A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

"I didn't expect that it was already this age, and there were such women."

In the WeChat chat box, Yi Xiaohe, who first arrived in a small town in Sichuan, couldn't help but sigh with his friends. She found that the people in the town often used the most casual tone to tell a shocking anecdote, and the eldest wife next door was known to the domestic abusers, but everyone seemed to be used to it and the parties themselves did not want to escape, and she was even a famous matchmaker in the town. Similar moments of contradiction occur frequently in the lives of small-town women, but little is known. Today, in the 21st century, when Beishang Guangguang talks about women's rights, they in marginal towns still repeatedly step into the ancient cycle of reincarnation and live a forgotten life.

"After all, there are too few Liu Xiaoxian, and there are too many 'Nala' in the town to escape." Looking down from everyone, it is an abyss. Yi Xiaohe decided to record the stories that were "not enough for outsiders" in their mouths.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

The stone road of the ancient town, if you look up, you will find that the sky is not spacious, just like the way out for many people in the town, and few people tell them how to go in the future. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

At the end of June 2021, media person Yi Xiaohe finished "Farewell I Don't Want to Say Goodbye", announcing that the public name "Sauke Literature and Art", which has been in business for four years, was officially suspended due to force majeure factors, "writing will continue to write, just because there is no money". The moment she closed the computer, she just wanted to find a place where no one knew her, and she didn't have to explain the ups and downs and choices of the past. She turned off her circle of friends, settled herself in a riverside hut in the countryside of Zigong, her hometown, and returned to the real world to meet real people. The town is small, and she can walk around with a match, and for more than a year, she chatted with hundreds of people in the town, ate together, attended their wedding banquets and funerals, and became one of them.

In the past year or so, Yi Xiaohe observed that all the women in the town were struggling to survive, from ninety old women to seventeen-year-old girls, in order to survive, they also had to face the "patriarchy" and "husband's power" from the male family, as well as the rumors and disciplines at the social level, and move towards their respective lives in active and passive ways. They had nowhere to tell, and even their closest family members didn't have the patience to listen. On the occasion of the publication of the new book, we returned to the memories of the small town with Yi Xiaohe, entered their real lives through her perspective, tore off the label of "small-town women", and saw the specific them.

In recent years, more and more female writers have emerged in China to write non-fiction works about the situation of women. The female protagonists, female writers and female readers in the story explore a kind of resonance of the bottom of the female spirit based on these works, and from this perspective, Yi Xiaohe's "Salt Town" is also included in this context, and she laments the consciousness of the women's growing awakening behind it. But in book signing parties and interviews, whenever talking about the situation of small-town women, she always needs to reiterate her gender-neutral position many times, repeatedly saying that the book "has no intention of provoking gender antagonism", but only hopes to pay more attention to the fate of others. Perhaps we would like to see that in the not-too-distant future, when we talk about the real situation of women, there is no need to add "notes". At that time, this consciousness really stepped out of the female circle and became a consensus at the collective level.

"Salt Town", by Yi Xiaohe, New Classic Amber | Nova Press, February 2023 edition.

Written by Shen Lu

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

Yi Xiaohe is a senior media personality, writer, from Zigong City, Sichuan Province. Founder of the literary public account platform "Seven Writers", "Sauke Literature and Art", and the founder of the historical public account "Search History". He is the author of "Salt Town" and "Do We Still Have Souls".

Suffering does not disappear because of fear of pain

Beijing News: At the book signing that day, a reader asked why we should read a book that might be emotionally draining. Teacher Luo Xin and Jiang Fangzhou each shared their feelings from the perspective of readers. In fact, on another level, you are actually a "first-hand reader" of these stories in "Salt Town", if it were you, how would you respond to that reader's confusion?

Yi Xiaohe: After listening to it that day, I also had a thought at a certain second, if it were me, how would I answer this question. This is based on the consensus among us that real things have power. For some, it's bound to bring some kind of "harm," but I prefer to call it "touch." Especially as a writer, I certainly hope that what it can bring to the reader, or the reader feels, is the latter.

Why is this "touch" sometimes understood as "consumption" or "harm"? The first thing we may need to see here is that suffering does not automatically disappear because of feeling "pain", it is a part of our life, as long as people are alive, all these things in life will come sooner or later, and it takes courage and time to face or accept them. This book, I want to write to all those who care about the fate of others, if we don't care about others, the world may be difficult to change a little better.

Beijing News: I can probably feel the reader's entanglement, worried that the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the suffering of others will drag the already shaky self into the emotional vortex. In fact, before entering "Yanzhen", you once posted a farewell letter on the self-media platform "Shaoke Literature and Art". That year, the business failed, the public number stopped, and the whole environment was shrouded in uncertainty, which was the trough of your life, right? But for you at that time, the experience of more than a year in Yanzhen brought not the imaginary "consumption"...

Yi Xiaohe: Indeed, those years were almost "rock bottom". If I describe the experience of Yanzhen, these stories that happened in the town are actually a kind of "support" for me. As an aside, I myself was an extremely sensitive person when I was a child, and even some classmates around me felt a little "neurotic". When I was a child, my family would order magazines such as "Juvenile Literature", which occasionally had some comics, most of which had no text narration, and I often held a book there alone, crying and laughing, and this tentacle had always grown secretly. Even when I arrived in a small town, I couldn't help but be attracted to some daily life. The quietness of the town also magnifies many overlooked details. In those ordinary and simple daily lives, there is a primordial vitality, and this power does not appear at all times in a superficial appearance.

I remember that there was a lamb shop next to the house where I lived, and I could see a goat or two every time I passed by. Because Yanzhen is close to Fushun County, and Fushun is famous for mutton soup. If you look closely, you will see that the sheep is actually a very sensitive animal, and it seems to have a primitive perception. I would find one less sheep passing by every few days, and one day I even heard a mournful cry through the window, and their fate had long been preordained. I came to realize that many lives in the town were so humble.

I still remember one afternoon that year, Chen Xiu'e in "There Is No My Mother Here" braved the heavy rain to find me and said that she repented, "There is no need for a small person to write it down." Later, we talked for a long time before she changed her words and said let's write it, but can you not use her real name, "I have been deceived too much in my life." Chen Xiu'e also has a dog at home, once went to interview, I brought some pet biscuits, ordinary puppies will see someone hand over small snacks, most of them will wag their tails happily, as a result, her dog is scared and keeps retreating, which shows that it has never been treated kindly before. In fact, why not Chen Xiu'e? We say that man is the measure of all things, but if you look there, animals are mirror images of man.

Even so, the town's women are still struggling with their struggles. That's why I named this book "Salt Town."

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

When Granny Chen, who is in her 90s, speaks, one eye leaves cloudy tears. Once she explained that it was because confinement was broken when she was young. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

Beijing News: The "salt town" here has a bit of a pun. If you use one taste to describe it, read the whole book, why is the tortuous story of 12 women not "bitter", but "salty"? Can you expand on the taste of this salt in "Salt Town"?

Yi Xiaohe: Salt taste is the basis of all tastes, the basis of deliciousness, and it also means that it is the background color of life. Of course, on the one hand, Sichuan produced the salt of the world in ancient times, and Zigong set up a city because of salt, and the town in the book was also set up because of salt; On the other hand, the smell of salt is actually the smell of sweat. People here, 365 days a year, struggle in labor almost every day, the smell of salt is the taste of sweat, and living seems to be the only "meaning" in life. And life in the small town is full of cracks, women often desperately trying to stop the bleeding, while men are sprinkling salt.

When such a life is immersed in an almost everyday pain, what is left is not bitterness, but self-protective "pain without knowing it", because if it hurts all the time, but still has to live, for them, it seems that they can only see that pain as a part of life. There is a local saying in Zigong, "One salt can put a person salty".

In a small town on the edge,

See the bond between individual destiny and place

Beijing News: The administrative name of "Yanzhen" is Xianshi Town, which is a small area under Zigong, Sichuan. It is said that you chose it from three alternative towns, why did you choose this place at that time?

Yi Xiaohe: At that time, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to find a township, which should preferably be mostly aboriginal. It can also retain the local style and attributes as much as possible, and has not yet become a place like Lijiang where the proportion of foreign tourists is gradually rising, you can fully see the changes in people's fate in the changes of the times, and at the same time, it would be better if it could also provide a relatively ample space for the alternation of the old and new eras.

The other two are Niufo Town and Zhao Hua Town, the latter also the hometown of Liu Guangdi, one of the "Six Gentlemen of Peng". Both of these places are good, but relatively speaking, those two towns are farther away from the Zigong city, which may cause it to be less affected by the "new" things in the city. From this point of view, although the town of Senshi is also affected by some tourism, most of the local residents are still aboriginal, if not living here for generations, they have migrated from the vicinity. Its position in the entire coordinate system is the most appropriate, allowing us to see more deeply the bond between a person's destiny and a place.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

Jiankou Village, Xianshi Town. (Photo courtesy of the publisher)

Beijing News: You value whether this place has a "self-tribute attribute", probably because you were born there and know relatively better; Or is it also considered to be more accessible at the language level? Are there big differences in dialects between different regions in Sichuan Province?

Yi Xiaohe: Many outsiders may not know much, but Zigong may be the only one in the entire Sichuan Province that actively distinguishes between flat tongue sounds and upturned tongue sounds, and Zigong is relatively the closest to Mandarin. Many people in other places in Sichuan may ridicule the Zigong people and say, "Ah, you are from the Zigong people." In fact, this pronunciation is wrong, locals know that they are ridiculing when they hear it, and the pronunciation of "Zigong" in Zigong is the same as in Mandarin.

These phonetic and cultural differences are sometimes quite subtle, and only long-term immersion can capture those implications. For example, people in the town will describe Tong Hui as "the corner of clothes (pronounced gege) will be shoveled (chán dáo) people", saying that a person is very cold, does not want to pay attention to others, and can shovel others with the corner of clothes when passing by. I thought at the beginning that I must write these things in the dialect into the book, and the dialect has a vivid and powerful vitality that is not available in the Mandarin system. Conversely, in fact, if a writer wants to really "integrate" into the township in a short period of time, it is undoubtedly the most convenient to return to his hometown.

Beijing News: The town is usually a fairly close-knit acquaintance society, and when you lived in the town as an "outsider", the period of adaptation, or integration, was probably very memorable, right? Is there a gradual opening process with people in town?

Yi Xiaohe: When I first arrived, the priority was naturally how to settle down first. There is indeed a considerable "break" between life in the town and the outside world, and there is hardly any trace of "culture" in our impression here. I once came across a bookstall on the side of the road, and when I looked closer, the scattered books on the stall were still stuck in Chairman Mao's Quotations and Peasant Pictorial, and you would not attract the attention of people around you because you had a book of Yu Xiuhua's poems under your arm. There was also a reading room in town, and I hadn't seen the door open in more than a year. There are also few entertainment venues such as movie theaters, and the only way for locals to relax is to play mahjong.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

There are no bookstores (and perhaps closed) or libraries, and the few bookstalls are stocked with villain books and practical books. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

As a woman, when you first arrive in a strange place, you naturally feel a sense of insecurity, and the door of the house where I lived at the time could be pushed open almost with one hand. But the background of the people in the small town is still rustic, and as you slowly connect with more and more people, the strangeness is quickly diluted by the acquaintance society, and sometimes even crosses the border (laughs). When the town elder Wang called me, almost every time I shouted "Xiao Yi" from far away, at first I was a little embarrassed, I felt that the neighborhood heard it, so embarrassing, like being called by the director of education to talk... After a long time, my own voice gradually became louder, and I can't change it now.

Speaking of getting along with the townspeople, at the end of the book signing that day, a reader chased me outside the door and asked me how I got these women in the town to open up to me. I was curious at the time, and this reader seemed to have a strong attachment to this issue. To be honest, I used to do sports journalism, and the interview resources in that field have a strong "scarcity", and many media are competing for exclusivity, is it because sports stars are not willing to be interviewed? In fact, not exactly, many people who have been immersed in high-intensity sports training since childhood are not very good at expression, and after three words and two words, the ending sentence "you look at it and write", so sports journalists need to arouse their desire to express, maybe that experience is also an exercise for me? (laughs)

In fact, these women in small towns rarely meet people who are willing to listen to their stories, and when you approach another person with sincerity, few people will reject the kindness from the other. I have found that some of those who seem to care less about the fate of others are unconsciously caught up in an imaginary dilemma, either worried that they will not be able to accept it, or worried that they will not be able to enter.

Behind everyone there is a "salt town"

Beijing News: Unlike the female friendship portrayed in many women-themed fictional works in recent years, when we enter the real life of these dozen women in a small town in Sichuan, this female friendship seems to be "absent". In different generations, mothers-in-law will persuade the crown flower who is subjected to domestic violence to tolerate it; Among the contemporaries, Wang Dawa, a friend of Wang Dawei, would rent it in advance and then rent it to Wang Dawa when he learned that the house was sold; Once the women in the town choose to divorce, they are "drowned by the spit of the other women in the town" before the other judges. How to understand this complex relationship between them? And what makes them islands for each other?

Yi Xiaohe: Frankly speaking, I have observed that in addition to the simplicity and kindness of women in small towns, there is indeed a primitive part of the mutual harm at the bottom, but the important thing is that women should not be accused of being the first responsible for this kind of mutual harm at the bottom, they are wrapped up in the patriarchal cultural structure that spreads in the town, and in the end, they instead target women internally, believing that women's enemies are women. You see that after Wang's husband cheated, the other party said, "Your husband came up to me on a ladder, not me to find him", but Princess Wang would still come to the door to beat her and force her to write a guarantee, while the man was "invisible" in the process.

There is another phenomenon, and small-town women trapped in this structure may even be alienated as accomplices of patriarchy, eventually erasing their own female identity. For example, in the same-sex relationship with Tong Hui, Li Hongmei became more and more like most "husbands" in the small town in the later period, waiting for Tong Hui to cook after returning home, only when she was not tired, she would propose to take on part of the housework, and even insult Tong Hui in public. And these have little to do with whether they are kind or not by nature. The premise of help is not at least that you need to be independent first, otherwise, when looking down from everyone is an abyss, where can you care about "helping" others?

Human nature itself is quite complex, especially when everyone has a heavy life on them. But if you think about it, you will find that there is also a very simple female connection between them. I remember that one day Qingmei's mother had diabetes in the middle of the night, and it was very uncomfortable, and it was Huang Qian's mother who carried her to the health center step by step. Isn't it hard to believe? Men can't move their backs (Qingmei's father's waist is not good), but women can carry them. A lot of women out there have this power in them.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

Walking around the town, you can see women carrying heavy objects everywhere. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

Beijing News: Overall, the stories of women in Yanzhen enrich our imagination of women in marginal towns. Although they lack a more distinct germ of feminine consciousness, they reveal a more simple self-awareness in the struggle against specific life hardships, whether it is Liang Xiaoqing, who is obsessed with going to a larger world, or Li Hongmei, who has never heard of Li Yinhe or watched "Brokeback Mountain", still dares to respond to the strong feelings for same-sex others in her heart. "New" and "old" often seem to appear in them at the same time, in your contact with them, have you ever impressed by this "new" and "old"?

Yi Xiaohe: What touched me was that the inertia of the small town environment itself could be so powerful. Let's talk about another example, among these dozen women, Zhan Xiaoqun has successfully "run away", she went to work in a Shanghai hot pot restaurant, all the way from waiter to foreman, and later became a branch manager, managing twenty or thirty people, but once back in the town, the mother-in-law will say: "What are you doing wearing heavy makeup all day, your man is not at home?" She would succumb to such a voice, and the "new" part that had grown was quickly extinguished, and she soon completely changed her outfit to fit as much as possible with a typical "small-town woman" image. Liang Xiaoqing is the same, she actually has the ability to leave the town, but she is still trapped there, she said to protect her mother, but for her, "taking her mother out of the town" has not become one of the options, perhaps not so easy, they are quite contradictory.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

In a shop on the main street of Guzhen, an old man with several children, most of their parents went out to work, and there were many such "left-behind children" in the village. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

Once, I don't remember who Xiaoqing or who said, especially envious of your freedom - I guess, probably in this freedom there is no need to do housework, no need to serve in-laws, no need to make money and take care of the family, and more importantly, they will not be labeled as "lazy women" because of the above, drowning in saliva. Then again, in fact, it was not until recent years that I felt from the bottom of my heart that marriage is not a necessary option for women, and although I had such thoughts in previous years, every time I returned to my hometown or received greetings from my mother, I was still asked over and over again about "marriage plans", and the autonomous part in the subtle was not clear enough.

Beijing News: From another point of view, these are not only their stories, but also "our" stories. Each of us has that new and old part, or rather, each of us faces his or her own "salt town" that has been pulled out of it over and over again.

Yi Xiaohe: Yes, the key is whether we can retain at least an inward-looking "conscious" consciousness. It's not easy to be aware of the "old" parts of yourself.

Beijing News: What about men in small towns? How are what happened in the town interpreted in their consciousness?

Yi Xiaohe: In the town for more than a year, I also had contact with some local men. There is no local Didi, and the trip needs to contact the so-called "black car driver", that is, the "wild boar" as the townspeople say, these are mostly men, and they will say many of the so-called "rules" of the town in the car. At one point, the driver said meaningfully: "In places like ours, sons are especially important, and I'll give you a random example." He said his husband had only one daughter, and that no one in the village came to help after he died this year. The local custom is that if someone from a certain family dies, people from the same brigade will spontaneously go to his house to help, and the so-called "dam banquet" is formed spontaneously. "Why didn't you come to my husband's house to help, isn't it because you don't have a son? If your family doesn't have a son, people think you can't support it and help you in vain. "You'll be amazed a lot of times that some people's ideas are still the same today.

When they see them

Beijing News: Before this book, you were better known as a sports media person, who participated in many reports on CBA and NBA basketball events, and was known as "the most talented female reporter in the sports industry". I don't know if it's because of my sensitivity, but this label actually feels a little complicated. I'm curious, what would you think of this label's statement?

Yi Xiaohe: In those years at Sports Weekly, I was almost one of the best journalists in the field, and I did face such voices. Of course, I can't change the label that the outside world puts on me, but I also feel uncomfortable, why do I have to emphasize "female journalist"? It seems that no one will introduce a good male reporter and deliberately highlight that it is a "male reporter". There is no need to shy away from this, there has always been a deep-rooted discrimination against women in the world of sports. In the early years, female reporters who were not even allowed to get on the bus before football games would feel "unlucky" and let the team lose.

A life that is "salted": small-town women desperately try to stop bleeding, while men sprinkle salt

A still from the movie "Focus".

I remember another year when I went to Europe with the national team, and during that time they traveled to the major warm-up matches to prepare for the upcoming World Championships. Due to the professional habits of journalists, I need to piece together a more complete story through a lot of observation, and often have to follow the bus to interview. Once when I arrived at the event site, the tour leader said to me: "Xiaohe, don't go with the car on the return trip, because you are a woman, it is very inconvenient, and we are all men in this car." "I was young at the time, and I didn't know how to respond and argue. It was also my first time to interview in Europe, and I was very unfamiliar with the road conditions, coupled with the remote location of the event site, the place was not next to the village and not next to the store, there was no Uber (Uber) in those years, there was no subway and bus, it was difficult to find other modes of transportation, but the tour leader did not think at all, "How can she go back".

As you can imagine, I was almost at the top of the field, but I was inevitably treated that way, just because I was a woman. I suddenly wondered, what is your impression of me through our chat?

Beijing News: Whether it's talking about interviewing sports stars before, or from your observations of small-town life, you feel very alive and interesting.

Yi Xiaohe: It's also interesting. I find that I often get similar comments from women, "You're funny," or "humorous." Women seem to be more sensitive to the authentic things that are human to each other, and they are more likely to see each other. But one day I suddenly realized that apart from a foreign journalist who described me as "funny" during my previous interview in the United States, almost no men thought I was "funny". At the time, I was very young, and I didn't quite feel what "funny" meant, and I even felt a little offended, whether I was saying "I'm funny". Later, I talked to another friend about this topic, he said that "funny" is actually a rare sound, most men first pay more attention to external things, and "funny" means "this person is interesting", but traditionally, men are generally not used to interpreting a woman in this way.

Women and Power, by Mary Beard, translated by Liu Yi, Houlang | Tianjin People's Publishing House, February 2019.

Beijing News: You mentioned this "mutual seeing" between women. In fact, in recent years, many non-fiction works by female writers writing about women's life experiences have emerged in China. "Seeing each other" has almost become a common outline, and the female protagonists, writers and readers have explored a resonance of the bottom of the female spirit based on these works, which seems to be more visible in the female community.

Yi Xiaohe: At present, there is actually a lack of women's perspectives to write about women's own works, I don't want to provoke the confrontation between the sexes, but I hope to provide more different but should exist perspectives under the observation. Do you think men really never realize that they have occupied the advantage of male resources? A few days ago, Liang Wendao released a short video, in which he said that over the years, he has deeply realized all the advantages of being a man. I noticed that if a female guest came to his talk show, the comment section below was almost mostly commenting on the woman's appearance, not paying much attention to what she said. Once the female guest of the day gives a more thoughtful point of view, there will be a voice in the comment area saying "why is this person so aggressive", but if it is a male guest, the environment he faces is much more tolerant.

Having said that, in the past two years, we have indeed seen more and more works from different perspectives, and behind it is a relatively rare consciousness that belongs to the increasing awakening of women.

The content of this article is exclusive and original. Written by: Shen Lu; Editor: Qingqingzi; Proofreader: Liu Baoqing. The cover image was provided by the interviewee. It cannot be reprinted without the written authorization of the Beijing News, and is welcome to forward it to the circle of friends.

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