China: Villages changed into cities liberating women from farm drudgery
She spent her childhood working in the fields, feeding the family’s pigs. The destruction of rural China became for Xiao Zhang a liberation – and an opportunity. This is the story of how her life changed as much as her country.
By Carrie Gracie
June 22, 2015
(Must See. Mike)
She’d started helping with the farm work almost as soon as she could walk and when she was 11, she dropped out of school.
“Every family was poor but we were poorer,” she says.
“My mother was often ill. As the eldest I always had to help out, feeding the pigs, working in the fields, looking after the little ones.
“It was a 40-minute walk to school. No-one paid any attention to my studies. I tried hard and I was a good student, but at night, by the time I’d done all my chores and got round to reading my schoolbooks, I was always falling asleep.
“After primary school, I had to give up my studies and work full time in the fields to help my parents.”
White Horse Village was disappearing and the city was growing. Tower blocks, highways, restaurants and bars… modern China was fast advancing on the valley floor. With the city’s construction sites inching towards her home, Xiao Zhang could soon earn money by renting out rooms to newcomers.
Then the government expropriated her farmland. She took the compensation without a backward glance and started working as a cleaner in the new city courthouse.
Eventually she impressed the management enough to win the cleaning contract for the whole building, at which point she relented and let her husband come home.
“At the courthouse, people tease me saying I’m the boss and he’s my assistant,” she says.
“That’s right,” chips in her husband. “She gives the orders.”