Zhang Guobao: physical strength is our capital

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Zhang Guobao: 'physical strength is our capital'

Zhang Guobao – of Donghao village, Hebei province, China – is a widower of 43 who lost his sight in a mining accident in 2002. "Physical strength is our capital and can support the family," he comments. "But I cannot [do this] because of my present situation." His wife's death in 2006 compounded Zhang's problems, leaving him with the burden of managing his household and sons on his own. "If she was alive, I would be concerned about nothing", Zhang says. "She is gone and I have to take care of everything."

Zhang has only 1.5 mu of land (0.1 hectare) and currently keeps seven chickens, two ducks and two pigs. The poultry provide eggs for home consumption and, when the pigs are slaughtered, Zhang says, "I sell one and a half and leave the rest for ourselves, as well as all the lard…for cooking." He concedes that there is "not much money to earn by raising pigs."

Farming has become more difficult with the collapse of local irrigation facilities that were established in the mid-1990s. "People from the county helped us to install the facilities, and most land could be watered. But later because of the poor management, all the [irrigation] facilities were ruined," he explains. "The person in charge demanded too much money for watering. We could plant wheat and maize at that time. But now, planting wheat is impossible for us."

Zhang's older son has been working outside the village for some time, but Zhang has yet to receive any money from him. "He hasn't returned since he left home... He says [he earns] 500–600 yuan [a month] (73 - 88 US$)*. But I haven't seen the money," Zhang comments.

Zhang received 2,000 yuan as compensation after his accident, which he put towards building a new house and meeting medical expenses for another son. He also receives welfare benefit from the state. He explains, "I can get some from the county… it started from 2006, 120 yuan for four persons every month – 30 yuan for each. Now it is increased to 50 yuan for each…from this year."

Zhang's parents are still alive and help out in times of need. "If there's nothing to eat at home, [my son will] go to his grandpa," Zhang says. "He can find something to eat there."

Asked about his future plans Zhang replies: "I don't want to think ahead a lot, just live one day at a time. When my sons grow up, I hope they can manage to live on and…have a better life. If not…I could do nothing to help them."

* Average exchange rate (6.84 yuan = US1$) November 2009 (Interbank rate). Source: www.oanda.com