wk7_1 - ,-_ . _ ‘ ‘AI, f-_DCL;,‘)UK /L;L/H:L¢,\ L...

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Unformatted text preview: ,-_ . _ ‘ ‘AI, f-_DCL;,‘)UK /L;L/H:L¢,\ L (fwhtr [U FM k9: lift, - i f r ,1 it I' - '- t. .I at V’er I\ /L Hub ’ L (at: “J .1, _ ., 1 l] ,4. ‘\ ,W/Jz L ‘vy r A I A, (We; V ‘ " c Hakka Women Great—Aunt Yeung: A Hakka Wage Laborer By Elizabeth L. johnson Introduction The Hakka are one ofa number of distinct Chinese speech groups; they have along history ofgradual migration from north to south China, finally settling in the provinces owaangtung. Kwangsi. Fukien, Kiangsi, and Szechuan.‘ Because oftheir relatively late arrival in these areas, they became known as the “guest families," or Hakka. Even after reaching the limits of settlement within China, it was common for individual men to work outside their home district, becoming itinerants. urban workers, or temporary migrants overseas.2 Such migration was not limited to the Hakka but seems to have been particularly characteristic ofthem, perhaps because the generally poorer lands which they had settled did not offer them an adequate living.’ The fact that able-bodied men were often away from home meant that in many cases women had to assume the full burden of farm work to provide for their families. Hakka women are no different than most Chinese women throughout history in that their lives are passed in obscurity, with little record ofhow they individually live, work, and die. As a group, however, they have a certain reputation which has set them apart from others. They have unbound feet and therefore some freedom to move beyond their houses and courtyards, and they are able to work to support themselves. Other Chinese women share these characteristics to some degree,‘ but the Hakka are particularly known for their ability to engage in hard work. The economic role of Hakka women has been studied in detail by only one other anthropologist, Myron Cohen. In the course of his research on a Taiwanese village, he examined women's economic rights and responsibilities.‘ In my research on a Hakka village in the New Territories of Hong Kong.“ I was concerned with women's roles in household and outside work and with defining women’s e:onomic rights with respect to their household budgets and property management. As part of this re— 76 Huerta tel—r 8 Hakka Women 77 search, 1 recorded the life histories ofseveral older village women. One of them, Great—Aunt Yeung, is'typical of many village women. The ways in which her life is atypical are noted. Great—Aunt Yeung lives in Kwan Mun l-lau, one of approximately 20 Hakka villages in Tsuen Wan District. Kwan Mun Han and some ofthe other villages are now entirely surrounded by the rapidly growing city of Tsuen Wan, with a population ofover 500,000, but Yeung's story takes us back to the period before World War II, when the development ofthe area wasjust beginning.7 The japanese occupation ofHong Kong (December Ig40—August 1945) marked a major transition in the lives ofthe villagers. Before that time, they, and the approximately 2,000 other Tsuen Wan natives, were virtually the only inhabitants ofthe narrow band oflowland between the highest mountain in Hong Kong and the sea. Within a few years after the end of the war, they were engulfed by waves of immi— grants, primarily Cantonese speakers, from the nearby areas of China. Before the occupation, the men made their living by farming, fishing, cutting firewood, working in small businesses, and in some cases working overseas. Women worked in agriculture, grew rice and vegetables, raised pigs, and earned wages carrying loads with poles. In the 19305, a few industries had been established, and these offered more regular employ— ment to both men and women, although for the most part the work available was still heavy manual labor. Shortly after World War ll, large— scale industrialization ofthe area began, changing very quickly the village economy and the people’s standard of living. The life of Great—Aunt Yeung spans this period of extraordinary change. Great—Aunt Yeung: A Hakka Wage Laborer ln Kwan Mun Han, as elsewhere in China, villagers familiarly and respectfully address their elders with kinship terms. Those for women often incorporate their surname; thus Great-Aunt Yeung (Yeung Suk—p’o) is so addressed because she is an elderly woman whose surname is Yeung. She married a man ofthe Hung lineage ofthe village; her marriage was somewhat unusual in that she was her husband’s second wife. Polygyny was not uncommon in Kwan Mun Hau, although it was a poor village, probably because women, through their labor, represented an economic asset.“ Three successive generations of Great-Aunt Yeung's husband's family took second wives because so many of the men went abroad to work and thus earned more than most men who remained in Tsuen Wan. Great—Aunt Yeung bore no children but adopted one daughter. She also refers to the first wife's children as “my son" and “my daughter." This sharing of rights in the children seems characteristic of those forms of Chinese polygyny in which the two wives are of nearly equal status “.m— I ‘W—‘H—Ilm‘mu Am 78 The Older Generation instead of the second wife being a concubine or a mistress living elsewhere.9 The very simple wedding ceremony of Great-Aunt Yeung indicates that she was originally considered to have inferior status. However, her substantial economic contribution to the family, her gen— eral competence, and her strong personality may subsequently have raised her family position. Great—Aunt Yeuiig looks younger than her 76 years. She is unusually pretty for an elderly woman, with smooth skin, warm brown eyes, and a ready smile. Her pleasant manner is accentuated by her habit offrequently touching the hand or arm of the person with whom she is speaking, a gesture she shared with many ofthe older women. Like them, she wears dark—colored Chinese-style pants and blouse, but she never wears the black headcloth often worn by Hakka women or the flat straw hat with black cotton fringe. Many of the older women speak only Hakka or heavily accented Cantonese. She, however, can speak clear Cantonese, because while most of the others were born in Tsuen Wan or villages nearby, she was born near Canton. She talked with us for many hours in the living room of her home. '° She was a cheerful and willing informant, although conversations were made difficult by the presence of her noisy great—grandchildren and by the distraction of the large television set which dominated the room. Below the television was the household earth god shrine whose function was to protect the home; hung around the room were formal portraits ofliving and deceased household members, a coristant reminder ofthe people who are part of her life. "My mother was Cantonese, my father Hakka. His native place was Shaho, near I’anyt'i, where the rice noodles come from. That place is famous for those delicate noodles. I can speak Cantonese because I was born in Canton. I was never sent to school, so how could I study? Some girls did go to school, and they even asked me tojoin them. but I couldn’t. There was no need for girls to study then. I can only read simple characters and can't write. No one taught me. Who would have so much time? My brother had a chance to study for a few years because he was a boy. Now it is different; men and women are equal. My daughter studied for a few months at Tak Fan School, but she stopped because of the japanese occupation. l was willing to pay for her education then, and many girls had the opportunity to study; my generation didn’t. “In Canton, I never did any farm work. ljust stayed home caring for my younger brother and sister. After I got married, I had to farm. I was married at 18. My parents and I came here from Canton; we were very poor. We rented a house in the village of Muk Min Ha. My younger brother stayed behind. My father later went back to Canton and died there. At that time, around 1925, the situation in China was very chaotic. Hakka Wmiit'ii 7‘) There was a seaman's strike and civil war. Those who were not hungry considered themselves foi'tunate. “There was no matchmaker involved in my marriage. My husband saw me and liked me, so he decided to take me as his second wife. He then discussed it with his mother. They sent his peak leimg [great-aunt] to discuss the financial arrangements with my family; his mother didn’t go. They agreed that he should give HK3400 to my father, and thus I was brought to his village. It wasjust like making a purchase! My father did it because of poverty, my husband because he liked me and because he wanted another person to help out. Men also take second wives some- times because they hope to be able to add more sons to their branch ofthe family. 7 "My husband's family was poor, and my fairiin was poor. The first wife may have had a banquet for her marriage, but even then most weddings were simple. For me, there were no wedding gifts, no cere— mony, no banquet, and no dowry. l was not brought here in a bridal sedan chair. Theyjust chose a lucky day, and he gave HKMOO to my father— that Was all. The family invited a few close relatives to dinner at home, just enough to sit around one table. My parents came. There was no worship ofthe ancestors in the hall. I didn’t even have to pour tea for my mothers- in—law, the two wives of my husband's father. But when my husband's older brother returned from Panama at Lunar New Year, I potier tea for him. He gave me a gold coin then like the red packet ofmoney normally given to brides. "The older wife ofmy husband had been a seam p '0 that, small daughter— in—law. She was brought into his household as a child, raised with him, and married him when they came of age." She was born on the island of Ching Yi. Lots ofpeople had laughed at her, saying that she had grown up with her husband and played with him and was just like his sister. On special occasions, she and I visited her family on the island. Her family also visited our family. We didn't visit at festivals; they came here when there was some special matter to discuss, such as an illness. "I rarely visited my parents, because they went back to Canton after I was married. I went back to Canton once before thejapanese occupation and twice afterward. I never sent money to my family, because all the money I earned belonged to this household; my parents never sent any— thing to me, either. They were much poorer than my husband’s family. Mother later came back here to live, and during thejapanese occupation. my brother and his wife also came here. I loaned him HKJBIO to come, as I had worked for Texaco and had some money. When my mother lived here, I didn't visit her because I always had to work, but I knew everything that went on there. It's just as well. My mother was narrow-minded, irritable, and unpleasant, and I had nothing to talk to her about. During 80 The Older Generation thejapanese occupation, she was sleeping one day in the market in a pork butcher's stall and was captured by thejapanese. She disappeared, and we heard nothing further from her. ' “Generally the men taught school or worked elsewhere. Many worked in businesses. My husband studied until he was 15 or 16. He had quite a lot of education, because his father worked abroad and sent back money. When my husband was 20, he went to Hawaii as an indentured laborer and sent back money to the family. When he returned here and married me, he opened a shop. Then he became a teacher on Old Street in this village. In those days, a teacher was a highly respected person. He also helped with the farm work at harvest time. Unfortunately, he and his older brother then had an argument they could not settle. His brother was going abroad again and said that ifone went, the other must go also, so they both went. My husband left after we had been married less than two years, and he died there when I was just 25. "Nowadays, a woman would not be willing to remain a widow for such a long time, especially at such a young age. Since his family had large fields and houses and needed women's work, I decided to remain here to help raise the children. This family is really unlucky, because many women in it have been widowed at a young age. My father-in-law, brother-in—law, and husband all went abroad to work and died there. “The older wife gave birth to three sons and one daughter, but two sons died.” I did not bear any children, so when I was 25, I adopted a daughter. She was two years old [Chinese reckOning] and could already walk. The first wife's daughter was married in Shatin, and she introduced me to the baby's fatnin there. They were adopting her out because she was sick, or perhaps it was her mother who was sick. My mother—in—law suggested that l adopt a daughter, and she provided the red packet of HKlizo. Even though the baby’s family didn’t request it, we gave the money because it was customary. It was as easy as getting a puppy or a piglet. Ijust walked over to Shatin to get her and carried her home on my back. l could have adopted a boy ifl had wished to, but I never even considered itwadopting a girl isn't very serious, but adopting a boy is a very grave matter. “Since my daughter now belonged to my family, she no longer had any relationship with her family in Shatin and never went to visit them. We continued to maintain contact with them, however. Sometimes they came here with steamed sweet cakes; sometimes I took them sweet cakes. When my daughter married, we sent a message to inform her parents. “As soon as I was married, I began to farm and do the housework. The older wife also did this work. Before my husband died. I didn’t go out to work for wages. After he died, there was no one to support the family. so I had to work outside. No one else helped our family—everyone in the Hakka Women 81 village was poor. I worked for many, many years—from when l was in my twenties until I was in-my sixties. "The only wage work available then was carrying coal, charcoal, and steel with a pole. I carried coal and sugar, which was used for making wine. Tsuen Wan had 10 wine storage depots. I began drinking wine, although few women drank it then. I developed a taste for it working in the wine storage depot! I also carried salt and loaded it onto boats. The carrying of salt was primarily done by women. “At that time, the weather reports were not reliable, and boats often sank. Sometimes I went with others to salvage rice from sunken boats. Two of us would carry the rice between us on a carrying pole, carrying more than 200 carries at a time. The rice could be sold, although at a much cheaper rate, or it could be dried and used for steamed sweet cakes. When I had the chance, sometimes I worked with two men and two women on a boat going to Lantao Island. The men rowed at the back ofthe boat and the women at the front, for the work at the bow was lighter. We carried cotton salvaged from sunken boats. We bought it for two dollars and sold it on Lantao Island for four or five dollars. We shared the profits and considered it very good to earn a dollar per day. All the people were from this village. Only one is alive now. "After that [late 1920's], I carried cement for the construction of the Shing Mun Reservoir in the hills above Tsuen Wan. I had breakfast at eight in the morning and then worked, carrying six or seven bags of cement in a day. The bags weighed 180 rattles, and each was carried up the mountain to the reservoir by two women. The bags were hung on a carrying pole. The overseer would not arrange for a fair distribution ofthe bags, so each women had to compete for the bags she was to carry. We grabbed the bags and sat on them. Fortunately, there were no serious fights, but sometimes we tore each other's clothes. There were no set hours for this kind of work. The overseers called us when work was available, and you could go home when you were finished. “Carrying cement was very slow and tiring. The women coolies were paid 90 cents, the men coolies were paid a dollar. Men and women usually did different kinds of work. Even ifboth were doing carrying work, they would do different kinds, carrying different things. The cement workers came mainly from Kwan Mun I-Iau; a few came from the village ofHoi Pa. The people from the villages ofSham Tung Uk and Muk Min I-Ia did not do this kind of work. Those from Sham Tung Uk cut grass on the mountains for fuel which they could use or sell, while the people from Muk Min I-Ia carried the materials used in making incense for the incense mills near the village. “I Was 30 years old when the Texaco oil depot opened. The depot was 82 The Older Generation opened near our village by an American man. I carried kerosene, wax, and the sheets ofsteel which were used to make containers for the kerosene. The steel had to be carried onto boats at the dock. You had to be very carefuleeif your hand slipped, you could drop it. You walked across a plank onto the boat. and if you slipped, you would fall into the water. Two women would carry more than 200 rattles ofsteel between them at one time. Sometimes there was a lot ofsteel to carry and once we even had to work until midnight. "Men and women did not get the same pay, because they did different work. Men poured the kerosene into cans, women carried them. Most people carried kerosene to the pier; some carried it onto boats. I got 90' cents per day for loading boats. The kerosene weigheo I 80 Cattle: and was carried on a pole between two people. “The carrying of steel was mainly done by younger women, usually those about 30 years old. After 40 or 50, no woman would do this kind of work; it was too heavy. Then they would carry only kerosene—no steel. Pregnant women couldn’t do this kind of work; it was too dangerous. “When I had no carrying work to do, I cut grass and wood for fuel. Sometimes people hired me to carry firewood; at other times, I cut grass which I myselfsold for 30 cents per 100 carries. Most people preferred to do carrying work rather than cutting grass because it paid more money. We cut grass at the foot oftlic mountains and on the island ofChing Yi. We didn't cut it near the village, because the nearby hills were owned by the villagers. i never went alone to the island or to the mountains to cut grass; usually a few women went together. “Even when I had no carrying work, I got up at four in the morning and brought water from the well. It took to trips with a carrying pole. Ifmy clothes needed washing, I took them along and washed them. Then I carried water and pig manure to the fields. After that. I sharpened my grass-cutting knife, ate breakfast, and went out to cut grass. Sometimes around three or four in the afternoon, I ate another meal ofleftover rice at home. Then I went out to cut grass again, or sometimes I rowed a boat to the island to cut firewood. I returned home at five or so and had to carry water again. After seven we had dinner, and then I milled rice and cut up vegetables for the pigs. I did this until ten at night, when I finally went to sleep. “There was no time to stop working. There was no time to be sick; there was only time to die. During menstruation, we worked as usual. No one said we shouldn't go to the fields during our period. Generally,-after the birth ofa baby, a woman wasn't allowed out ofthe house for a month. She wasn't allowed to do farm work unless the family didn’t have enough labor power. Then she would have to work even within the first month after the baby’s birth." Hakka Women 83 "Before thejapanese occupation, ifwe were sick, we still had to work. No doctor would be called; Wejust boiled herbal medicine to drink. We also soaked plants from the mountains in water, bathed in the water, and then went to bed to sweat out the illness. Once my period came when l was working in the mountains. I felt very sick and washed myselfin a mountain stream. When I came home, I became so sick that my hair fell out and I turned yellow and was deaf. A person who was very sick could be sent to Canossan Hospital. They sent me to the hospital, but there were no beds, so I was sent back. Even when l was sick, I had to help with the rice harvest. I avoided the heaviest work. After I had been sick for a year, I fell down during the rice harvest and Cut myselfbadly on the stubble. I felt utterly miserable. Finally my mother—in—law couldn’t bear to see me like that, so she sent to Tai Po for some pills which cured me. "When I came home from work, the Children sometimes asked me for money, and I would give them a penny for marble candies. In my generation. when women worked, all the money they earned belonged to the family. Everything I earned was turned over to my mother~in~law. Before the Japanese occupation, when I carried steel and earned a lot of mOney, I sometimes kept a dollar for myself. I saved until I had HKSIO and bought a suit of clothes. This was more than 40 or 50 years ago. “My older mother—in—law was the tang lea [household manager]. Gener— ally SOmeone frOm the' older generation would be the manager, and normally it was a woman." All the money the first wife and I earned was given to her because she was the manager. When I got work, I would inform her and tell her when it would start. She controlled all the ex— penses; no one could give her any advice. She had to decide when to raise animals such as pigs and how many to raise. The decisions concerning the planting of vegetable crops were less important. Some husbands gave 'money to the manager; some did not. If the family participated in a rotating loan association, the manager usually represented the fatnin at the meetings. When we sold pigs, the purchasing agent would come to the house and bargain with her. People also came to the village to buy the pineapples we grew. They paid two dollars per 100 rattles. “No one determined the division oftasks in the family. Wejust did the work naturally; each person knew what to do. IfI went out to work, the household work was done by my mother-in-law. The older mother—in— law cooked meals and cared for the children. During the harvest, she carried food to us in the fields. When I was first married, the younger mother-in-law took the older wife and me to the fields to work. We did all the farm work together. The mothers-in-law also took care ofthe pigs and watched the harvested rice, turning it as it dried in the sun. The older wife raked the fields and washed the clothes and sometimes worked carrying kerosene. She didn't have to carry steel or other goods, because she wasn't 84 The Older Generation strong enough for very heavy work. She mainly did farm work, such as watching the cows and plowing, and led a more comfortable life than I. As for the children, the older girl had to help her mother, watching the cows and cutting grass, but the boy didn’t need to. it was also customary that men did no household work. At night the children slept with their own mothers. Since I helped the first wife care for her children, they sometimes liked to sleep with me. “At that time, we planted rice on the flat fields and vegetables on the hillside slopes. The quality ofthe flat ground was better. Our hillside fields were near the present location ofthe Texaco oil depot. We rarely sold any rice or produce. We planted broccoli and giant white radishes, which we preserved with salt for our own use. No one grew other green vegetables then; we didn't know how to grow them, and there was no one to sell them to. We grew cucumbers, corn, sweet potatoes. and taro. We ate sweet potatoes mixed with rice, and on rainy days we ate sweet potatoes alone. We used the shoots ofsweet potatoes and radishes for the pigs, so we didn’t need to grow or buy pig fodder. We also grew peanuts; we didn't use them for oil but instead for making paste. “We had to buy oil and used it very sparingly. Our diet was very poor. We seldom had any meat. Sometimes we bought a few cents worth oflean pork and steamed it with eggs for the children. We seldom used any soy sauce. If we had it, we gave it to the children to mix with rice or congee. We bought fish or shrimp to cook with preserved vegetables, steaming them on top ofrice. They were cooked without oil, and the dish had a very strong, fishy taste. We could also get oysters at low tide. Most ofthe time, how_ever, wejust ate preserved vegetables with rice. I could eat three large bowls of rice at a meal. "Sometimes we were very hungry, but nothing could be done. Once when I was rowing a boat back frOm the island of Ching Yi, I felt that I didn't have the strength to go on because 1 was so hungry. But there was nothing to do except struggle on. “We had few clothes to wear then, and those we had were made of rough blue cloth. We didn't make them ourselves. The weaving and tailoring were done by men. in the wintertime, we wore only two layers ofclothing, but since we were young and working all day, the cold didn't bother us. We wore no special clothes in the rain; wejust felt cold and damp. lfit rained heavily, we couldn’t go out to work, in the Summer, we wore flat hats with black cloth fringe. This gave shelter from the sun, and when the breeze blew the fringe, it was very cool. We wore aprons to work in but only very simple ones. The generation before us made their own clothes from the hemp they grew. They stripped the outer covering from the hemp, dried it in the Sun, rolled it in their hands to make thread, and wound it into a ball. Specialists were employed to weave this hemp into cloth.” Hakka Women 85 “Women were able to earn enough to support themselves, especially if they had some fields to farm in addition to their wage work. No work was impossible for women to do; we could do anything. A woman could support herself, her children, and her mother—in—law at some level. In our family, we supplied all the rice for the family's use from our own fields and labor and didn't have to buy any from outside. “My father—in—law had sent money back from Hawaii to buy fields. He later became an opium addict there. In addition, our family had inherited fields from an uncle’s family when the old people died without sons. We never employed any farm workers—we did it all ourselves. We even worked for others, so how could we employ someone? But we loaned our ox to others for plowing; in return, those people would watch the ox for us for free. Everyone in the village worked; we were accustomed to working. Most people had some fields. Generally, the people were very poor and did their own agricultural work. But even those with no rice or vegetables would not steal. lfthey had no fields, they would do farm work or otherjobs for others. I sometimes had help from women farm workers. They were not real farm laborers, butjust helped with the harvest. They were women from the village who would come to help out. We didn’t contract them and didn't have to pay them; wejust gave them meals. If they had no rice at home, we would give them some. If people in the village didn’t have enough labor or didn't have an ox, others in the village would help them out or loan them an ox. “People never stole our crops and never looked down on us because we had no men. There was no danger to women then. There were no hoodlums or murder or rape—not like now. It was very peaceful here. Women didn’t have to worry; a woman could go out alone." “There was little entertainment for women or for men. No woman could go to the teahouse or gamble, and we didn't play cards. Now it‘s better; everyone can watch television. Then we could only watch Can— tonese opera, a public performance sponsored by all the villages. Some— times when I was free, I would go to Kowloon or even to Hung Kong to watch silent movies. I went to the Po Heng Theater in Kowloon. Some- times I even went at night. I went by car; it cost 30 to 40 cents before the Japanese occupation. I went most often when l was 30 to 40 years old, usually in the company of several friends from work. "No woman could buy or sell things like fields and houses that be— longed to the family and were registered in her husband's name-—-these things are men’s affairs. Ifa woman's husband were gone and her son still very young and there were no men left in her husband's family, a woman might have the right to buy and sell horrses. "Before the japanese occupation of Hong Kong, no women bought houses oftheir own, either. Women didn't have that much money. Later they began to work in factories and earned more money. Then, when the 86 The Older Generation japanese came to I'Iong Kong, some people needed money, so they began to sell their houses. Before then, no one would sell his house. When the japanese came, I myself bought a house with my own money. By that time, I was the household manager.” I had met an old man who lived alone, with no one to care for him and nothing to live On. I sold the gold jewelry from my daughter—in-law's dowry to support him. Later he committed suicide. His son had left the area. When he returned, he said that the house had belonged to his father and his father's brother. We finally reached a compromise, and I bought the house. I had only HK$2oo then, so I borrowed a few hundred dollars from others. I actually reg— istered the house in my son's name. Later my son let his uncle’s family live there, since they had sold their house and fields. It's always the case that when a Woman buys property, she registers it under her son's name. “I became the household manager when I was in my forties. My eldest mother—in—law was still alive then but very old. My husband’s first wife didn’t get the position because she couldn't speak Cantonese and wasn’t so clever. It wasn't neCessarily decided by my mother—in—law but wasjust the natural succession; the power wasjust passed on to me. When I became manager, all the money earned by the first wife was given to me. "My mother—in—law had not wanted us to divide the household after my husband’s death, so we continued to live and take meals together with my husband's brother's widow and her family. When she was over 50 years old, she ran away and married a seaman who lived in Shatin. After that, her daughter suggested that we divide the family, so we began to eat separately but still lived together. My eldest mother—in—law was still alive then. When we actually divided the family, we called in a male relative of my husband to mediate the division ofproperty.” People related through women [(li’cm ch’ik] do not mediate family divisions. We called him in to be sure it would be fair and equal. “My eldest mother-in-law died around 1930‘, my younger mother—in— law died when thejapanese came in 1941. She died ofdiarrhea. She was more than 80 years old. Although we called a doctor, he said that nothing could be done and that we should prepare for her death. “My daughter—in-lawjoined our family in August 1941. Relatives of her fatnin introduced her to my son. He saw her before their marriage when she went to the next village, perhaps to visit relatives, but she didn't know she was being watched. On the day of her wedding, she was brought here in a Sedan chair and kneeled and offered tea to us. She had already learned how to do farm work before her marriage.” "My adopted daughter met her husband when he was working for my son, checking and repairing cars. She was working in a textile factory at that time. He is ofthe Lo surname, from the village ofI-loi Pa. She liked the boy, but she cried from embarrassment when he first invited her to go Hakka Women 87 to a movie with him. My son told her it was not a serious matter, so she agreed to go, but she said'nothing and just sat and watched the film. I thought he was a good and henest boy. He had his own house, so they had a place to live and could be secure. Since he lived nearby, it would be convenient for me to help her. For these reasons, I agreed to her marriage. I looked after her when she had each baby and shopped and cooked for her. She had no mother—in—law. Every month she gives me HK$5O to go to the teahouse. I bumped into my son-in-law yesterday, and he gave me HKfiloo. They used to give me HKllaoo at the end ofeach year, but now they have stopped because of the economic situation and because they have so many children. “I did wage labor for a year or so after thejapanese occupation ended. I sold our old houses and bought new, better ones. I was regularly em— ployed and was paid by the month. I carried cans of kerosene and loaded them onto boats. It was very oppressive inside the boats, and one could easily faint. My work was always interrupted by the family calling me back to settle problems. After we moved to new houses [c. 1950], I stopped working. “Now my daughter-in-law has been the household manager for five or six years. She criticizes me when I watch television, saying that I am wasting electricity. If her husband had been my true son [di’an raring] instead ofthe son ofthe first wife, she would not look down on me now. "I have rheumatism now; it is very painful.20 I had to work very hard when I was younger. Those were very bitter times—very hard. We had nothing. Our clothes and food were terribly simple. We had to carry heavy loads, like horses or oxen, and got no rest. As a result, all the bones in my body ache now. “lfyou come back to Hong Kong again, I may not be here. I may be' up on the mountain in my grave.” Village Life The life ofGreat—Aunt Yeung after her marriage differs from the lives of other Kwan Mun Hau women only in that she bore no children and her family had no adult male present for many years. She also began her married life with fewer assets than most women who were primary wives. Unlike them, she received no valuablejewelry as a dowry and only one gift of cash, whereas other women receive many such gifts during the wedding ceremony. Such jewelry and money become their personal property.“ She was able to gain a personal nest egg only from what she was able to put aside from her own earnings and, rumor has it, by setting aside money for herselffrom common funds when she was the household manager. 88 The Older Generation The prominence of women as household managers is not atypical in Kwan Mun Hau even though the buying and selling ofhouses and fields were normally men’s affairs. There is some evidence for this division of economic Functions elsewhere in China, although Cohen did not find this pattern among the Hakka people of Yen-~liao.22 Its prevalence in Kwan Mun Hau might be explained by the frequent absence of men through employment abroad. The extent ofGreat—Aunt Yeung's economic contribution to her house- hold is also not unusual. During the period before thejapanese occupa- tion, the men were absent from many Tsuen Wan households for long periods; in other households, the men were an economic liability because they were opium addicts and stole their wives’ earnings whenever they could. Even in households where the men were good and reliable wage earners or farmers, the women worked hard in both agricultural and wage labor. As Great-Aunt Yeung stated, everyone worked, even women from wealthier families. The division of women’s labor she describes, where the older women stayed home to care for the children, do household chores, and raise pigs, was essential in allowing the younger women to work outside the home. The same pattern helps make possible the employment of younger women in the People's Republic of China today. In Kwan Mun Hau, the burden of household work and pig raising was so great, according to many, that even when grandmothers were available, the children were given only a minimum of care. In those households where there was no grandmother, child neglect was sometimes severe. The very difficult physical work done by Great-Aunt Yeung was not unusual for women in Tsuen Wan during this century, although I suspect that heavy physical labor by women for wages is a fairly recent phe- nomenon. Until the 19205, there was probably little wage labor locally available for women, and they did not participate in the male pattern of temporary emigration in search of employment. As far as I know, women's economic contribution to that time was limited almost entirely to agricultural work for their own families and sometimes for others. The early— to mid—twentieth—century pattern of combining agricultural work and wage labor resulted from the peculiar economic conditions of the time, in that Tsuen Wan remained primarily an agricultural area but began to add small industries and construction projects. Since the late 19505, agricultural land has been taken for urban development, and faCtory and even white—collar work is increasingly available for women. As a result, Kwan Mun Hau women need no longer work “like horses or oxen." The way oflife described by Great—Aunt Yeung is now almost entirely gone. The village of Kwan Mun I-lau has been moved to new housing. It Hakka Women 89 was previously at the edge of the city but is now rapidly becoming surrounded by high—rise housing and factories. The people's fields are gone, as are the clean air and pleasant environment. The landscape has been altered beyond recognition, concrete is everywhere, and smoke and automobile pollution make the hot summers extremely unpleasant. To the outside observer, the area is disagreeably noisy, grim, and congested. More than 95 percent ofthe city's population is now non—Hakka im— migrants, and Kwan Mun Hau people complain that they rarely meet anyone they know on the street. Despite this, the community life of Kwan Mun Ham and the other villages remains. Most communities remain intact, and despite their dramatically changed surroundings, the festivals and rituals continue within each tight little community. Although there are apparent disadvantages to urban life, women ex— press little regret for the way of life that has passed. They do miss the camaraderie they used to enjoy as they worked together; they miss the slower and more flexible pace oflife. They state emphatically that they do not miss the hard physical labor, the endless childbearing, the lack ofgood medical care, the poor diet, or the illiteracy. They take great pleasure in the fact that their daughters and granddaughters can be educated and get relatively comfortable factory or officejobs with set hours and good pay. They feel no regret to see the end ofthe old system ofarranged marriage, polygyny, and small daughter-in—law marriage. Fortunately, no serious decline has occurred in the respect for the aged or in the obligation felt by the young to support and care for their elderly parents. Daughters—imlaw may not be as subservient as they once were, but most elderly people, like Great—Aunt Yeung, enjoy their last days living with their sons and grand— children, caring for members of the youngest generation, going to the teahouse with their elderly friends, and watching television. They appreciate the leisure which they have earned, and they enjoy the respect of younger generations and know that it will continue even after their death. Songs During the time ofGreat—Aunt Yeung's youth, women and some men found relief from the hard work of daily life by singing. For women, singing also offered emotional release. In singing or keening at funerals, women expressed not only their grief for the dead but also personal grievances, such as an unhappy marriage, a cruel mother—in—law, or a greedy sister—in—law. Songs were composed by the individual women following a standard form which included repeated calling ofthe kin term ofthe deceased. Such songs were profoundly moving to all who listened; 90 The Older Generation even the men wept when they heard them. Only those accused by the singer ofunJust behavior reacted with anger, and refuted the accusation if they could. through a sung response. _ Wedding songs sung by the bride and her lineage sisters were also individually composed within a traditional structure and, despite the supposed happiness of the occasion, have been called laments.“ They expressed the bride's pain at leaving her family, her anger at those re~ sponsible for arranging her marriage, and her dread ofthe transition to come. I Other songs, more cheerful in content, were sung by women working in groups. One type was spontaneous—a humorous, teasing dialogue between individuals or groups of women and men, each trying to outdo the other in ridicule. The other type might be called a ballad; it was learned from other women. These often expressed the major concerns in women's llVCS, as is evident from these examples: Song about a woman whose husband is about to go abroad to work. I hold a golden cup with two hands, asking when you will come back, l go along the upper road where there are many white fio wers [other women] Many, my husband, I l go along the lower road where there are many stones. My husband, you are now leaving; when will you return? When on the road you should not pick up the wild flowers, Within the house there is already a plum blossom [herselft Song about a woman whose husband has gone abroad to work with a group of friends. The friends return, but he does not. Woman: Put away the hemp weaving, put away the stool, Waiting for my husband to return. He went with you but did not come back with you. Man: Little sister, don't ask. Talking about your husband will make you very angry. Yourhusband has a relationship with a Vietnamese woman; it's very serious. During daytime they act as travel companions, At night they act as a couple. Woman: Worship heaven, worship earth, so that whenever that Vietnamese woman becomes pregnant, the babies will die, 50 that my husband can more easily earn money and return. Hakka Women 9] Song about marriage. Sister, when you marry it would not be good to marry a stoneworker‘, The “het het” sound of the stonecutting would frighten people. Sister, when you marry it would not be good to marry an educated Juan; White pants and shorts are very hard to starch. When you marry it would be best to marry a farmer. Sister, when you marry it is best not to marry a farmer, The upper part of his body stinks of earth, The lower part of his body stinks of earth. Sister, it is best to marry a pork merchant; Then every morning you can have a bowl of pork soup. Sister, it is best not to marry a stoneworker; The "din don dik clap" sounds really frighten people. Sister, it is best not to marry an educated man; White shirt and pants are very hard to starch. When I marry it would not be good for me to marry a farmer; My upper body will stink of earth, My lower body will stink of earth. Sister, when you marry it would not be good to marry a pork merchant; The "gew gew gew gew" sounds made by the pigs will frighten people. Sister, it is best for you to marry a stoneworker. Every night he would go to bed very early. Song about a small daughter—in-law. Older brother is poor, little sister is also poor. We both work together, older brother. Older brother does not have a good pair of trousers to wear, Little sister does not have a nice headcloth. Little sister, you struggle gradually to solve your problems, Struggle for another year or two. When you have sons, your life will be better. I will struggle for another year or two; my son will be older. When i take a daughter—in-law, everything will be good. These songs were sting by a middle—aged woman with a remarkable memory and great patience. She permitted me to record them and many others.” Such songs are no longer sung; only the funeral songs are still heard in the village. Women no longer work in groups, so they have no opportunity to sing together. Likewise, the situations depicted in the songs—the large-scale migration of men abroad, the arranged marriages, the small daughter—in—law marriages—no longer exist. For these-reasons and because ofthe distractions of television, movies, and radio, the old songs which were so meaningful to the women in their youth are now being rapidly forgotten. ...
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This note was uploaded on 10/27/2011 for the course HUMAN STUD 164 taught by Professor Chan during the Spring '03 term at Santa Clara.

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