Many Giant Steps

Coercion and corruption taint the huge changes for chinese women

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In Guo Yu Xian’s 58 years, she has seen women with bound feet, the forced collectivization of agriculture, the Cultural Revolution, and now the rapid economic growth that has driven many farmworkers to the city in search of jobs. Her tight-knit family has managed to resist the new “generation gap” that breeds tension in many rural families, as younger women read city magazines, listen to rock ‘n’ roll, and demand more autonomy.

While the state still exerts tight control over women, even its controversial one-child-per-couple policy can be circumvented with money or connections. But Guo Yu Xian’s family has the allotted three grandchildren, one for each of her children. She herself married for love, at 19, and bore a daughter and two sons. With her husband, she built their home on land from the government. She lives with her extended family–husband, sons, their wives, and two grandchildren–in their rural compound.

GUO YU XIAN: My parents wanted me to get as much education as I could, but I only went to primary school. My favorite subject was mathematics. When I was younger I wanted to get more schooling, but now I won’t because of my old age. I began working in the fields when I was 17, and since then it has taken up most of my day. This is what I like to do most. I’d rather be here, raising the pigs and irrigating the land, than cooking and taking care of the children.

We get along well with each other in this household; we divide things equally and we forgive the trifles. Privacy is not important to me; I like to be circled by people. If we get enough clothing, and enough food, then I’m happy. I have enough money to buy what I want; in our community we are neither rich nor poor. I’m very satisfied with my life, but if I had the money I’d buy two or three more pigs.

My mother’s life was much harder. She had her feet bound to three inches and because of her short feet she couldn’t do anything she wanted. It was painful for her, and I remember a very strong, bad smell. This was a very cruel thing. Women are more equal now than they were then, but I hope that women’s condition will improve even more.

Go to Mali . . .

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