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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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I delivered my second son in the municipal clinic. The conditions in the clinic were not as good as they are now, but better than in my mother’s time. All my children are still alive.

In the collective era, our staple food (maize) was only enough for half a year. Often, my husband and I were only half-full, but we still had to work in the field. We only ate meat at Chinese New Year. It was not allowed to reclaim land until 1979. We borrowed maize from the village every year. In 1979, we were permitted to reclaim land. We tried our best to reclaim more land and life improved. In 1981, all the land was allocated to households. I got four mu of paddy fields and 20 mu of upland. I also had some reclaimed land. My husband attended the land division discussions. When he just came here, he was an outsider. It took him some time to become familiar with the village, but he learned quickly. My husband is a shangmengluxu, who are normally looked down upon, but he gets along with the villagers very well.

When I attended collective production work, I also had to take care of my children and my sisters and took them along. The person recording the work points did not feel happy about this. I also could not get maximum points because I did women’s work. Since I needed ten points to feed my household, I learnt to plough, which was rare for women at that time. I got more points when I did what men did. Every day, I also had to carry water, and grind and cook maize, which took a lot of time. I could not go to bed sometimes, and then could not keep my eyes open the next day, but I still had to attend collective work. My husband helped me a little with household chores.

Maturing stage In 1981, I built the wooden house with a tiled roof, using the trees from our own forestland. My oldest son went to school that same year. He got a lot of education and studied from 1981, when he was seven, to 1998, when he was twenty-four. He studied very hard and smoothly went on to a higher professional education. When he passed the exam for professional school, we tried to support him, however difficult that was for us. We spent four thousand yuan for his three years of professional schooling and it was difficult to earn money at that time. Our income mainly came from selling maize, cattle, and pigs. I had to save every penny for him and the other children. It was difficult for me when the children were in school, during the 1990s. I also married off my two sisters in 1984 and 1987, but I could not give them a large dowry. They did not blame me and we have a good relationship.

Matured stage In 1998, my oldest son finished his professional study and life was becoming easier.

During that period, we had enough rice to eat and did not eat maize anymore. My husband and I worked very hard and tried to make money, especially by raising more animals. We built our concrete-roof house and my eldest got married that year. We also gave his wife 4000 yuan to buy household and personal goods.

In 1999, my second son got married and we gave his wife 4000 yuan as

108 Chapter 6

well. In 2007, my youngest son got married and we gave his wife 20,000 yuan. We have more money now. The second son and his wife are still part of my household because my son has a handicapped left hand. It is also necessary to have one child stay at home, to help me with some physically demanding tasks. The other two sons, one daughter, and one daughter-in-law have all migrated. The third daughter-in-law came back after she became pregnant and just delivered a daughter half a year ago. Both daughters-in-laws do not engage in much agricultural work because they have to take care of their children. They have only helped me with transplanting and harvesting.

In July 2007, I went to Zhejiang province to see my sons. They invited me to take some rest, because they understand I have had a very hard life to bring them up and need to relax. I stayed there for half a month.

In August 2007, the second daughter-in-law had an operation and spent 2000 yuan. It is lucky that we can get 45 percent reimbursement because two years ago, we entered into a medical insurance contract. This policy is really very good.

All my children are very considerate and never quarrelled. They helped me with agricultural work as much as they could. They sent me money and asked me to hire people in the busy season. My other two sons bought a vehicle for my second son and he is now in the transportation business. My life has become easier since the children grew up. The younger generation is more relaxed than my generation. Our generation is still working hard in the field. When all the children are home, I feel easier because then there are nine pairs of hands to do the work.

Now, I often feel very tired because there are so many things to do. One grandson is left for me to take care of. The other four grandchildren are taken care of by their mothers.

Anyway, I am happy because there is no food shortage problem. I have to make decisions about household chores and agricultural production. My husband only knows how to take care of cattle and accepts my decisions. My second son gives all his earnings to me. I go to the market every week to buy daily necessities.

I use firewood to cook food in summer, because electricity is expensive with such a big family.





6.5 Discussion and Conclusion For most households, food security was a problem, both during the collective era and in the early stage of the implementation of the HRS (cases 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8).

People had to try their best to provide enough food for their household at the beginning of the HRS era. Now, there are no food security problems anymore.

After migration became important, labour shortage became the main problem for most households (cases 2, 7, and 8). Land use and livelihoods are changing.

Upland fields are increasingly abandoned. Cash crops are being cultivated, but traditional crops are neglected or have disappeared (cases 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).

Gender roles are changing. Men and women are more equal now, and women play a greater role in decision-making in several areas. In the collective, women usually did tasks that yielded less work points. There were only a few female village leaders (cases 4 and 8). While the mother-in-law held more power in the past, the daughter-in-law is more powerful at present, because younger women

109Women’s life stories and social change

have more opportunities to get money and can go off if they do not like to be controlled by their mother-in-law (cases 1, 3 and 7). Younger women also do not much like doing agricultural work. Their main purpose is to take care of their young children and to wait for an opportunity and the right time to migrate. The mother-in-law now more often has to take care of the grandchildren.

According to Buyi tradition, women live with their own parental family (niangjia) for several years after marriage (zuojia). Nowadays, this tradition still exists but the zuojia period is shorter. Among the Buyi, there have always been relatively many female-headed households and their number is increasing now (cases 1, 2, 3, and 4). After the introduction of the HRS, the number of femaleheaded households has increased among non-Buyi people as well, especially since migration has become important. In the collective era, men were village leaders and made decisions regarding the agricultural activities. The decisions on household chores were not as important as those regarding working in the collective fields, because with housework you earned no work points. Since the HRS and the increase of migration, men usually have other sources of income besides agriculture and are not very much involved in agriculture (all cases).

Women are making decisions about agricultural activities on top of deciding on household matters. But they rarely make decisions about big events, such as building a house.

The older generations still value land because they depend on it for their survival (all cases). Older women are still busy with managing crops and animals.

Women usually do not use small agricultural machines, but their husbands do (case 1). The late 1980s cohorts already began to migrate and brought back a lot of new ideas to their homes in the village (case 6).

The collective era was a difficult period. The stage in which the children are at school, especially at middle school, is also difficult for most households, because tuition fees are high and children of that age have large appetites (cases 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8). When the children grow up and begin to migrate and earn money, the women’s lives become easier. Then, women can hire labour to cultivate the land if they feel like it, because they have the extra money to do so. Older women have a heavy burden to carry, because they have had a hard life and now still have to look after the grandchildren and work in agriculture (cases 3, 4, 7, and 8). They see themselves as the most tired and unlucky cohort because they were controlled by their mothers-in-law in the past, but now that they are mothers-in-law themselves could not control their daughters-in-law. In addition, they have to take care of the grandchildren. Nevertheless, the older women are quite happy and feel content with their current life (all cases). They also begin to organize themselves and engage more in recreational activities. Once a household member meets an accident or illness, however, the household’s normal or easier life is under many pressures (cases 4, 5, and 8).

Social capital, especially in the form of close kin, plays an important role in giving women a stronger position in the household. Women can always ask help from their natal family (niangjia) when they encounter difficulties (all cases). Since migration, grandparents have to take care of their grandchildren and the household division is of less importance. Even if the households of parents and

–  –  –

married children are separate, the grandparents still help out a lot (cases 3, 4, 7, and 8). The exchange of labour was common in the past, but it is decreasing now (cases 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7).

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In order to get a clear picture of the current livelihood situation of the rural households in the cohorts under study, this chapter will discuss the human resources, physical resources, environmental resources, and social resources of the different cohorts. Livelihood portfolios and livelihood activities are also discussed, as well as land use strategies. Related to the issue of livelihood diversification, I will discuss several types of migration in-depth. Finally, this chapter will deal with gender issues in livelihood portfolios.

7.1 Assets and resources 7.1.1 Human resources To get a clear view on the opportunities and constraints the households in the sample face, we need to look at some background figures that are related to demographic characteristics such as dependency ratios. Table 7.1 gives an overview of the household size, age, and sex composition of the households in our sample. As can be seen from the table, there is no difference in average household size in different cohorts. Overall, the average household size is less than five. There are only 13 households (8.1%) in all cohorts that consist of more than seven members. This means that most households in the sample are nuclear households.

The only exception is the 1970s cohort, which contains more stem households and extended families in which three or even four generations together form a household. The differences in household size are, however, not significant between the cohorts. In the 1970s and 1980s cohorts, the labour force is bigger (with a smaller proportion of school going children and/or elderly people within the households). The sex ratio does not differ much between cohorts, although the 1970s and 2000s cohort consist of many more men than women. For the 1970s cohort, this probably means that the unmarried son(s) still stay(s) at home. In the 2000s cohort, sons probably still live with their parents and unmarried siblings as well.

20 The survey was conducted in January, 2008 and most quantitative data in this chapter are about the situation in 2007.

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Table 7.2 shows that the average age of the 2000s cohort is similar to that in the 1990s cohort.

This is the case because some household heads in the 2000s cohort are older, because the younger couples have only just formed their own households and their parents still register as household head (de jure household head) in the registration certificate, hukoubu. In fact, the younger ones are de facto household heads (also see chapter 6). The table also shows that the household heads of the 1970s cohort are significantly less educated than those of other cohorts, although the education level drops for the 2000s cohort. This can be attributed to the fact that this cohort counts relatively many female household heads. In this cohort, many de jure household heads, mostly male, migrate. Some come back temporarily for the busy harvesting season, but others stay away the whole year round. Most household heads in the 1970s cohort and 1980s cohort were living at home in the past 12 months.

–  –  –

Migration is very popular among all the cohorts (see Table 7.3), although there are more migrants in the 1970s and 1980s cohorts. The number of migrants in the 1970s cohort is significantly higher than that in the 1990s and 2000s cohorts. Yet, the number of migrants in the 1980s cohort is not significantly different from that in the 1990s and 2000s cohorts. The 1970s cohort households have a larger labour force than the other cohorts, and almost all the children have reached adulthood.

Unmarried children usually migrate. There are fewer children in the 1980s cohort than in the 1970s cohort and some children are still of school going age. In the 1990s and 2000s cohorts, more children need to be taken care of, so some household members have to stay at home for this task. For all the cohorts, the main migrants within the households (the ones who migrated first, for a longer time, or

115Livelihood portfolios



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