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close this book Women, households and change
close this folder The impact of economic development on rural women in China
View the document Background
View the document The study
View the document The findings
View the document Conclusions
View the document Atai: a young woman
View the document Ren Zhen Chu: a middle-aged woman
View the document Asman: the Tibetan landlady
View the document Hai Zhang Tou: an old woman who was once a slave

Ren Zhen Chu: a middle-aged woman

I am 39 this year (1988). I was brought up in a poor craftsman's family. My parents were very skilful at embroidery and sewing. My father made clothing for the headman's family and my mother did embroidery and wove belts. They were so busy the year round that they had no time to look after their children. There were eight of us, and I am the fifth. Until I was two years old I stayed in bed all day long, though I often crawled to the edge and fell off, bruising myself black and blue. When I grew older my elder brothers and sisters took turns to carry me on their shoulders to the fields with the dogs and sheep. Later on my mother gave birth to another two sons and one more daughter. When I was five it became my turn to carry my younger brothers on my back.

In 1956, when I was seven, some reforms were carried out in our village. My family was allotted a few mu of land and a cow. My mother and my elder brother farmed the land and my father went to teach Tibetan script in Shuajin Temple in Songpan county, sending money back every year. Our life became much better than before. My elder sister and I went to school the next year and we led a happy and carefree existence. At 15, when I was in the first grade of junior middle school, I found I could not keep up with the others and I often fell asleep in class. I thought farming was much easier, so I left school. My mother and my elder brother scolded me and urged me to go back, but I insisted, and they had to let me do as I wanted. Of the eight of us, the five younger ones have been to school. My elder sister and two younger brothers finished the middle school; my younger sister and I left school after finishing the first grade of our secondary education.

When I was 17 someone came and proposed a match for me. There had been three young suitors writing me letters, but I didn't like any of them, because I felt they were ugly or bad-tempered. My mother let me have my way. It was not until I was 21 that I met an ideal young man, Heerbin, whom one of my neighbours introduced to me. He was clever, hard working, and good-tempered. My mother thought he lived too far away, but I loved him and a year later I married him and went to live in his house.

My husband had an old father of 60 and a younger brother and a sister in their early teens. After our marriage I gave birth to two daughters. As we Tibetans do not discriminate against them - a girl is just as good as a boy - I decided not to have any more babies. I don't believe in the saying "more children, more blessings." My mother has toiled all her life for her eight children, but how happy is she?

As a family we were hardly well-off in the first few years of our marriage. Although five of us worked in the production team, our annual income was less than 100 yuan in cash. However, we got about 1,000 kilos of grain, which was quite enough for our subsistence. In addition, we had pigs and milking cows, which provided us with enough meat and milk. My father-in-law was a good orchardist and the trees under his care were very productive. Unfortunately, at that time anyone who grew fruit trees was considered to be a capitalist sympathizer. Afraid of being called this, we cut down four of the five walnut trees in our courtyard.

The rural economic reform began in our village in 1980. Our production team developed a diversified economy and no longer labelled everything as capitalism. The team organized its members for lumbering and picking herbs. Our daily income per person increased from less than one yuan to two yuan. In 1982 our family got 2,500 kilos of grains and over 3,000 yuan in cash. In the same year we spent 2,000 yuan building a new house for our younger brother and his bride. The next year we married off our younger sister with a decent dowry of 400 kilos of grains, eight suits, and two suitcases.

At the beginning of 1983 the household responsibility system was put into practice here. My family contracted for 4 mu of land and 10 mu of orchard. In addition to the fruit trees in front of and behind our house, we had altogether 350 apple trees, 100 Chinese prickly ash, and 10 walnut trees. My husband had had only one year's schooling and could read very little. However, in order to be a good orchardist, as well as learning from his father he tried to read books on how to grow fruit trees and he sought the advice of agro-technologists. As a result of careful management, the yield from our orchard increased from 2,500 to 5,000 kilos in the second year and kept on growing in the following years. In 1986 a meeting was held to choose the best apple-growers in the county. The apples from our orchard were high in yield, big in size, and good to taste, and my family was placed number 2 in the whole county.

Just when our life was getting better, my father-in-law died. As the old man had worked so hard when he was alive we engaged 12 lames and monks to recite Buddhist sutras for five days. His body was cremated on a stack of firewood on the sixth day and his ashes were buried outside the lame temple. Our relatives and friends planted 100 canon streamers, each of which was made of six metres of white cloth and printed with Buddhist sutras. We usually had to plant them beside our houses to dispel demons, avert evil, and bring blessings, and it was believed that by planting them around the cremation ground souls could be released from purgatory. The funeral cost us 2,000 yuan which we had planned to spend on house repairs, but we felt it was worth while.

Last year we estimated the yield of apples from our orchard would reach 7,500 kilos, but a heavy downpour washed away the fertile soil at the roots of the trees. As a result, the apples were small and ugly and we suffered a big loss. I had to make up this loss by selling grain, cows, pigs, and eggs. I still wanted to repair my house. We Tibetans are used to cooking indoors and heat our rooms with firewood, which means smoke-blackened walls and ceilings. I planned to whitewash the inner walls, cook the food on a chimneyed stove and warm the rooms with an electric heater instead of the old fire, but we spent too much money over the last few years, with the natural disaster on top of that. Buying a TV set and a tape-recorder has to be postponed for a year or two.

Our eldest daughter is 14 now. Like me, she has no interest in studying and is now working on the farm. I am going to teach her embroidery and how to weave belts, just as my mother taught me. My younger daughter does well academically. She is now in the second grade of primary school. I hope she will continue to study and enrol in the Institute of Nationalities in Sichuan province when she grows up.