Yi Minority Village Human Ecology Research Project

Sugu Village, 4 Zu by Rose Acock, June 1997


The village of Sugu was studied during a five-day research trip from 24th March 1997 to 28th March 1997. The purpose of the research is as follows.

Overall Aim

To better understand Yi Minority villages with a view to developing poverty alleviation projects in this and other remote Yi villages.

Detailed Aims

  1. Investigate household strategies of poor villagers.
  2. Identify cultural differences and/or difficulties between Yi and Han Nationalities.
  3. Investigate living conditions relating to basic needs.
  4. Investigate connections and relationships between this village and other villages/ families/ Han areas/ administrative village etc.
  5. Survey women's tasks and responsibilities, kinship relations.
  6. Identify possible means of relieving poverty in poor Yi villages, using Rural People's Knowledge and local resources as a basis.


Village survey include yearly plan of tasks Observation, group discussion, games, discussion about ideals, drinking water, irrigation water, housing, health, electricity use, schooling etc. Household survey of poor households. Discussions and conversations about connections, who does what, who comes and goes, where villagers gather information from, village elders, trades people. Talk to admin. village leaders, village leaders and group leaders. Observation/participation in women's daily routine and mapping tasks for seasonal differences over year and life-cycle and position in household. Ask where women come from, marriage dowry, maps, assess connections with other village areas. Discuss personal plans or village plans, ideas about what is necessary for development, assess village resources and resource use


Selection of the location was made by myself with assistance from the Poverty Alleviation Office (PAO) in Hanyuan upon the following specifications. The village should be an Yi Minority Village designated as one of the poorest 28 villages in Hanyuan. The village be remote and only accessible on foot, this would be more representative of the other Yi villages in Hanyuan.


5 days residing in the village, staying at the Zu leaders house.


For ease of research and minimal disruption to everyday life in the village, accompanying people were kept to a minimum. I was accompanied by a Yi woman from the Administrative Government, Ms Gan. No other local government or PAO people accompanied.


Hanyuan County

Hanyuan County has a population of 340,000, of which 93% are rural. The County is situated 300 km SW of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Hanyuan is a provincial level 'Poverty County' with average income at 872 RMB (£000067) per capita and grain production of 436 Kg. The average cultivable land is only 1 mu per person, which is 1/15th of a hectare. Much of the cultivable land is steep hillside with dry soils. The main industry is agriculture followed by mining of coal, minerals and building materials.

Sugu Village

Sugu Village is one of the villages under the administrative area of Wusihe Zhen. It is situated high up on the hillside above the Dadu River. Wusihe, in the far south of Hanyuan is the only train station in this County, and the two nearby counties. There is no road to Sugu from Wusihe, it is a walk of nearly two hours up the steep mountain side high above the Dadu River. A horse track is being built and is nearly completed. The village is settled into the hillside on a flatter part of the mountain, above the village is steeper uncultivable mountain slopes.

The village of Sugu is divided into hamlets called zu, the study took place primarily in No. 4 Zu and some in No. 5. Hanyuan is known for its hot dry climate and frequent droughts. In Sugu only one season of crops can be grown each year. The soil is thin and stony. Higher up the mountain side is scrub vegetation and trees where fuel wood is gathered.

The village is a cluster of mud brick houses with tiled roofs, nestled against the hillside. Rocks protrude between the houses and village paths wind between them. Most of the village land is alongside and below the village houses.

There is a very small stream piped to the village from 2.5 km away. This source is not sufficient for household needs and dries up in winter. There is no electricity supply to the village. The 118 people in this village are mainly of the Yi Minority. Some can speak Mandarin but the older people and women in particular can only speak Yi. Very few people have occupations outside the village, most are engaged in agriculture tending their household plots and raising livestock. Occasionally men find labouring work outside the village.

Village land was divided into plots per household in 1982 according to the number of persons in the household. Subsequent changes in the household size and divisions have left some households very short of land. Since 1982 the land has not been re-divided. In addition to cultivable land each household has an allocation of hillside land largely unsuitable for crop cultivation.

Sugu Village Survey Results

The following is a combination of methods presenting the data collected for this study. Firstly the text explains the main results of the 'Poverty Household' questionnaire in general terms. Households are categorised into 'Poor' and 'Particularly Poor' by the Poverty Alleviation Office. Sugu Village 4 Zu has 12 'Poor Households' and 4 'Particularly Poor' households. All of the 'Poor' households were included in the 'Poor Household' survey. The results are in Table 1 and the full responses in Annex1 (no tables on this page - available on request).

The Household Farm

Household strategies in Sugu revolve around the smallholding. Subsistence food crops are grown and a small number of livestock reared. There is a shortage of cultivable land in the village and the soils are dry.


The dry cultivable land belonging to this zu is only 66.4 mu (4.5 ha), if divided equally this would be 0.15 ha farm size. There is a very small area of paddy land, 2-3 mu, which is irrigated by a nearby stream and farmed by a couple of households. Households also have a section of mountain land, this is usually forested or scrub vegetation, and primarily used for fuel wood collection. Each household has about 20 mu although there is great variety in the size of plots in the 'Poor' household sample from zero to 60 mu in a household. The dry fields are stony, and terraced in places to make a gentler slope gradient. The main grain crops are summer crops of maize and sweet potatoes. Some of the maize is swapped for rice the preferred crop for human consumption. Other common staple crops are potatoes, soybeans and sorghum, and it is usual for households to grow five or six different staples in a year. Some vegetables and pig fodder are grown on small plots near the houses. Other food crops include potatoes and soya beans. Sorghum is grown to brew sorghum wine, a popular drink of the Yi people.

Around one third of the harvested grain is used as animal feed. The yearly grain production in the 12 households varied between 800 and 1360kg. On a per person basis this figure is 240 to 450 kg, or an average of 298 kg person per year.

In addition to crops grown on the dry land and the paddy land households have a variety of other produce from the mountains that are used as fodder for livestock, and for human consumption. Such as ferns, mushrooms, and various wild plants and fruit.

Each household grows a variety of grain crops, along with beans. The areas grown to each grain depends on the quality of land, the consumption needs of the household members and livestock, bearing in mind that the excess can be sold or exchanged for rice or income for farm or household use. The paddy land is always used for paddy as this is a high yielding crop and the preferred food grain crop. As there are no winter grain crops grown the soils are bare over winter. This lack of a winter crop also encourages people to grow summer crops that store well.

Apart from the crop land previously mentioned each household has a very small vegetable garden of 0.1 to 0.2 mu. Here vegetables for family consumption are grown, also vegetables such as 'houpicai' are grown for feeding the pigs. Fruit trees may also be grown in these walled/fenced off areas, protected from the grazing livestock.

Mountain Resources

In terms of area, this is the largest land resource of the Sugu farms. It is not used to grow grain crops although the people of Sugu have many other uses for it. In discussions with the leader and the Party Secretary the following list and classification was made of the trees in Sugu and their uses. This includes an indication on a scale of 0 to 25 use with 25 being high use (Table 2). Of these trees some most of the fruit trees are bought as saplings and others grow wild. Some are grown in the fields or in small orchards and vegetable gardens adjacent to houses.

The Mountain land has other uses, the most important are fuel-wood collection and grazing livestock, fresh animal fodder and goat bedding are also collected from there, particularly in the winter when there is not much fresh greens to feed the pigs. The mountain land is also the catchment area for the spring that runs near the village that provides them with their fresh drinking water. Women also collect medicinal plants, fungus and wild fruits.

Agricultural Calendar

Through discussions with farmers in Sugu the Agriculture Calendar Table, below, represents the basic agricultural calendar emphasising periods of particular labour requirements. The women in Sugu pointed out that they had many agricultural other tasks that had to be completed on a regular basis throughout the year. Also many tasks that could be done at any time so were saved for the less busy agricultural periods, such as grinding maize, taking kernels off the cobs, sorting beans, drying greens for the pigs over winter etc. Feeding of livestock also took up several hours a day.

Table: Agricultural Tasks over the Year Agricultural Calendar

Approx. Dates

Zheng Yue 8th Feb to 8th March

Second Month 9th March to 6th April

Third Month 7th April to 5th May

Fourth Month 6th May to 4th June

Fifth Month 5th June to 4th July

Sixth Month 5th July to 2nd August


Plant potatoes and sweet potatoes plant fruit trees Fetch fuel wood from mountain side

Plant soybeans, peanuts, sorghum, butter beans, maize Fertilise

Plant vegetables - green beans, peas, radish, cabbage, Plant maize, transplant rice seedlings

Plant tomatoes, chilli, rice Pick cherries

Weeding, fertilising Pick green beans and cabbage Peach and plum ripe

Weeding End of month harvest peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans

Labour requirement in the fields

5 hours

5 hours

5 hours

10 hours

10 hours

10 hours

Approx. Dates

Seventh Month 3rd August 1st September

Eighth Month 2nd September to 1st October

Ninth Month 2nd October to 30th October

Tenth Month 31st October to 29th Nov

Eleventh Month 30th Nov to 29th Dec

Twelfth Month 30th December to 27th January


Pick apples, Fertilise maize

Harvest maize, sorghum, fruit End of month harvest walnuts

Harvest maize, rice Hang maize cobs to dry Dig over fields and leave over winter

Dig over fields Pick maize kernels from cobs Yi Minority new year celebration

Cut firewood and stack up

Cut firewood and stack up Fetch fuel wood from mountainside Celebrate Spring festival

Labour requirement in the fields

10 hours

10 hours

7 hours

5 hours

5 hours

5 hours

Animal Husbandry

All the households in the survey had livestock. Each of the households in the 'Poor Household' survey raised 2 or more pigs. Pigs are primarily raised for fertiliser and for the household meat and oil requirement for the year. Eight households ate one of their pigs and two households ate 2. One of the households keep a mother pig, another 6 households in the village raise piglets for sale, which can be a good income earning method. Pigs are fed sweet potatoes, greens and maize meal which has to be cooked up twice a day. In winter they eat grasses from the hillside and dried greens, and are sometimes put out to forage in the village.

Cattle are common in Sugu with two thirds of the Poor households having them. Numbers ranged between one and four. They are used for ploughing the fields. During the winter they can be grazed on the hillside. They are more usually taken up the hillside and fetched on a daily basis. During the summer they are watched for fear of coming back into the village and eating the crops. Their grazing is supplemented with grain.

Goats are kept by some households, five of the Poor Households had goats, one household had 2 the others had 8, 10 or 20. These animals are kept for their meat, but are only killed at times of necessity, such as celebrations or to welcome visitors. They can also be sold in times of need. They an also graze alone up the hillside in winter and with watching during summer.

Courtyards have chickens running around. They are fed grain and scraps, all of the households bar one in the survey kept some chickens two to ten.

There are no horses in the sample households although some people expressed interest in buying one when the horse track is completed.

Off-farm Labour

Only one of the households reported any income from off-farm sources in the Poor Household survey. This was the school teacher who earned 120 RMB. According to the village leader other men in the village have off-farm employment, a man from each of HH12 HH16 and HH26 have gone to find employment in a nearby mine, this work is found for during the slack period only. The son of HH21 and HH27 has gone abroad labouring, the pay is high but they need to pay about 2,000 RMB to start off. It is difficult to get such work. Contracts are for 2 or 6 years. The man from HH 25 has gone off in search of work, they are a particularly poor household, his wife died several years ago leaving three children and his elderly partial sighted mother. He was unable to make ends meet through agriculture as he was the only labourer, so now he is trying to find work during the slack period to supplement their income.

Social Structure and Kinship Networks of Sugu Village 4 Zu

(Many references in this section refer to a diagram and tables of the kinship network - available on request) It is a patrilineal system, with the family land and property being divided on marriage of a son. One of the sons does not leave the family unit but remains with the parents, the father remains household head. The Zu is primarily one clan, named Pu. According to the Zu leader the households are divided into three Pu family groups. Only one group of families is not part of the clan, that of the only Hans the Hu's. As is usual in both Han and Yi villages, daughters marry out of the family and out of the village. Where there is no son such as Pu Guoyou (HH7) and Pu Youfu (HH11) the daughter remained in the village and a man married into the village (HH 8 and HH12).

Households are mostly two or three generations. The one generation households in the village are that of the newly married (HH16) and an elderly couple whose only son is in prison (HH13).

Linkages between households are strong, particularly along close kinship lines such as brothers and father and son. Households help each other out during busy agricultural periods and often do tasks together. The assistance given and received includes all the households in the Zu, including those with remote or no family ties such as the Han families.

Women marry into or out of the village around age 20. The oldest unmarried woman in the village is 19. They marry to nearby Yi villages. The natal villages of the women who had married into the village are shown in Table 4.

The table shows that women marry into Sugu from Sugu village and the neighbouring Juetuo Village, as well as several villages in the nearby County Ganluo. The Zu leaders wife knew the origin of all the women in the village the village leader knew most of them.

The villages considered poorer than Sugu 4 Zu are Ganluo Erping, and Ganluo Da Qiao Xiang Buyi. The table shows that all the women that moved from these places are living in 'Poor Households' or Particularly Poor Households'.

Discussing marriage customs with Gan Zhuren and the Zu leader they said the villages the women come from are similar to Sugu, suggesting that the men of Sugu marry women from similar villages. However, the table shows that this also applies to the household level, men from the poorer households marry women from the poorer villages. One village is significantly wealthier than Sugu 4 Zu, Matuo Xiang, Fuxing Village, the women from this village married into the only household in Sugu 4 Zu described by the villagers as wealthy. It is also a Han village, and the household the woman married into is a Han household.

The table also shows that the closer kinship groups in the village have particular marriage relationships with certain villages, for example The son-in-law from HH12 was introduced Sugu by a women who was originally from his village, to marry her daughter. All the women from Juetuo Village 2 Zu are from kinship group 3.

Discussions with women from Sugu showed that their connections with their natal villages remained strong. They would visit when they had spare time, help with agriculture and other tasks, and information about village affairs was passed quickly between villages through these natal kinship networks. These women also have a role in introducing new marriage partners to their friends and relatives in their natal villages. There is no one matchmaker in the village. When a woman reaches marriageable age she and her parents start asking around to be introduced to men. Similarly men's families help them to find a partner. If the couple are not happy with the match then the process starts over again. According to the village leader there is no pressure to marry if either side is not satisfied. Also the women have the opportunity to visit the village of the man to see the village conditions and households conditions as well as the man himself, before she commits herself. This differs from traditional Yi marriage practices where weddings were arranged by parents without consulting their sons and daughters; sometimes the couple had not even met before their wedding day.

Gender Division of Labour

The are distinct gender divisions of labour both in principle and practice, however, they are flexible allowing for differences in household composition.

For example it is often said that the men are 'outside' and the women 'inside'. Outside refers to agricultural work but also to finding off-farm employment and doing farm related business off the farm. 'Inside' refers to the family, the house and those activities related to the house, such as raising children, preparing and cooking food, growing vegetables, feeding livestock kept in the courtyard. Men are also said to do the heavy work whereas women are said to do the lighter tasks. In discussing with several villagers tasks of men and women it was agreed that men and women could do all of the stated tasks, but it was common for there to be a gender division.

Table 5: Common Tasks by Gender Frequency

Women's Tasks


Men's Tasks



Twice daily

Clean out animal sty


Carry water

Twice daily

Carry fertiliser

3-4 times a year

Feed pigs

Twice daily

Manage livestock


Feed cows

Twice daily

Cut wood

one month 5hrs a day

Feed goats

Twice daily - except winter

Carry wood to house

Two weeks once a year

Feed chickens


Plough land

once a year

Look after children

All day

Harvest walnuts

several days per year

Wash clothes


Carry fruit


Grind grain


Carry maize

several days per year

Mend clothes


Hang maize to dry

several days per year



Cut maize stalks and bring to house

several days per year

Exchange maize for rice


House building

several days per year

Spread fertiliser

3-4 times a year

Mend bricks

several days per year

Pick fruits


Make baskets

several days per year


Few hours per week in summer

Make tools

several day per year


Buy fertiliser

once or twice per year


Kill goats and pig

once a year


During the stay in the village observation of gender division of tasks showed the following variances to this division: An elderly man looking after a baby, a man fetching water in a back bucket, three women carrying wood. The reasons given for this are that the elderly man would be caring for the baby while the baby's mother was working in the fields. Carrying wood is a mans job, but they cannot always be relied on to do it when it is needed, as they may be engaged in other tasks or out of the village. If a woman's husband is out of the village then she would do all the men's tasks too, particularly the heavier agricultural work.

The jobs the women do are the more time consuming, they are jobs that need to be done on a regular basis, and they do the major part of domestic work. The tasks of preparing animal feeds, preparing and cooking food for the family, collecting water, grinding grain, washing clothes, cleaning up can take four or more hours a day. On top of this women put in several hours a day in the fields, and more in the busy season. The men talk about the busy season, but for women they are busy all year round just especially busy during the agricultural busy period. Mending clothes is also a time consuming task that they do when they have a spare moment. Women's work can also involve heavy work such as carrying wood, carrying water, etc. When one woman told me what she does in a day I asked when she rested, she said 'Only when I go to bed at night'.

One evening a group of women gathered in one of the houses, they were asked what they had been doing that day and what they planned to do the following day. Here are their responses:

Women from HH27: 'I planted sweet potatoes. Tomorrow I will finish planting the sweet potatoes then prepare the fields for planting maize. Next week I will begin planting maize, preparing the soil and spreading the fertiliser.'

Woman from HH23: 'After the morning chores I took my baby and went to the house of (No. 27) and pounded husks off 15 kg of rice. It took 6 hours.'

Woman from HH24: 'I sorted the soya beans ready for planting, selecting the biggest ones.'

They were asked what tasks they did every day: 'First feed chickens and dog, make breakfast, make the pig feed and feed the pigs, then go out into the fields work for 5-6 hours, return home prepare the evening meal, feed the pigs and chickens and dog. In the evening patch the clothes or take the corn kernels from the cobs.' 'We also have to grind the maize but not every day. It takes one and a half hours to grind 5 kg.'

The women said they thought getting electricity to the village was the most important to them as it would relieve them of the heavy burden of grinding the maize by hand, and pounding the rice. They would also have light in the evenings to sew by, instead of the small flamed oil lamp.

Marriage and Funeral Customs

There is no dowry upon marriage, but there is a bride price upon engagement. The bride price quoted by the village leader here is 4-500 RMB (£000030-40). The wedding celebrations last several days in Yi villages and are very traditional with special costumes. There is an elaborate way of the grooms family going to meet the bride at her house feasting then bringing her back to the grooms house for more celebrations.

The village has a special 'burial' ground which is a small wood of mature trees in front of the village houses clearly visible from the village and standing out as it is the only mature clump of trees to be seen. Here all the villagers are buried. They do not use coffins but carry the body to the site, arrange a small circle of stones and place the body in it. Wood is piled up over the body 7 layers for women and nine for men and the pile set alight. The body is completely burnt. This site is considered sacred. The trees cannot be cut down except to provide wood for the funerals.

Lending and Borrowing

Informal lending and borrowing is very common. In the Poor Household Survey, 9 of the 12 households had borrowed money. People borrow from their friends and relatives in this Zu and relatives in other Zu. As well as borrowing money, households may also have several other families that they have lent money to. The loans are informal with no interest and pay back timing depends on both the economic conditions of the lender and borrower. Some people borrow for seasonal large purchases such as buying of a pig or fertiliser that may be several hundred RMB, others borrow more substantial amounts for the building of a house, wedding or funeral, or in case of illness. This is another strategy for stable livelihood especially for those households that do not earn enough for them to build up their own economic security.


There is a school in 5 Zu, a 20 minute walk from 4 Zu, which serves both 5 Zu and 4 Zu. It has one full time state teacher and one 'minban' (local) teacher. Both the teachers are men from 4 Zu, they still have land, and receive pay insufficient to depend on. The school is two very small rooms (20m2 each). The two teachers teach two years each out of the 6 years of primary school. So the school cannot take on new pupils every year. The school has a small blackboard and chalk , no lighting, wooden benches and desks. There are no windows, but a few transparent tiles in the roof to let light in. Each teacher teaches two years simultaneously. Each of the two classes had about 10 students, and all the desks were filled.

There are many children who do not attend school as their parents cannot afford the school fees that are about 100 RMB per semester. In 4 Zu there are 17 children who do not go to school, 13 girls and 4 boys. One boy does not pay school fees as he has learning difficulties and does the same year over and over again using his old books. Eleven of the children not in school are from 'Poor' or 'Particularly Poor' households. Some of those not at school have dropped out after about 4 years, some are still only 6 or 7 years old and may start later.

Reasons given by women for the higher number of boys than girls not at school is firstly that girls help with the farm and house work, secondly that they will leave the household when they get married.

Of the women in the village many cannot read or write. According to the Zu leader of the 27 married women 20 cannot read or write and 7 have some primary education. From the poor household survey of 12 households only one married woman had any education whereas three men had primary education and two had lower middle school education. It is clear then that the education level of the people of Sugu is low, also that there is a bias in favour of men.

This lack of education has particular significance for women. The Yi minority have a language different from Chinese. The people in this village cannot write Yi but they all use it as their main language. When children start school the text books and lessons are all in Mandarin, so first they have to get to grips with the new language. The educated people therefore can speak and understand Mandarin and therefore can communicate with Han Chinese, but women that have not been to school and children who have not started school cannot speak Mandarin. Some of the women can understand some Mandarin, but do not speak it, similarly some of the children,, although they had learnt some at school were embarrassed about speaking it to for fear of mispronunciation. The village leader and Party Secretary both spoke Mandarin as well as Yi language. The school teacher said that some of the children have difficulty when they first start school. In places that are Yi minority autonomous regions or areas the schools are permitted to teach written and spoken Yi as well as Mandarin. Here, as Hanyuan is a predominantly Han County they must teach Mandarin. Ms Gan said the parents here want their children to learn Mandarin because then they can communicate with people in the town, it is seen as important to be successful. Perhaps in addition to the reasons given preferring boys to girls for getting an education would include that men may seek labouring work off the farm therefore need to be able to speak Mandarin. According to the village leader no one in this village can write Yi. He said that only the very wealthy households before the revolution educated their children.

For women this is a problem as when officials come to the village the women cannot understand them, so they are not asked questions and their views and opinions are not heard. Also it is traditional for women to greet women visitors, so when the officials come (almost all of which are men) the women stay away more so than if the visitors were women.

Health and well-being

There is no clinic in the village. For medical treatment villagers either treat themselves or go to the town to the clinic there. All medical services must be paid for with the exception of women's health checks. These checks are compulsory for all married women. Every three months they receive notification to go to Wusihe clinic. Ms Gan said it is for a health check to see they have no gynaecological problems, but also to check for pregnancy.

The birth control policy is strictly implemented here. Yi Minority people are allowed two children with a certain interval between, in some circumstances a third is permitted. One woman had a child when she was 18, earlier than she should have and was fined 50 RMB, that was over 10 years ago. The Zu leader had a third child as his oldest son has learning difficulties. The most common form of birth control used here is IUD according to Ms Gan.

Women give birth to children at home, there is no midwife as such although women from the village assist. The new born babies are taken to the clinic for a series of injections for vaccinations when they are a few months old

There are some disabled people in the village. One 5 year old boy has a condition where he cannot walk at all, his spine is deformed. He cannot talk normally, although some people could understand him, and he has poor eyesight looking out if the corner of one eye. One girl lost a hand when playing with explosives. In 5 Zu there is a teenager of short stature and a man with severe curvature of the spine he cannot walk but is well educated and helps out at the school, he is in his 50s and has never married. The son of the leader in 4 Zu had epilepsy and suffered brain damage during a seizure. His father took him for treatment in Chengdu at much expense to the family, brain scans showed that he had received brain damage. He is at school but cannot study past the first or second year.

Several of the village women have ides over the last few years, there were no reported deaths among the men. Of the women one died in a traffic accident in 1984, one died after childbirth seven years ago, one died of disease aged about 50, one young mother died of cancer several months ago, and a 14 year old girl died months after an injury. This information was given by the village leader when writing a list of households. If men had died their remaining family may have left the village (returning to the woman's natal village, or been accepted into another family.

People suffer from common ailments such as rheumatism and arthritis, lung problems, one boy had a minor eye inflammation. With such problems, if the household could afford it they may buy medicine from a shop in the town, or take a local herbal remedy that they brew themselves. The Yi have other ways of curing illness. On the path one day there were branches and a large stone. That signified the way some illness are cured. The stone is heated in the ashes of the fire then put in water when it is very hot, the ailing part of the body is then held over the steam. The rock is then thrown out of the house symbolising throwing out of the disease. It is not clear what type of health problems this is used for or how common the method is.

There are three people in the village population of 118 people who are over 70 years old. A woman 78, and two men 74 and 75.

Paying for medical treatment can cause great difficulties and hardship for a household. If someone is ill and needs to receive hospital treatment the full costs have to be borne by the household. There is no health insurance in the village. Some of the poorest households are the result of serious or protracted illnesses. When their own savings are used up people borrow from relatives and friends in the village, they may then sell livestock, then request assistance from more distant friends and relatives. Repaying this money is a great problem, as their yearly income is barely sufficient to meet their own consumption needs. If the ill person subsequently dies and they were one of the household labourers, the repaying of this money becomes almost impossible, as just the maintenance of the smallholding is difficult due to reduced labour. A household can go rapidly from an above subsistence household to a Particularly Poor household in these situations. For example HH6. One of the children in this family died after an accident, for medical treatment the household borrowed money from their friends and relatives, they still owe 3,000 RMB. Two of the particularly poor households are those with children but no mother in HH25 the three children do not attend school and HH15 the one school age child does not go to school and the family have debts of over 5,000 RMB according to the Zu leader.

Living Conditions

The village houses are made of mud and brick with tiled roofs. Attached to the houses are small animal sheds also mud brick, this area is often enclosed within a courtyard. Houses are often 4 rooms: an entrance room with a table and some sacks of seeds and agricultural tools, then 2 entranceways into the main room where a stick fire is burnt on the centre of the floor, here the cooking is done. The two entranceways have particular significance and it is important to use the correct one. One is for guests and respected elders and the other is for the family and women in particular. This room may contain wooden chests or earthenware jars for storing grain, and perhaps a cupboard for kitchen utensils. This room is dark with one small window. People sit on very low blocks of wood or sacks around the fire, often over the fire is a shelf structure. The room is black from the wood smoke. There is no chimney. At the end of the room where the supports are for the shelf over the fire, the area behind the poles is forbidden for women. Similarly it is not allowed to pass things between the fire and the supports or to walk between. These traditions are strictly adhered to, it is thought bad luck to contravene them. At the end of the room is a bedroom with a wooden bed, sacks of grain, clothing hanging around. There is often no furniture for storing clothes. The floors of the houses are packed mud. The ceiling is bamboo strips over wooden beams. Door and window frames are of unpainted wood, most windows have no glass and are small squares. The houses are very dark inside. Farm tools are stored in the house, there is no separation of farming and living articles.

The housing conditions vary, with the wealthier households having a bowl cupboard and chests for storing clothes. The less well-off may have fewer rooms and less furniture and tools, with just one tatty quilt for the bed and several people in one bed. There is no running water in any of the houses.

Water is fetched from the plastic pipe in wooden back buckets, some households have a cement chest in the kitchen for storing the water. Only three of the Particularly Poor households owned one watch, and none of them had a bicycle or radio.

Families usually eat two meals a day, with the main food being ground maize, this is coarsely ground and steamed. It is eaten by the bowl full with accompanying dishes of fresh or preserved vegetables or meat. On special occasions a goat would be killed and a stew made for the village to share. Guests are given laji which is a strong green oily tea, or ladu which is sweet fermented rice with mixed with ground maize for a warming thick drink. The Yi also drink home brewed Sorghum wine with a bamboo straw straight from the earthenware jars it is brewed in on special occasions.


Implications for Rural Development

The five day study in this village revealed the particular problems this village and some of the needs of the villagers. It highlights the following the villagers can assess their own situation and hindrances to improving their standard of living. The villagers have different opinions and views as to what is important to improve their livelihoods, these are particularly prominent along gender lines. Extreme poverty is often the result of circumstances outside of the control of the household such as marrying into a poor household, or a death in family causing debts and or labour shortage.

For Sugu Village 4 Zu the villagers pointed out their lack of cultivable land as a limiting factor, along with lack of irrigation water and electricity. Agricultural extension in the county tends to focus on grain crops, whereas the area of land for grain crops is very limited and already intensively farmed, villagers are willing to further intensify the use of this land by irrigation, if they can get the funding to divert a water source. However, there main resource is the mountain land which although provides a lot of resources for household use, there has been no support for these pursuits.

Women see getting electricity as the most important task, to run milling machinery thus ridding them of frequent tiring chore of grinding the grain. The tasks women and men do must also be taken into account with any plan for the village. Women are already busy and have many tasks that need doing on a daily basis. They could only take on extra tasks that fit in with their existing responsibilities. Men's busy periods are more seasonal, and other than the busy agricultural periods any other tasks can be fitted into available time.

A rural credit scheme may assist women such as raising more pigs. Now the horse track is nearly completed taking pigs to market is much easier and becoming an attractive option to the women.

Education of children is a problem that will inhibit Sugu's development, with many girls dropping out of school or receiving no schooling. Many women without an education cannot communicate with Han people from outside the village. The study also revealed that the main reason for raising livestock as goats and cows is to insure against unexpected expenditure such as during times of illness. Therefore the rationale behind increasing stock is not to sell them regularly to improve the daily standard of living, but to improve their long term stability. Similarly they grow a number of grain crops to ensure they will have one good crop if one fails.

Follow up report in April 1999