Monday, December 21, 2009

Farmers’ Means of Coping

Josh Hersh wrote an article a few months ago on how Lebanese eat unripe fruits (janerik, unripe plums is one example). He asked me why do we do that, and I gave a few suggested explanations. Here's more stuff on the subject sent to me by Daniel, from an article in Monthly Review:

We know that many farmers engaged in individual acts of coping during the Great Leap Forward, such as “moyanggong” (pretend to work but actually not working), and chiqing (eating green crops before they matured). As someone who worked on a collective farm for many years, moyanggong and chiqing appearto me to be a necessary part of dealing with daily life during the Great Leap Forward, rather than individual forms of resistance against government policies or officials. What else could people do, when they were exhausted from hard work but did not feel it was right to stop working completely while others worked on? It was appropriate to engage in moyanggong as a way of taking a break, and other farmers understood.

Chiqing was another accepted and widespread practice during the Great Leap Forward, necessitated by the long working hours and short supplies of food. Farmers ate whatever they could lay their hands on to satisfy their hunger, not to demonstrate their anger or resistance to the government’s policies and officials. When I was working on a collective farm after the Great Leap Forward, it was an acceptable practice to eat a limited amount of green wheat, green corn, tender sweet potatoes and tender peanuts, turnips, and cabbages. We sometimes cooked green corn, soybeans, and even sweet potatoes in the fields. Farmers in Shandong called this shao pohuo (build a small fire in the field). Afterwards, we would start a game of chi yao mohui (trying to darken each other’s face with our blackened hands). Boys tried that with girls, and girls tried that with boys. Production team leaders engaged in this game with ordinary villagers, as well. Without understanding the social context of these practices, it is easy to see them as everyday resistance.

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