By Kevin J. Anderson
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My love of books began when the flames of the Cultural Revolution destroyed a hitherto happy childhood. I was being reduced to tears by bullies on a daily basis, and so one of my language teachers took pity on me and hid me in a back room filled with books which he had saved from the Red Guards’ bonfires. In this cubbyhole (as I have described in The Good Women of China), its window pasted over with newspaper, I began to read by the light let in through a small hole. The first great work of literature which was to offer me an escape from my misery was a Chinese translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables; I was surprised, as I glanced down the first page, and read about the humiliations suffered by little Cosette as she slaved away in that sordid bar, to realize that there were people in the world very much worse off than I.
In factory dormitories, girls slept seven or eight to a room. They had little enough time to rest from the hard work and overtime they did. Having a fussing, crying baby in the dormitory as well was too much for them. As for renting a place on her own, no child-minder would be willing to squeeze into a single room with her mistress; by now Waiter’s savings were almost gone and she could not, even in her wildest dreams, afford to rent an extra room for the child-minder. For a while, she struggled to make ends meet, but finally had to face the fact that her little baby was losing weight and becoming weaker.
It began with the Xia dynasty (approximately 2070 BC to 1600 BC), and found its most complete form in the Well Field System of the Zhou dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC), and the Equal Field System set up around AD 485 by the Northern Wei rulers. What these had in common with the present system is the principle of allocating fields based on the number of household members. Discrimination in favor of men became, therefore, an immutable law. In AD 485 a list was drawn up of households, and then land was allocated based on the number of permanent household members.