living standards have improved considerably. Some testimonies refer to the extreme poverty of the past, when it was not just a case of going without meat: "The grain ration was not enough... We couldn't get [more than] one bowl of porridge in three days. We ate certain vegetables, certain plants, and certain leaves… Now we don't lack food. But in the past, we were short of food. We had to eat bran… Now we have [meat]. We killed a little pig, and salted it. I cut a little and eat everyday" (China 34).
Poverty affected family structure too. Two narrators describe how families who could not afford to look after all their children gave up their sons for adoption by a wealthier household. Poverty can make it hard for a man to find a wife too. Several narrators mention the custom of "exchange" marriage. The parents of Fengxian (China 40) wanted her to marry a man whose sister would then marry Fengxian's brother, whose poor prospects had contributed to his failure to find a bride.
Almost all narrators were asked what they do if they need to borrow money. Loans between family members seem to be common - and preferable. There are a few references to borrowing from banks and more from friends and neighbours: "Personal connection is very important. It's not easy to get a loan from the bank. You'd better borrow some from your relatives or neighbours who have a good relationship with you." (China 35). People get into debt from the costs incurred for a marriage, and in rare cases from "purchasing" a wife. One woman (China 40) explains how, after "20 days of marriage, he (my husband) went away. He was going to work to pay off the debts for the wedding". Another narrator (China 37) explains that paying off their household debts required both her and her husband to work outside the village: "We are still deep in debt. How could we pay it back without going to work in the cities?" The stress caused by being in debt is evident in several testimonies.
quotes about economics
"We mainly rely on my husband. He works outside as a casual labourer. He works in Yangquan, Shanxi Province. I gather some Chinese herbal medicinal herbs here. I also raise pigs and rabbits. Last year I raised a pig. We didn't eat it but sold the meat… Our total income was over 3,000 yuan. It's hard for him to work outside. He works very hard, earning about 10 yuan a day. His health is poor."
Shuling, F/40, China 31
"After the birth of my fourth child, my husband was ill…We were too poor to raise all the family. Our fourth child had to be adopted… There was no other way. We owed a lot of money to the people's commune…Our life was so hard… after my husband was ill. Our fourth child was adopted by others when he was four years old. I decided [this]. We didn't have enough food to eat. My husband agreed with me… His adopted parents…gave us 20 jin (2 jin equals 1 kilo) of wheat and 50 yuan. Now this son is over 20… He knew he was adopted, and we had contact with each other…"
Shuqing, F/62, China 34
"I am allowed to have another [child]. But I don't want to. You cannot raise a child properly without money. I want my child have a good schooling, not like us."
Nan, F/31, migrant worker, China 37
"My brother spent 17,000 for his wedding. His wife is from Mancheng, near the county town. It is the custom that you have to have colour TV, record player, washing machine, electronic fan, bicycle, etc."
Diao'er, F/28, China 38
"The husband from every family has to work outside…Buying fertiliser costs a lot of money. Even though they work very hard they can only [manage to] pay the charges for water and electricity on condition that their wives can manage the household industriously and thriftily..."
Cuiying, F/41, China 33
"If I have some spare time I will climb the hill and collect medicinal herbs, such as chaihu, chuanshanlong, yuanzhi, dahongpao, huangfeng, baizhi, jigeng. People from other places come here to purchase these herbs. I can earn 5 or 6 yuan for a day's collection. The money is enough for my children to buy a week's meals. I usually collect herbs in spring."
Shuling, F/40, China 31
"Even using the water from the reservoir costs 6 yuan an hour. This year we spent about 200 yuan on watering the land."
Diao'er, F/28, China 38