Li Guimin: interview transcript

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Li Guimin: interview transcript

Li Guimin is a farmer and businesswoman living in Donghao village, Qinglong Man autonomous county, Hebei province, China. She was aged 50 when she was interviewed on 21 November 2009 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in Mandarin and carried out by a staff member from the Beijing Cultural Centre for Rural Women. The interviewer had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.


Introduction from interviewer: Li Guimin has been the elected Head of the Village Women Deputies Committee since 1995 and is the Head of the Women's Health Support Group, which is part of the outcome of the project of Preventing Rural Women's Suicide of the BCDCRW (Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women). Through the group members, the project has conducted a variety of activities, such as lectures on mental and physical health, on how to communicate with others, and artistic performances, including local singing, dancing and short plays. Many of the activities were held in the courtyard of Li Guimin's house, sometimes with audiences of up to 150. The house was built in around 2000 for her two sons, but both live in other places, one in Qinhuangdao and the other in Qinglong – capital of the county. Now, Li Guimin lives in some of the rooms and rents out the rest to run a kindergarten to release village women from the burden of taking care of their kids. She is very talkative and can talk logically and knowledgeably compared to other villagers.

So, you already know the purpose of the interviews. We have already learned a lot from the two focus group discussions, especially from you. Today we want to learn more from you about the poverty situation of villagers as well as the change of your livelihood. The interview will last about one hour.
[We adjust the position of the interviewer and interviewee. Li Guimin is sitting face to face with Xu Rong on the kang (a heatable brick bed used in rural areas of Northern China)].

Now, let's start. Will you say something about your family? How many people are in your family? Just some basic things...
We have two sons, both married. The elder one works in the county capital (Qinglong). He married again this summer and lives with his wife in the county town. He left his son (the one with the first wife) with me so that l can take care of him. He's now over four years old. He is very lovely. My mother-in-law lives together with me. She helps me to look after the small shop we run, after my husband left to work in the forest farm. We now live in the new house of my elder son. The younger one works in Qinghuangdao.

What does he do there?
Before he was a taxi driver, now he is doing some business.

Does his wife work? Or just stay at home?
She has a good job. The couple can earn enough to support themselves.

And your elder son?
He has been engaged in transportation for many years, he's a big truck driver.

How many years have you been in the village women's deputies committee?
For more than 10 years. From 1995.

How much do you get by being the head of this committee?
1,000 yuan (146 US$)1 a year.

A year?
A year. And for the head of the village station for family planning, I can get 200 yuan a year. I just wanted to get some money every year, but not bother about other work (other projects/committees). What's the use caring about other things, you can't get any more money. One has to try hard in life. Without economic income, how can one live? Because you can't get a lot of [money for being the head]…. To do that [sentence is not clear here], what will be the family life like? The children have to eat and the old ones have to eat. You couldn't meet the food needs by [relying on the income of this] 1,200.2

Apart from this sum of payment for your work, how much can you get from farming?
For farming, it's easy to calculate. 1 mu's (15 mu = 1 hectare) net income from planting maize is only about 500 yuan. We have only 3 mu. So then we get about 1,500 yuan a year. But this year, only about 1,000, because of the drought, there was no rain for more than 20 days. And 2,000 yuan from [the sale of] tree seedlings.

How has your production changed in the last 10 years? How? Why?
In recent 10 years, [there has been] almost no change. Before, we had irrigation to water wheat and we could plant for about five to six years. But, later all the facilities went wrong.3 We were unable to plant wheat any longer.

Do you raise some pigs, chickens, ducks or other domestic animals?
I did when I lived in the old house. But since I moved to this new house, I no longer raise any. I don't want to make it dirty.

And how much from non-agriculture activities? Your small shop and others?
It's hard to say. Just like what I said yesterday, for the good days of the small shop, we could earn around 20,000 a year. But right now, it is only enough to cover our daily needs.4 And we get 1,000 yuan by renting out my younger son's house for the kindergarten. This is not for making a profit, but to solve the problem of kindergarten.5 .

Yesterday, you didn't mention the health support group. When was it set up?
Well. Nongjianü (local term indicating the BCDCRW) has conducted a project to prevent women's suicide in our village and set up a women's health support group. It was set up on June 18, 2004.

What influence has it had on you and other villagers?
Before the group was set up, women in our village had nothing to do, just stayed at home. After the opening-up and reform [of China], the economy improved, but in spiritual and cultural aspects, we were still rather backward. After the group was set up, all women came to the group. That is, they came to my house as the place for activities.

What kind of activities do you have?
We have training sessions, lectures, often sing songs, and dance. We do yangge (local form of dancing) in the village, we feel very happy. Later, we set up Nongjianü's reading room (related to the Rural Women's Resource Centre project of the BCDCRW) in the room by the gates of the yard. Villagers came to read magazines and books. Changes have taken place in spirit and ideas.

Will you give us an example?
An example? Well, during this period, misfortune happened in my family, you know. My elder son's first wife died of heart disease, suddenly. Without the support from the group, I definitely could not have borne this mentally, and I would have collapsed then.

So, you got support from it?
Yes. It's because we had received training on how to deal with crisis, shortly before [the incident]. How to bear it? I learned a lot from the training. So, I was able to cope with the matter. My first daughter-in-law left a four-month-old child. I take care of him personally. Without the help from the health support group and the support from Nongjianü, as well as their mental and spiritual guidance, I wouldn't have been able to get through it all. Whenever I went to Beijing to attend a meeting, I would take my grandson. He was affected by Nongjiaü, too. He often said to me, "Nainai (grandma), I'm growing up with Nongjianü." He's lovely and very sensible.

So, the health support group is to reduce the suicide rate. Will you tell us about the situation before the group was set up?
Before the group was set up, there were some suicides in the village every year. The death rate from suicide [attempts] was not very high, but many had attempted to end their lives. [And only for] some small conflicts in life, she wanted to let death pay all scores. After the group was set up, professors and experts told us many… Like, one should value life when living, and living persons should have a sense of responsibility. If you died, nothing to worry about, but you would cause many bad effects on the family and society. If a mother died [for instance], who'll take care of the child? The father might set up a new family, but [the stepmother] is not related with the kids by blood. If the old lose their sons or daughters, who will take care of them? That's the real issue. [Suicide] has also had a bad effect on society.

How many people died by committing suicide in the 20 years before 2004?
Many, more than 20.

Have there been any suicide incidents since 2004?
Zero. No such things happened since the project started in the village.

Do you believe it is related to the activities of the group?
Yes. Before the group was set up, you wanted to have some activities, but [there was] no place to go. No place at the village office neither, no space for activities. At that time, there was no one to organize [activities] either. Now, the group organizes activities. [Villagers] gather together and can chat to exchange [ideas]. If one has some mental problems, they can talk with others, then get rid of their worries. To speak out what is in one's mind, to share the depressions of one's heart, can help change attitudes to life. For example, we rural folks, few had been in the big city. Some of the villagers had the opportunity to have training in Beijing. When they returned, others said it seemed they had changed. All said they had changed. Women came back from Beijing and were very proud: "I've been in Beijing," they said.

So, those who have been in Beijing changed?
Yes. Beijing is the place that many people yearn for, because it's the capital of the country. Everyone wants to go, but after all, only a few can go. If one wants to go by themselves they are not so well-off to have the money to wander about the city of Beijing. They went through the project, they broadened their horizons, and have become open-minded. Moreover, [they listened to] professors' and experts' lectures. Rural women had never heard professors' and experts' lectures.

Did they?
The training sessions organized by the township were mainly about farming technology, they never talked about ideology and spirit. They (the farmers in the community) had never heard, for example, of the eight ways of having a good mood. That was taught by Shi Le, right?

Yes, by Shi Le from Beijing. Do you think the training is effective? Why?
Yes. Rural people have many mental pressures, like the issue of looking after the old, building new houses for their sons and finding wives for them. They have great mental pressure. How to overcome the mental pressure? Even if you want to be happy, but you can't be with all those pressures. Through the training of the eight ways of being happy in Beijing, one will use the ways to make oneself happy. You spend a day happily or not… Why not live happily. No matter how great the pressure is, you should be happy and use the ways [of being happy] to get rid of pressure.

I heard that you've been elected as a deputy to the county people's congress. Is it connected with the group's activities?
Yes, I think so. I have been head of the village women's deputies committee for many years, but I didn't think of that (village affairs) in the past, just got by however I could.

Now, you feel it's meaningful to do something for the villagers?
The group was set up, and through activities the villagers' spirit has changed. So, the more I have been involved, the more I like it. Though I've devoted some time to helping others, I feel happy when others have gained something.

Yesterday, you said that there is no tax for farming. What about health? Have villagers here joined xinnonghe6 ?
Yes.

Do you think farmers get benefits from it? Where do you go if you farmers fall ill? What do you do in case of serious disease?
Yes, we have xingnonghe (insurance). For serious or acute ones, we're quite far away from [the county] hospital.

Are there any village doctors7 ?
We have had them for a long time. Before they were called barefoot doctors, and we have them until now. The village doctors, after all, don't have formal higher education. They don't treat many patients, for their skills are not as good as those in the big hospitals. In our village, there are several clinics. But can they [be regarded as] clinics? Doctors there are not government ones (are not trained in medical science), they're called village doctors.

We know your daughter-in-law died because she was unable to get timely treatment. Had your daughter-in-law gone to see village doctors?
We asked a village doctor to come over. She suddenly fell ill and no one was at home then. We discovered too late. If we had lived in the city, we could have called the hospital directly and an ambulance could have picked her up and sent her directly [to the hospital] to rescue her; she might have been saved. But here in our village, we called relatives here, they couldn't offer any help. Then we called 120 (telephone number for hospital ambulance) of the county hospital. The road is too bad. We waited for a long time, but the vehicle didn't come. Because the section of the road is very bad to travel, the section from Qinglong to Tumenzi (the township where Donghao village is located), the vehicle must go slowly, if not, the chassis could be broken… one pothole after another.

How long has the road been like this?
Many years, since some people began to open mines, the heavy trucks crushed the road not long after it was built. Nobody has paid attention to the road till now. We were so anxious, and phoned 120 again and again, and we were told it [the ambulance] would arrive soon. The ambulance arrived more than two hours later. It turned out that [my daughter-in-law] was already unable to pull through. But we had to pay the money [for the ambulance]. Although we did not get any rescue [treatment], we had to pay the money all the same. If we had been in the city, this kind of thing wouldn't have happened. In the countryside, it would be all right if those who really have the skills set up some small hospitals. At present, the village doctors can leave their patients with needles on their bodies when farmers go to them for medical services. There is even no opportunity for emergency rescue if there is an accident. Sometimes, patients lie in bed [to have a transfusion] in their own homes.

Is it the same situation till now?
It's still the same, without any change. In fact, the medical care in the countryside should also have doctors and nurses. It should have everything. How can the doctor stick the needle in and leave the patient at home? They phone the doctor, but are not sure how long it will be before the doctor arrives. There should be a small hospital in the village.

Do the doctors have certificates?
Yes, they have, some are graduates of a special school (medical one) and some are originally old doctors of traditional Chinese medical science.

Are they originally from this village?
They are all people of this village. They don't have good skills, or a strong sense of responsibility. There's no place [for the patients] in their clinics, only a small room, a small clinic with no place for patients to stay.

At their own houses?
All at their own houses.

Do they receive money or say salaries from local government?
They mainly rely on selling medicines to earn money.

What's their life like?
I think the doctors' life is quite good. They don't have the price tag displayed [on the medicines].

So, the price of medicines is not low?
Not low. Now we have xingnonghe. If one has joined it, you can get money refunded if you are hospitalized when you go to the township hospital. If you are not hospitalized, you can't get money refunded. And you have to pay 100 yuan by yourself. That means, first deduct 100 yuan.8

Then what percentage can you get refunded?
70%. But hospitals rely on selling medicines to make profits. The disease can be cured with the medicine costing 5 yuan, but you will not recover [after you have taken] 10 yuan medicine. He (the doctor) prescribed expensive medicine, despite the fact you can recover by taking the cheaper one.

He does not prescribe cheaper medicines for you?
He particularly prescribes expensive medicines. For farmers, they therefore are not willing to join xingnonghe. One might not be cured even if taking 1,000 yuan of medicines. But the disease actually can be cured by 100 yuan of medicines. The hospital gets profits in a disguised form.

How much one has to pay to join xingnonghe?
30 yuan. 30 for a year. [Thinking]. Yes, 30, the state will make up the rest.

What percentage of money can one get refunded for going to doctors at county hospitals?
In county hospitals, 50%. I don't know how much it is this year. Every year, it's 50%. But first deduct 500 yuan (the patient pays 500 yuan and 50% of the cost is refunded).

Oh! Much more than township hospitals.
Yes. The sum you should pay is 2,000 yuan beyond the county. We farmers cannot bear [the expense] if we have to be hospitalized. Only the cost of medicines can be refunded, but not the other charges for being hospitalized. One does not need to pay this cost if one goes to see a village doctor. Farmers reckon they can save some money if they go to a village doctor.

Do you think villagers like the present xingnonghe system?
Those who have serious diseases like it and those with minor ones don't. Those having serious diseases have to take more medicines to be cured and the big part
of the cost will be covered [by the state].

Health is important. If one cannot get cured in time, it will affect family income, right?
It will affect it.

Do you know any families who have got into poverty because some family members fell seriously ill?
Zhang Guobao's family is an example. You already know of him. Another example is a 54-year-old villager who got pneumonia. He thought he would pay too much to go to a big hospital and didn't take his disease seriously. He took some medicines from the village doctor, but they weren't effective. Later, it was confirmed that his disease was hydrocardia, and he couldn't bear it any longer. Later, [he was sent] to the county hospital by ambulance and got the water drawn there. He spent more than 7,000 yuan, but got no more than 2,000 refunded.

Do you think it would help if village doctors received some training?
It wouldn't be solved by training only, because of the lack of facilities for medical treatment. They can only sell some medicines and give patients injections or a transfusion. There are [pauses to think]five doctors in the village, all private ones. [Could there be] a good clinic if the five people joined forces? They don't have that idea; they are just doing [business] as individuals to earn more money.

Can all of them make profits?
Yes, they all make money.

You have such a good house, but you said you have some debt. We've already learned that almost all farmers take loans in order to build houses, for their sons to find wives. How can they borrow money? From what channels? Do they borrow from friends or relatives? Or get credit?
In the countryside, it's too hard to get credit. The ‘Rural Women' magazine has carried articles on the issue. Now, farmers go to get help from friends and relatives. Without starting funds, they have to rely on friends and relatives. In the case of building, one will go to the sellers of construction materials to buy on credit when they have no borrowed money left. Then, they pay back whenever they have money, in instalments. For most farmers, their friends and relatives can only help them with half (lend them half the money needed). Then they owe sellers another half. All like this.

But you can't owe the sellers for long, can you?
You asked him to pay back, but he didn't. The seller felt angry, but [there was] no way out. They could do nothing.

Oh! Have you had experience in this aspect?
Yes. For example, my family used to sell construction materials, selling concrete reinforcing bars. Generally we gave them on credit. Those who came to us were friends and relatives who wanted to build a house to help their sons to find wives, they had to buy on credit. After that, you went to ask them to pay back the money. No, they didn't have it. Even if you went to ask, they didn't have it. They couldn't pay it back. As a result, we lost our capital and couldn't continue the business of reinforcing bars. We stopped last summer.

Last summer? Are there still some people who owe you money for the reinforcing bars?
Yes, some have owed for five or six years, they haven't paid us the money.

How much do they owe you?
About a third of those who built houses owe me money. 

How much in total? 10,000 [yuan]? 20,000 [yuan]?
They owed us 30,000 yuan.

Can you get back the money?
We cannot get it back at all.

So, your business couldn't continue.
It couldn't continue. It stopped.

Can farmers get low-interest loans?
How can it be! Ordinary farmers are unable to borrow. You want to borrow a loan, you have to show your bank savings book. How will a person without a bank savings book go to borrow money? You go to a relative to borrow a bank savings book.9 One can only get a loan by a bankbook.

How much money should be on the bankbook?
How much loan you want to get, the bankbook should have that sum.

Then, what's the purpose for getting the loan?

Did you borrow money or a bankbook when you built the house?
I was hard up for cash, but it was not easy to borrow [a bankbook]. Someone told me a teacher's salary card could be used as a guarantee. I went to my elder brother. I said: "Lend me your salary card to get a loan." My brother told me that he had lent it to other people. I failed to get it from him, then I went to a relative, my husband's sister. Because I'm honest and have the reputation of doing things as I said. She lent me it. She lent me a bankbook with 25,000 yuan [on it]. Then I was able to get a loan of 25,000 yuan. Even with the bankbook, I had to ask somebody to help me to get the loan (as a personal favour).

You mean you had to pay some benefit fee?
No benefit fee. But first deduct the interest. For instance, you get 20,000 yuan of loan, and 2,000 yuan will be deducted for the interest.

How much is the interest rate?
Five li three. (0.0053 yuan).10

Oh! So much? (The interviewers are surprised) The loan you borrowed is not the one with low interest.11 It's a commercial loan, right?
I couldn't get that low interest one.

So, even a commercial loan is not easy to get?
Not easy. You can't get it without a bankbook. One wants to borrow loans at a low interest, but he or she has to have relations. There's no official in my family, I can't borrow that.

Do you know whether there are some people who borrow from usurers?
Yes, there are some. They have no other ways and have to borrow from usurers.

How much is the interest?
One fen five (0.015 yuan) or two fen (0.02 yuan)..

Where do they borrow? In the village?
In the village. All are relatives or friends [who wanted to] buy vehicle or do something, they had no money and got some usurious loan and pay back after they made money.

So, those who borrow usurious loan are businessmen? Not ordinary people?
Yes, a few ordinary people borrow that.

They are all rich people in the village then. How many rich people in the village?
I think there are fewer than 20 households. The rich ones.

What's the average income of the rich family a year? 10,000 yuan? Or 20,000 yuan?
The total income or the one of each person? The income per head, the highest, is 20,000 yuan. That's the richest. The income per head in our village is 2,300 yuan.

Annual income?
Yes. What I said is the gross income, not including the cost of investment for seeds, chemical and the like. And even the [price of maize] stocks for cooking have been counted… [It] also includes, pigs, chickens and ducks.

Oh, it's the gross income. Not much in that case.
Not much money earned. Most people just have enough to eat and wear [clothes], grow some vegetables for themselves and buy some meat [if they want]. No family has meat every day. Generally, [we can buy some meat] every five or six days, or buy some when they feel greedy for meat.

The rich families in your village, does it mean that they are not lacking in money?
Not lacking in money. They can earn money all year round.

People like… (a participant of male focus group discussion in the morning) are the rich ones in your village?
Yes, his family sells electrical goods, bulbs, lines and the like. His son is an electrician. All go to buy the things from him when they build houses, otherwise, he will not lay the wiring for the new house. His prices for his goods are double the retail prices. Even so, people go to buy from him. Why? Because his son can do the electrical wiring and we can't. His son, apart from around 700-800 yuan salary per month, can earn money by contracting some work. Among all the participants of the interviews, none can earn more money than his family. He's a happy grandfather, coaxing his grandson all the time. [All laugh.]

So, his family is one of the 20 ones?
Yes.

Are village doctors among the 20 households?
Included. Village doctors, one, two [counting on fingers], only two are rich.

Do you think they rely on selling medicines to become rich?
They become rich totally by selling medicines. They don't farm the land. The price of medicines… The folks [in the village] don't know how much [is for] for the medicines and how much for an injection. How can we know these prices? The folks do not ask the price, they feel embarrassed to ask. They just pay the money that the village doctors ask for.

So, you think it's a problem? Why? How to address the problem?
In fact, the price of the medicines in the village is the result of lack of transparency. The state should take some measure, including [controlling] the charge for treatment. [The prices] should be put on a board to let everybody know.

No one supervises?
No, nobody supervises. Another problem is the effectiveness of the medicines. For example, they (village doctors) would ask: "Do you want the expensive one or the cheap one?" What does it mean?

Some are domestic made and some are imported?
The channel for the medicines in the countryside is not standardized. According to demands, all village doctors should get medicines from the county medicine company. But some medicine dealers went directly to villages to promote their sales. They offered very low prices because procedures and costs [have been] cut down. As a result, some village doctors went to dealers to replenish their stock [of medicines], instead of the county's formal channel. That's an issue.

What about public facilities? Are you satisfied with the supply of electricity and water resources?
I am satisfied with the electricity. Every family has a well for drinking water, underground water.

That's to draw by a pump?
By a pump. Some have electric pumps, just like tap water.

Did you spend money to dig the well yourselves?
We spent money to dig the wells by ourselves.

Then how many poor families do you think there are in your village?
[Pauses to think]. About 10, more than 10.

What do you think of the main reasons for their poverty? How have they become poor?
As they said yesterday, mainly because of accidents or serious illness. That would make the family fall into poverty.

Generally speaking, do you think your lives as farmers have improved compared to 10 years ago?
Compared to 10 years ago, yes, there's an improvement. But it's not very obvious.

Compared to those rich families and poor ones, what do you think of your family life?
[Smiling] Just so so.

Just so so? You can be regarded as a successful person in the village. You have such a good house.
But I still have debt.

Do you think you are a successful person in the village?
No. I don't think so.

Because you have debt? What does success look like for you?
Those who have bank savings, no debts, are successful ones.

How much do you owe? Because of building the house? Or for your sons' marriage?
I still owe a lot, about 50,000 yuan. It's not because of the house. At that time, we had the business of the construction materials, so didn't spend lots of money. It's mainly because of my elder son's second marriage. His new wife's family asked for too much. That's why I have the debt.

So, if without this debt, you would be a successful person in the village, right?
You think so?

Yes. Who is successful in the village? How can someone achieve success?  
I think at least they should have a good education. And have a good business sense.

Education and a sense of business. At least have received senior high school education?
That's right.

Then I think both your sons can be regarded as successful. They have their own houses and vehicles.
No. I don't think so. They still have debts.12

How much do they owe?
They have…I don't know exactly.

What are your concerns for the future?
The future – my future or the villagers'?

You can talk about both.
I really worry about the future of our farmers. There are 18 villages in our Tumenzi township. One head of a village women deputies committee told me that she would go with me when people from my village go to Beijing, to suggest to some journalists there to draw attention to the need for environmental protection. Some people who invested in mines came here and took over farmers' land.

So, some farmers lost their land? Have they got compensation for the land?
Yes, there are many problems, like the compensation for farmers [who were displaced from their land to allow mining activities]. Some investors came here and invested some money and then left after they had dug up the mineral resources. The farmers have been left with no land, nothing. When they produced ores and could make money, they gave you some money for living. But after they (the mining investors) left, the displaced farmers do not have an income as they are no longer working at the mines. This doesn't solve the worries for the problems in the future. The land for the descendants has gone. Farmers have to rely on land.

What do you think of the land for farmers?
I think land is still precious for farmers, but their land is decreasing.

Is it decreasing fast?
Yes, fast. Construction is expanding, and has taken away some land. Plus some mines are opening. All [these developments] are destructive [to the environment], unable to recover.

The land is unable to be cultivated after the mine opening, right?
No, we are unable to farm. They (mining investors) left after they've made profits, but no one gives farmers money. The government… they didn't consider farmers, [because of] the investors' tax. [Implying the government is interested in the tax revenues paid by investors such as the miners and in the process pay less consideration to the wellbeing of the poor rural farmer].

What can those farmers rely on after they lost their land?
They go to find some work. They can only earn some money by doing odd jobs. Those in good health can find work, but for those in poor health, they spend the money they got (as the compensation for the land). They just drift along, muddle along. They can't think too much about their future.

What other things concern you?
One thing I worry about is the environment. It has been ruined by those who are exploring ore mines. They cut down so many trees. But the local government only wants to have economic development in their mind. It can't imagine what will become of the hills (referring to the environment) in a few years. The government must do something.

So, you hope the government has some good plan for the local development?
Yes, a good plan, to leave something for our offspring. And another thing is the benefits of farming. The young don't want to do farming. Farm work is hard and tiring.

How to address the issue?
Only by linking all pieces of land together can we farm by machine. The land here, we go back, using the way of farming in the old days, to pull the plough by human beings. The young people have never seen that, nor have they done that. They don't want to farm, only the old ones do.

Only the old men and women do farming, right?
The men have left to work outside the village. The main labour force is women. Men are outside earning money. The pieces of land can't be linked together.

You said yesterday that because the plot is too small, it has to be ploughed by human labour. Do you have the experience of pulling [the plough]?
I do.

Ouch! Really. I think it's too hard to pull [the plough], very exhausting!?
We have to. We (she and her husband) – one pulled for a while and the other went on pulling. It's not so tiring if we do it in turns.

You're 50 now?
Yes, already 50. When my grandson was too young, years before, I asked someone to help us to plough. In these two years, we have done the ploughing ourselves (using the hand plough).

What are your hopes for the future? How can you realize those hopes?
To solve the land problem, to connect them into a large piece, to plough by machine... Then the young people would be willing to farm. If we continue to farm by the old ways of ploughing, as before the liberation (in 1949), who will be willing to farm?

Are there some who still want to do farming? Not everyone likes city life. Some might like the life in the countryside, and not mind working hard in the fields.
If farming by machines, the young people can do farming. Even now, in dry seasons, we had to carry water to the fields by shoulder poles.

How to solve the land issue? By government or by local villagers? For instance by several people organising to work together?
The problem is that the land has been contracted out for too long time. People don't have the idea to work collectively. Only the government can…

The government needs to change?
Right. If the policy is not changed, then…

In fact, people in some places in China have already returned to farming collectively.
A return to collective farming, it's definitely easy to manage. Those who don't want to farm have gone to cities to work. There are 500 to 600 mu of land on the northern hills, all abandoned. Who wants to contract them! To contract, one has to invest. That's a problem.

Do you have other concerns? Plans for your future?
We rural women have nothing to do at home, [we are] unoccupied. If we do something, what should we do? Everything needs investment. But we don't have the money. Take our home-made cloth for example.

So, you want to develop the business? How many people have been involved in the activity?
Yes. We now have in total about 30, but only 14 or 15 are active ones. Now our products are still coarse. We can do the fine one by using cotton to spin thread by ourselves. Where can we get the funds for starting?

How much do you think you need?
I think 50,000 yuan is enough. For instance, if everyone takes out some money [for investment], can we get the money back [to service the loan]? That's the question that will be raised. We don't know the market, we have to try. Since we started it in 2007, we have earned around 10,000 yuan a year.

Around 10,000 yuan a year?
Yes, we sold them to a Taiwanese business woman, and some to the woman who runs blue jiaxie (traditional Chinese way of dyeing) museum, all handmade. We have made products of aprons, bags and bedcovers. We're really interested in making this cloth. But we need the initial funds, need people to design good products and need people who know marketing and promotion.

You need so many things. Have you set up the co-op [of home-made cloth] you have talked about for many years?
We haven't registered. We need the starting money. But I think we will some day.

We hope you can formally set up the co-op and make it prosperous.
Then we cannot only increase our income, but also protect the traditional handcrafts.

That's great. We hope your co-op will be successful and become prosperous and finally grow into an enterprise to help your rural sisters to improve their life. I know you still have a lot to share with us, but time is up. We have to stop now. Thank you for your help.

Now will you fill in this form?
[Passing the consent form to her and Li Guimin read and filled it in].

1/ Average exchange rate (6.84 yuan = 1 US$), November 2009, Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com

2/ The partner explains: "Li wanted to express that she was only interested in getting the extra money paid for her work of being in charge of family planning, but not interested in other work, because she needed to earn money to make meet her family's needs."

 

3/ The farmers were required to pay fees for using the irrigation facility. The required fees were high and most farmers could not afford them.

4/ Additional information from partner: the shop is no longer profitable because more shops have been set up near her, with more competitive prices.

5/ The kindergarten takes in from 40 to 60 children, from Donghao and nearby villages, to free up their mothers' time. The township government department has provided a mini-bus to transport the children.

6/ It's a new cooperative system for medical care in rural areas, which started from 2000, to address the issue that many people in rural areas had become poor or returned to poverty because of the high cost of medical treatment.

7/ These are private business people who establish medical clinics in the village for consultations and retail of pharmaceutical products. Some of the village doctors possess basic medical qualifications while others have no formal training.

8/ This is the standard of the township hospital. The county hospital will deduct more than one hundred yuan

9/ The person who has the bank book will act as a guarantor for the borrower.

10/ These figures don't match the example given in the response above, which suggest a 10% interest rate.

11/ Refers to the low interest loan, lent to farmers by the government.

12/ Further information from partner: Many farmers don't want to show their wealth. In fact, her elder son can pay off the loan for the purchasing of the truck by the end of this year and her younger son has to pay the house loan like most young Chinese living in cities