I began my interview at Daguo Town Nursing House on Jan. 31st. On that day, I met the elder Guo Que and learnt that she was in her eighties but looked healthy. It was late at that time, so I scheduled a future interview with her. On Feb. 3rd, I went to the nursing home for her after lunch, but she was not in her room. Therefore, I went to the next door to chat with the elder Jin Zhi, who later brought me to interview her relative, the elder Wang Hua. After I left Wang Hua’s home, I took Jin Zhi back to the nursing house and met Guo Que who just came back from shopping. Then our interview started.
In terms of generation, I should call her aunt. Since she had already known that I was interviewing on famines at the nursing house, she began at 1942, when “there were floods and droughts but few favorable years,” and “black beans were pinned on a needle and sold on the streets, and a young wife was even cheaper than a sesame seed cake…” She sobbed when talking about her families fleeing from the famine and sold her sixteen-year-old aunt to Biyang. Then she talked about 1958, when she carried dung at night but had no food, not even two liangs (one liang=50g). During inspection from higher authorities, people closed the food steamer and claimed to eat steamed breads every day… The elder used a lot of long “alas”in her account. The exclamations encapsulated her miseries throughout life and touched everyone.
The elder lost her husband nearly two decades ago. Now she lived in the same room with her disabled son. In his forties, the son looked fair. he smelled at people and was very warm. His body shook vehemently due to unknown disease. The elder said that her son “attended school until fifth grade. He spent two years at fifth grade but couldn’t write anymore, so he dropped off.” She told me that he couldn’t farm, or he wouldn’t be here (the nursing house). He came here thanks to the help from relatives. “You need networks to live here.”
Two days after the interview, I visited the nursing house again. When I arrived, the elder was boiling sweet dumplings with a neighbor old woman. She offered some to me, but I refused politely. Elders in the nursing house either lost all families or can’t take care of themselves. It might be a happiness for them to live “here.”
Alas, in 1958 we were ordered to plow the field deep and dug reservoirs. Women did the work. Just think about how deep we had to dig. Alas, women had to dig and remove dirt. And you even dared not to complain. If you did? Some did complain, and they were repressed harshly on assemblies.
Carried dung at night
In darkness, I worked waterwheel and carried dung. When watering wheat seedlings in October and November, dung needed to be spread on the ground. We were told to carry dung at night, but it was cold at night in November, so I wore two cotton coats when working, alas. It was scary in darkness, because I couldn’t see anything or anyone. It was cold too in November, alas.
I didn’t toil much in 1958
Alas, I was timid. Speaking of 1958, I actually didn’t work too hard. Why? My second cousin—the son of my grandaunt—was a team leader at that time. His wife was bad at work, so he asked me to work for him—heavy work. Since he called me, I had to go. He was rather kind to me, though. Some people stayed at home and didn’t work. Guess what? They didn’t receive food at all!
For real, back then, nobody dared to speak. If you were found to have said something wrong, you would be tortured 100%. You would be forced to stand, with people standing on both side of you, like a child game of rat standing under a stone arch. Women all had bound feet at that time. They were pushed from one side to the other, back and forth. Alas, people were terrified every day.
Ate less than two liangs at the canteen
In 1958, we did river construction all day long, but what did we eat? Once we hit the lunch break, all we had for meal was thin sorghum paste. Each got a small black bowl of it, along with some salt tea made by boiling a bit salt in water.
People starved so badly. The ration was said to be two liangs, but in reality it was always less, and we had to drink a lot of tea. Alas, sweet potatoes were buried under cesspits and were dug out in the next February and March. In Dongxiang, people collected rotted sweet potatoes after plowing the field.
Picked wild plants
There was no food to speak of. You worked until dawn but only received tea and a little soup, which was too thin to be called soup. Soup was in a jar in the yard. It was so thin that reflection of moon could be seen clearly on its surface. In that year, we cut sprouts of hongyes during breaks when plowing. We brought them back home, fried, grabbed and chopped them before putting them into the soup we claimed from the canteen. That was what we ate. You don’t even know what is a sprout of hongye. Your mother might know.
We ate them a lot that year. At that time, wheat had grown tall, but hongyes were even taller. We cut a bit of them and ate them at night, alas.
I also ate sprouts and roots of wild rice. I dug reed roots to eat too. Alas, they tasted like dirt, so disgusting. I ate wheat stalks and what not.
Dealt with inspection
When people came to inspect, the kitchen hurried closed the food steamer. Why? Because they lied to the inspector that people ate steamed breads every day.