photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
Employment and Income  

Click on arrows
to find more
these themes


(CHINA 3 - Southwest)






Substitute teacher


Wenqian, Bama county, Guangxi


26 April 1997


The interview took place at the Central Primary School in Wenqian village, where Xiuzhen teaches. Her interviewer (from the Women's Federation of Bama) belongs to the Zhuang peoples, but she was accompanied by Lan Lijuan, who like Xiuzhen is Yao (she is the cashier of the Wenqian Poverty Alleviation Development Service Company). There is a lot of personal detail in this interview and less on mountain living than in some accounts. Indeed, when she was younger Xiuzhen had wanted to escape mountain life (and her family), and once had plans to join an acquaintance who had got a job in Hainan Island, a special administrative zone.

The interview is revealing about attitudes towards girls and especially their education, and is essentially the tale of a young woman battling prejudice to become a teacher. Her parents were very strict and believed no good could come of girls branching out into higher education, getting a job, or even moving beyond the confines of the family. So strongly did they believe in the superiority of boys, that they risked the mother’s health and the wrath of the Party to exceed the family planning quota and eventually have seven children (the sixth being a second boy). The grandmother also pushed for this saying, “We’ve got only one boy. Ask her (my mum) to have one more. It's worth the trial, even if we have to be fined several thousand yuan.”

The section where she talks about her parents’ disappointment in having so many daughters is quite moving (she gave one of her sisters, who “was looked down on by my parents”, a secret name which carries the sound which signifies “male” in Mandarin to help her feel better, and “to show my repugnance to my dad”). Xiuzhen married and moved away, and as a result of her husband’s position in the school, got a job there. She is now in the process of qualifying as a teacher by distance learning. The personal detail makes it a very human illustration of the effects of the belief that “boys are more valuable than girls”.

detailed breakdown

You will need a password from Panos to view the full transcript of the interview. To apply for a password, click here.

Once you have a password, click here to go to the beginning of the transcript. You can also click on any section of the breakdown of content below and go straight to the corresponding part of the transcript.


Section 1-5  Mother illiterate, can’t speak Mandarin. Father an “educated man”, mentally ill, drank. His illness sometimes prevented her from going to primary school. Finished three years of middle school. Failed high-school entrance exam. Father wouldn’t let her go to vocational school, which she deeply regrets. He called it “the place for capons and hogs” ie where they taught how to castrate livestock: “How can a woman learn to castrate chickens and pigs? Those are men’s jobs!” Mother was strict and imposed 10pm curfew. “My family is like a fortress. There is no freedom.” Married “too early” and now has a child, so can’t go “travelling in the big world outside”. And all earlier opportunities to do so were opposed by her parents: they discouraged her from teaching – scared she would be seduced or raped. They also discouraged her from taking an accounting job (“you don’t know how to count”). She wanted badly to leave: “I didn't want to live here. I couldn't live in this mountainous area!”
Section 6-7  Married at 20, two months after meeting husband. Husband teaches in Wenqian, earns 300 yuan/month. They subscribe to several magazines. Says the school enrolment rate is an impressive 98 per cent.
Section 7-9  But some say it’s not good for girls to study: they become lazy, can’t find husbands. In some of the other villages many girls can’t attend school, but the cause is often poverty as well as prejudice. She’s studying through a distance learning course to become a qualified teacher.
Section 10-13  Interesting section about family life: “If I were a male, my dad would certainly love me a lot”. Says he would have sent her to university if she’d been a boy. Parents were disappointed that so many daughters born. Mother was about to abort her sixth child, when it was born - a boy. Father was dismissed from party and fined several thousand yuan after birth of the child - who is described as “slow”, possibly because mother was ill during pregnancy and took medicines. Parents adored the boys and “looked down on” the girls. The fifth girl was not given any share of their land. Narrator and her husband married secretly, spending nothing. Had pelvic infection after childbirth (which was in a hospital). Now has an IUD, and frequent pain.
Section 13-14  Illness: the pelvic infection seems to recur. Though she has a very strong desire to leave and experience new things, she also is fearful of leaving her community and of being alone. Says “Women provide the main labour of the family here.” Household economy is managed by her husband. Says she’s content with this, as “I spend money quickly. There would never be enough for me to spend no matter how much I have.”
Section 15  The importance of women’s education and how difficult it has been for women from this ethnic group: “we do not know what to do and how to change our lives.” But change, she feels, must be encouraged and reinforced by the wider society: “I only feel that it is impossible to change by individual effort [alone]. I feel we need the whole society to press or to push for changes.” Importance of knowledge and ability to learn, whatever your situation, “even if one stays at home”. Even looking after pigs and chickens can involve learning new methods and ideas.