Zhang: Look at me while you talk. I will ask you questions. Grandpa, what’s your name?
Ma: Ma Dagui.
Zhang: Ma Dagui?
Zhang: Which “gui”? “Gui”in “fugui” (wealth)?
Ma: It’s in the couplet. Let me look at the couplet.
Zhang: It’s in the couplet?
Ma: There, at the stove door.
Zhang: “Gui”in “fugui” (wealth).
Ma: Oh, “gui”in “fugui” (wealth). The one in the corner.
Zhang: What year were you born in?
Ma: I can’t talk clearly on my own.
Zhang: Can’t talk clearly on my own? How old are you?
Zhang: I am just coming back to interview the seniors at your age about the time from 1959 to 1961. The Transitional Period of Grains. The stories during that time. Your personal stories.
Ma: That? Maybe it’s just that I didn’t starve to death. I was one of those who didn’t die of hunger. I hadn’t adopted the kid that I just talked about. He was with his mother. I even ate the stalks of chouchun. We boiled chouchun, which was really bad.
Zhang: What were you doing at that moment?
Ma: I wasn’t here yet. I was in the countryside, farming.
Zhang: Do you know a guy named Ma Zhengyi? Do you know him?
Ma: Yeah, Ma Zhengyi.
Zhang: How did he die of hunger?
Ma: It was in 1959. He didn’t have ways. He died of hunger.
Zhang: How did that happen?
Ma: His youngest son is a butcher on the street. He was only a few years old then. He had two sons. One died the year before last year. It’s been three and a half years.
Zhang: Do you know how he died of hunger?
Ma: There was no grains.
Zhang: At home?
Ma: Oh, yeah. Many died of hunger.
Zhang: Who else?
Ma: Grains were scarce. I could only say that country was in trouble, so we had the Transitional Period.
Zhang: Do you remember anyone else that died of hunger?
Ma: Only him in our family at that time. I was okay but he wasn’t. There was only a little food every day.
Zhang: How many grains did you have per day?
Ma: Less than one jin per day. Several liang. How could that be enough? One labored hard for a day, but it was not like today. We have plenty of grains now. Our country was having troubles, so the food was scarce.
Zhang: What trouble did the country have?
Ma: The country…the yield of grains was small. Now we have over a thousand jin per acre. Back then only several hundred jin per acre. Now the amount has tripled.
Zhang: Do you remember that Ma Dazhu?
Zhang: Ma Dazhu.
Ma: I remember Ma Dazhu. He was also starved to death. He was the uncle of Ma Ming, who lives next door.
Zhang: How did he die of hunger?
Ma: There was also a Ma Taishan. They were father and son. Father and son in the house.
Zhang: They both died?
Ma: Both died of hunger?
Zhang: Both in 1959?
Ma: Yes. Correct.
Zhang: What was his name? Ma Taishan?
Ma: Ma Taishan was a nickname. I don’t remember his real name. You can see if Ma Guangxue knows it.
Zhang: Was he starved to death in the house or outside?
Ma: Dazhu? It was definitely nearby. He didn’t die far away from here. On the road, probably. They were building roads.
Zhang: He went to build roads.
Ma: People had no ways when building roads. They were starved to skins and bones.
Zhang: Do you know what year Ma Dazhu was born in?
Ma: I don’t know.
Zhang: What was his zodiac animal?
Ma: I don’t know that either.
Zhang: You don’t know? How about his father? Ma Taishan.
Ma: Ma Taishan was older and it is even less likely for me to know. Ask Guang xue if he knows. Guangxue, do you know your uncle? When was he born?
Ma Guangxue: I don’t know.
Ma: How about Dazhu?
Ma Guangxue: I don’t know about Dazhu either.
Zhang: What was Ma Taishan’s name?
Ma Guangxue: What?
Zhang: What was Ma Taishan’s name?
Ma Guangxue: He was known as Ma Taishan. I don’t know what his real name was.
Ma: You don’t know his real name?
Ma Guangxue: I don’t know his real name.
Ma: We don’t know too.
Zhang: Is there a family tree for the Ma’s.
Ma: No. Don’t know the later generations too. They are much younger than us.
Zhang: Do you remember, other than these two, anyone who died of hunger?
Ma: There was also a Ma Dazhu. He lived in Team Eight (previously Team One).
Zhang: He also died of hunger at that time?
Ma: Oh, yeah. Right.
Zhang: Ma Dajun？
Ma: Yeah, Dazhun. One of my generation’s people.
Zhang: “Jun” as in “junren” (army)?
Ma: I don’t know when he was born either.
Zhang: How did he die of hunger?
Ma: His son is still in Team Eight.
Zhang: Oh. What’s his son called?
Ma: His son is named Guang…he’s in the Guang generation. I suddenly forgot his name.
Zhang: Ma Guang…
Ma: Is he named Guang? Guangxue!
Ma Guangxue: Yes?
Ma: On the hills. Dajun’s son.
Ma Guangxue: Guangjun.
Ma: What? Not Guangan.
Ma Guangxue: Guanghai?
Ma: Dajun’s son.
Ma Guangxue: What?
Ma: Dajun’s son.
Ma Guangxue: Dajun’s son? There is a Guangjun and a Guanghai.
Ma: Yes, that one is An. I got it wrong. His name is Guangan. The Guang generation.
Zhang: Ma Guangan?
Zhang: He’s living in Team Eight? How old is him?
Ma: He’s younger than me.
Zhang: Ma Dajun used to live here?
Ma: He was originally in Team Eight. He lived here a while and then moved to Team Eight.
Zhang: Did he die of hunger inside the house or outside?
Ma: He died on his way back.
Zhang: Where was he coming back from?
Ma: Not far from here. Building roads not far from here. Right in this area. I said, “Let’s go.” “I can’t.” He said. The country was in trouble.
Zhang: Do you remember anything else? Apart from these people. And their names.
Ma: I already said quite a few.
Zhang: You told me about three people. Right? Four people.
Ma: Yes, four people. Already quite a few. We couldn’t drink rice soup. We ate brans. We were not doing well.
Zhang: How not well?
Ma: Just dying of hunger, like what I just said.
Zhang: What was the worst thing that you ate.
Ma: They were all the same. There is a chouchun in the yard across us. That tree with the broken trunk is chouchun. That was the worst food.
Ma: Chouchun. There, it tasted the worst. It was just to fill the stomach. The country was in trouble.
Zhang: You were just living by yourself?
Ma: Yes. The nephew of mine that he mentioned. I didn’t adopt him till later. I was just by myself then.
Zhang: You’ve never married? How about afterwards. Do you remember the Land Reform?
Ma: During the Land Reform, I was with my brother. Our father had died early. He had been sick. We two brothers, during the Land Reform.
Zhang: What were you doing before the Land Reform? Did you have land?
Ma: During the Land Reform, we suffered the most. We were pasturing cow following someone. We pastured cow before the Land Reform. We weren’t capable and our father had died early.
Zhang: Did you get something after the Land Reform?
Zhang: You didn’t get anything?
Ma: The distribution was…what was there? I was just a little child. Didn’t get anything. Later I got this house. Just this house.
Zhang: Just this house.
Zhang: This house was from that time?
Zhang: Did it belong to someone else?
Ma: It belonged to someone else.
Zhang: It was given to you after the Land Reform?
Zhang: Where did the previous residents go?
Ma: I rebuilt the walls of this house…the bricks. It was from a landlord.
Zhang: Where did the landlord family go?
Ma: Right here.
Zhang: Where did they live then?
Ma: There’s no one now.
Zhang: No one?
Ma: Yeah. They died. There is no one left.
Zhang: No landlord is left?
Ma: Yeah. All gone.
Zhang: Did they all die at that time?
Ma: They didn’t have a lot of people then. He didn’t have anyone. Didn’t have a son. He got old.
Zhang: Where did he live when you lived in his house?
Ma: At the time of the Land Reform, he was already gone. He lived somewhere else. One or two people left in the family lived somewhere else. It was his house. They had one or two people left. They moved to other houses in this bay. Now there is no one left.
Zhang: Was this house handed out to you?
Ma: Yes. Handed out to me.
Ma: It was the Land Reform. People got lands or something. I was originally from this place and had two houses. I bought two houses after they were gone. Originally, we two brothers had three houses.
Zhang: Like that one.
Ma: Those five. Bought two. There’s another one near the kitchen.
Zhang: You bought all of them.
Ma: Yeah, those five.
Zhang: Do you remember the things during the Cultural Revolution? 1966.
Ma: Yeah, 1966. Right. The Cultural Revolution in 1966. In 1966, I started living in this house before the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang: Do you remember any stories from that time?
Ma: The Cultural Revolution? During the Cultural Revolution, nothing happened in our bay. I was the team leader then. Deputy team leader.
Zhang: You were the deputy team leader? Before or after the Cultural Revolution?
Ma: A few years before the Cultural Revolution to later in the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang: Did people say things about you because you were the team leader?
Ma: We didn’t have that stuff. There weren’t many people here. Several tens of people. Seventy people.
Zhang: Did anyone criticize anyone?
Ma: Not here, no. I was the team leader and there were some people saying things, but no criticisms. Things were like that when you were a team leader. Importantly, things were always jumbled. I had to brag a little when it comes to farming. How could I not brag? I couldn’t care that much. We needed ploughing and planting. How could we collect the grains otherwise? Things stay the same now. Families needed to compete to farm…if you were completely honest, how could there be income? No income. At any time, we still need to compete to work and endure enough bitterness. Where are you coming from?
Zhang: I am Zuhua’s daughter. I’m coming to interview the seniors in the village. I am documenting your stories.
Ma: Oh, sorry for bothering you.
Zhang: No, no. It’s just that if you don’t tell these stories, people after you will not be able to know them.
Ma: That’s true. It’s good to tell them about our sufferings. If you don’t endure the worst, you can’t be the best. No matter how high your position is, right? Even you are a high position official, you need to taste bitter before sweet. There’s no such thing as to taste sweet before bitter. You should tell them that, no matter what society they are in, you have to farm as a farmer. Fields need people to plough. In any society, you need to turn the soil over here and there. If you don’t grow crops, what can you eat in future? Fields will be wasted. I am saying the truth. Jiang Jieshi or any other leader, when you follow that leader, you have to grow crops.
Zhang: Which leader is your favorite?
Ma: If we don’t grow crops and only do that, we won’t have incomes. How can some people, including the farmers, eat? What can anyone eat? Nothing.
Zhang: Why do you think farmers like you didn’t have food in 1959?
Ma: That was because the country was in trouble. You couldn’t say there was no trouble. The country…every family has problems too. The country didn’t have problems? It did. Today is very different from that period.
Zhang: Do you have anything else to say here?
Ma: Nothing. It was just mainly about grains. The country wanted grains too. The country had a lot of families and a lot of mouths to feed, yet the income was low. Its’ not like now—an acre yields thousands…over a thousand jin. It only yielded several hundred jin. The income was much smaller, only half of the present. At first, four or five hundred jin were a fair amount. That many grains per an acre of land. This place produces one thousand and one or two hundred and that place one thousand and two or three hundred. This is double the amount. The seeds are different. The key is the seeds. That’s why we have a bigger income now. One load of wheat per one dou of land was considered good harvest. In the past, it was good harvest when one dou of the field yielded over two hundred, two or three hundred jin. Such little amount. Now one acre…one dou yields over six hundred jin. One acre means over a thousand jin.
Zhang: People have enough to eat now?
Ma: Yes. One thousand and two or three hundred.
Zhang: Do you have enough to eat now?
Ma: Yes. The country has stuff now.
Zhang: How do you compare the present to the past?
Ma: Heaven to earth. For example, like I just said, one load of wheat per one dou of land (in the past). One acre of the land produces four to five hundred jin now.
Zhang: Okay, I will give you the photos next time I come back. I’ve taken some pictures of you, and I will give them to you next time I come back.
Ma: Okay, okay. Sorry for bothering you guys.
Zhang: No, no. It’s what I do. I should do it.
Ma: It’s a lot of work. It needs you to think. Think. We are old and we can’t do it anymore.
Zhang: What did you want to do the most when you were young?
Ma: Individuals couldn’t think for themselves when I was young. Couldn’t think of things.
Zhang: Did you have some…wishes?
Ma: I cannot think of any. What could I do? I couldn’t manage anything without others’ help.
Zhang: So, did you think about it then? You thought about it, right?
Ma: Yeah, but I didn’t get any titles.
Zhang: What did you think of? When you were young.
Ma: When I was young, I wanted to do something in the team. Didn’t have anyone to turn to. It was impossible to ask for a title.
Zhang: Do you have any wishes now?
Ma: Now I am too old. Even if I were a cadre, I would have retired long ago. I’m two years from 80 years old. What can I think of? I can’t think of anything. If I were a cadre, I would have retired long ago.
Zhang: How many years did you work as the team leader?
Ma: Two or three, four years.
Zhang: How was life as the team leader?
Ma: It got a little better in the end.
Zhang: When you were the team leader?
Ma: Later on, when I was the team leader. Especially the 1959. That was not okay. The 1950s…There was…
Zhang: Okay. You are cold. I will stop bothering you. You look very cold.
Ma: I’m not cold. I’m not cold. You are a little cold.
Zhang: I’m a little cold too.
Ma: Yeah, you are a little cold.
Zhang: You can continue your work then. I’m leaving.
Zhang: Thank you.
Ma: Sorry for bothering you.
Zhang: I will give you the photos next time.
Ma: Okay. Thank you.
Zhang: You can work now. I’m going. Goodbye.