Posts Tagged ‘Peasant culture’

One Chinese Peasant’s Story of Personal Development, Pt. 1

February 21, 2011

My friend Yang Taigang, impeccably dressed as always

I wrote a post near the end of my time in Sichuan about Yang Taigang, the old army buddy of one of the volunteers at the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County who took me fishing while wearing a coat and tie. Yang was an incredibly interesting character, and in the few times that I hung out with him besides the fishing trip I took some other notes about him but never managed to write anything after them. I know that for last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get more into current events with this blog, but I hope the reader will indulge me a turn for the more Peter Hessler-esque this week.

I got to know Yang originally out of some rather strange happenstance—he was passing through Jincheng one day and the ARDY volunteer who had been in the army with him invited him to lunch with us, but beyond the standard comments about me being able to speak Chinese (which by that point I had more or less begun to just tune out), we didn’t speak much. That afternoon was a particularly boring day at the office and, thirsting for new blog material, I took off in search of an alcohol distillery which I had been promised was close enough to reach by foot. I had been walking down the main road off the mountain which Jincheng is built on for about ten minutes when Yang drove by on his motorcycle and pulled over to talk to me. I told him of my plan and he revealed that the distillery was actually much farther away than I had thought, and offered to give me a ride on his way to run some errands. I leave it to the reader to judge the advisability of getting on the back of a motorcycle belonging to a man I just met, but pretty soon we were speeding off down the mountain. I had been driven around on motorcycles frequently since getting to Yilong, but Yang drove even faster than most, and I did my best to conceal how tightly I was gripping the back of the seat with both hands.

After another ten minutes (it would have been really far to walk), we came to the distillery, but it turned out to be closed. Rather than face the prospect of an entire boring afternoon in the office, I accepted Yang’s offer to follow him around on his “errands.” We drove uphill into the next valley, and he revealed some of his back story as he told me his plans for the day. As I discussed in the fishing post, Yang had been in a paratrooper division of the army with my friend and fellow ARDY volunteer, leaving in 1999 to seek work as a migrant laborer. He moved up through the construction hierarchy, finally saving enough money to quit in 2008 and set up his own hot pot restaurant. The restaurant failed, though, and he has been back in Yilong since then planning his next business move. He explained that he was still in the research stage, and had spent a while looking around at what different business options in the area seemed to be working. In particular, a large fish farm on the main road just outside the town of Dingziqiao 丁字桥 had caught his attention, and he was driving over there today to talk with the owner and check it out.

Yang’s voice was full of energy as he spoke, which seemed to be a symptom of his profound impatience with his current predicament. He had been out of work for several months and was itching to get a jump on his next career move. As he shouted to me over his shoulder above the din of the motorcycle, he made frequent use of the Chinese word fa zhan 发展, “develop,” in a way that sounds a little bit strange in English. The term can be used to describe economic and social development, but it can also refer to personal development, whether economic, educational, or in terms of career—to participate in the Bildungsroman of one’s own life. People tell me that I’ve come to China to “develop” myself. “I’m the kind of person that, in this life, has to keep developing. I can’t just stay in the same type of job; I just have to figure out the best way to develop myself.” Yang explained to me.

The fish farm outside Zhouhe, also funded in part through microloans from ARDY

Eventually we reached the fish farm, and I watched him explore this potential option for his development. Unfortunately, the owner wasn’t there that day, and I think we were outside the optimal fish-farming season. Across the street from the farm the land dropped off into an expanse of farmland where a grizzled old man was pounding the earth with a hoe. Yang pumped the man for information about his neighbor, though I followed little of the rambling conversation in Sichuanese that followed. He explained to me later that he had learned that the fish farm was not particularly well run—the owner had failed to make some necessary investments in it and the farm had seen a drop in returns. Yang was apparently disappointed, and had decided that this particular venture was not his ticket to “development.”

I’ll post the continuation of this story later this week


Dating and Romance in Rural China, part 2

January 30, 2011

(Continued from “Dating and Romance in Rural China, part 1)

Within just a week or two of dating, Jin had already begun to weigh the possibilities for their future life together; would Li commit to stay in Yilong with her, or would she have to come with him if he went to work for an NGO in Chengdu which had previously employed him? I was utterly baffled at the speed with which their relationship had progressed to this planning stage, and skeptical that Li, who had worked with a different NGO in a different city each of his four years since graduating from college, would agree to settle down so soon.

Nevertheless, these broader questions of the future were often forgotten in the early days of their relationship, as they often are. In the early days the two of them were as giddy as any young couple of Chinese high schoolers or university students I had ever seen—Li would grin broadly as the two of them held hands and sat next to one another at one of the restaurants that we often frequented (me always eager when one of Li’s other friends came along as well and I could be a less obvious third wheel—or, in Chinese, deng pao 灯泡, “lightbulb”); they would hold hands as they walked the streets of Jincheng together, even occasionally pecking one another on the cheek.

Despite this willingness for PDA, however, their traditional upbringing held strong. I don’t think the two of them spent the night together in the entire time I was there, even when the opportunity presented itself. Though Jin would sometimes visit the ARDY office and stay until late at night, Li would always walk her back to her aunt’s home. I remember one night in particular when the other ARDY volunteer who lived in the building with us, in the room adjacent to the one I shared with Li, went home for the weekend and left his room vacant. Jin had stayed over late that night, and I, hoping to be a good roommate, offered to sleep in the empty room and give the two of them some privacy. Not only did they refuse my generous offer of self-sexile, but I think Jin was even offended that I would suggest that she were that kind of woman.

Their relationship left its chaste honeymoon phase after only a couple of weeks. Though I never got many details about the first fight, I have little doubt that the fights started when Jin started talking about the marriage in more concrete terms. She had already discussed it with her parents, Li related to me; Li’s parents, who were public officials in Beijing, would come back to the homestead for Chinese New Year, giving them a chance to meet Jin’s parents. They could then be married soon after the spring festival. After that, they would settle down in Yilong. Li, however, who had spent the last eight years of his life moving about the country, was already getting restless. He had already contacted his close friends at an NGO in Chengdu the capital of Sichuan, and was already making preparations for when he would leave Yilong and go to work for them.

They were in the middle of one of their nightly hour-long phone conversations when the first fight took place. Li hung up on her in anger and returned to join me at the adjacent computer in the main office; within minutes I received first text messages, then a phone call from Jin in a desperate attempt to get a hold of Li. This put me in a rather awkward position. However, Li was by far my closest friend in Yilong, and to be honest I sympathized with his desire to stay unfettered far more than I did with Jin’s premature domestic instincts, so I respected his wishes to end the conversation for the night.

While I had refused to intervene, however, the family did not. The match had, of course, been originally conceived by Li’s aunt, who occupied the apartment adjacent to that of Jin’s aunt. Li received a phone call from his aunt the next day, asking him to come and have dinner with her; or more accurately, ordering him to come to dinner. I was, understandably, fascinated that his extended family would intervene into the relationship in such a pronounced way, and incredibly curious as to what role the aunt’s opinion would play. However, Lin returned from the dinner visibly drained and unwilling to talk about it in length. He did, however, tell me that the aunt had explained to him “how to deal with women.” I have to imagine that the aunt had in fact lectured him about the importance of bowing to the needs of his fiancée, and likely about the importance of settling down at his age. Li was, at 27, after all, quite old to still be a bachelor by rural Chinese standards. I had other friends in Sichuan (in particular, my friend Qi yukun the rabbit farmer) who were married by 23, my age.

Outside intervention proved to be only a temporary solution. Within a week, the two had gotten into another fight. I found myself more and more often put in the awkward position of having to take sides. Each time Li stormed out of our room, closed cell phone in hand, I knew it would be only minutes before my phone rang, either with a text or a call from Jin in desperate attempt to reach him. On one of my last days in Yilong, I was out to a farewell dinner with other friends when I received another phone call from Jin. Knowing what must have happened, I answered, and she launched into a heated diatribe about her unreliable boyfriend. “He’s so selfish,” she complained, “he only thinks about himself, and how he wants to go off to Chengdu again. I’m not so young anymore, you know. It’s not right for a girl my age to stay unmarried and alone. I can’t be expected to take care of my mother all by myself. She’s complexly alone since my father died last year, as you know. We need to move back to my village so that we can take care of her. He doesn’t think about what anyone else needs, though, he only cares about himself.”

I certainly sympathized with Jin’s dilemma. I was taken aback, though, by the complicated interconnected network of responsibilities within which she made her decisions. Li had only been dating her for a couple of months, and already he was expected to shoulder the burden of helping her care for family members. I tried my best to remain neutral, though the relationship seemed to have little hope at this point.

I’ve been staying in touch with Li since returning to the US, and the last I heard from him he is planning on going to Chengdu right after the New Year.

How to Talk to Peasants

December 25, 2010


Gao Xiangjun speaks at a training session for community leaders

Perhaps the biggest challenges that I faced during my time in Sichuan was, of course, the language barrier. My Mandarin was good enough for most people here to understand what I said, and for me to communicate with very little difficulty with most people who had learned Mandarin at school, but I had great difficulty understanding the more rustic brand of Sichuanese 四川话 that most of the borrowers of the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County spoke. However, it became clear to me by the end of my time in Sichuan that simple language skills were not the only thing standing between me and effective communication with Sichuanese peasants. Had I, miraculously, been some sort of brilliant linguistic scholar with a specialty in rustic dialects, I still wouldn’t have been qualified to help ARDY’s staff and leadership in their grassroots organization and mobilization efforts. This is because effective communication on this level also requires a fluency in the way that Yilong’s peasants see the world and the way that they express themselves, which goes beyond just grammar and pronunciation.


ARDY director Gao Xiangjun adopts a particular persona whenever she conducts meetings or training sessions for borrowers or for rural cooperative managers. She speaks slowly and deliberately and explains things in simple, concrete terms whenever possible (which is great for me, because it means I can understand more through the Sichuanese pronunciation). She jokes with them frequently, and allows them to joke back. At a meeting with the rural cooperative directors for the town of Dingziqiao, one peasant was particularly feisty, frequently making wisecracks and interrupting the session.  Gao responded to each wisecrack with “你个狗日的,” which is hard to directly translate into English but approximates some variation of “fuck you”—generally a pretty severe insult, but in context was taken as light-hearted, eliciting no more than another laugh from the audience.

“Do you think this way of speaking with them, half-joking, half-teaching, is natural?” She asked at a training session for ARDY staff, “I’ve developed this over ten years of working with and teaching the people here. As you teach them, you have to keep their interest and their trust, otherwise you lose them.”


Community leaders from the town of Le Xing celebrate the opening of a new ARDY branch

Effective communication also requires taking into account the customs of the community. In particular, it requires rather delicate management of the local alcohol culture. It is standard practice to eat both lunch and dinner with a healthy dose of baijiu 白酒, the fierce local hooch that, if you’re lucky, is only 110-120 proof. On many of the occasions that I’ve accompanied ARDY staff and volunteers on trips into the countryside, a morning’s worth of meetings and talking has ended with a big lunch and enough baijiu to bring on a sizable daytime buzz, frequently followed by a lazy afternoon of playing cards and chatting.


This habit poses a problem for Gao whenever she holds training sessions for peasants. After one morning meeting a couple of weeks ago, the group broke for lunch and went to a nice restaurant near the office. When asked if the party would be drinking alcohol, as is customary for the peasants, Gao refused, imploring that the group still had important work to do in the afternoon. However, the message didn’t pass quickly enough to the entire wait staff and several tables of peasants eagerly poured pitchers of alcohol before Gao could get a word in. She stood up in frustration, and politely but firmly told the peasants not to drink, an order which they, giggling, ignored. Gao stood in silence and contemplated the situation for a few minutes, before apparently deciding to concede lost territory and resolving to only scold the wait staff, “don’t bring any more alcohol! If you bring more we’re not paying for it.”


A training session for Yilong Peasants

At a training session the next day for staff only, she scolded the staff for drinking too much with the peasants. “You go out into the countryside to meet with them and to teach them, not to have fun and party with them.” She acknowledged that this is a delicate balancing act for ARDY staff, however. Social engagement is a necessary part of their work; they drink and play cards with borrowers to build mutual trust and respect.  Without a doubt booze plays an important part of social customs and cannot be completely erased. When ARDY opened a new branch office in the town of Le Xing several weeks ago, the opening meeting was followed by a big banquet for all of the community leaders and organization staff, in which ARDY provided the baijiu.


Correspondence with local stakeholders is thus a delicate balancing act. Fluency in local customs allows ARDY staff to build relationships with borrowers and community leaders. However, as Gao seeks to build local capacity she must also confront those elements of local culture which could undermine successful integration with China’s transforming economy.


What does the future hold for rural China’s small-scale family agriculture?

December 21, 2010


A small family plot

A few weeks ago I posted an entry about the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County’s efforts to organize rural cooperatives in Yilong, and argued that the “problem of scale” is one of the main challenges facing Yilong’s farmers.  Most families occupy the small parcels of land which were redistributed to them after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms broke up the collective farming system in the late 1970’s, amounting to about 2-3 mu 亩, or 1/5 of a hectare, each. While this provides enough land to meet many of the family’s own immediate nourishment needs, it leaves little room for families to produce a surplus that they would be able to sell effectively on the market. Furthermore, each family is traditionally responsible for all of the input costs for their own production, such as their own seeds, fertilizer, and pesticide. The need to meet each of these costs individually means that the marginal profit that each family is able to gain from the sale of surplus agricultural goods is quite small, and the additional costs associated with bringing the products to market—such as transportation—often make commercial farming not cost-effective.


Having studied Chinese history in college, my discussion with Gao Xiangjun about the reasoning behind the Rural Mutual Cooperatives made me first think of the historic roots of economic dilemmas that Yilong’s peasants face. After all, the United States had also once been a nation of small-scale farmers. What had happened in the United States that could not happen in China?

Over the course of the late 19th and 20th century, many small-scale American farmers sold their lands and sought urban jobs, leading to the rapid expansion of a small number of farms that were able to manage agricultural production on a large, industrialized scale. However, a number of social and political barriers in China prevent agricultural consolidation in the same way. First of all, under the Chinese government’s current legal property regime, all land is technically owned by the state, while current occupiers of land can only buy and sell long-term leases of the land’s use. This makes buying and selling land for the purpose of consolidation more difficult.

In addition, while a large number of Yilong’s peasants travel to cities annually to find work, a number of barriers make it incredibly difficult for them to move there permanently. Probably the most insurmountable of these barriers is the Chinese hukou system of residency permits, which the government instituted in part to prevent a massive rural exodus that would strain urban infrastructure. Without owning an urban residency permit, which is incredibly difficult or incredibly expensive for non-natives of Chinese cities, it is impossible to get access to urban government services such as health care and education.

Moreover, my experience in Sichuan has taught me not to underestimate the power of Chinese family ties as a guiding social force here. While I have met many people in Yilong who spent many years working outside of Sichuan, often hopping from one Chinese urban center to another in search of work, they all eventually moved back home in order to be close to family. Many people in Yilong are quite confused when I explain to them that my family, not atypically of American middle class families, is quite spread out. My parents live in one city, their siblings with their families and children in different cities, my grandparents in another city entirely. Most of the families whom I have met in Yilong have occupied the same several mu of land for several hundred years and uncounted generations. The idea of permanent dislocation from their ancestral homeland seems for many families to be out of the question.

These barriers to agricultural consolidation raise some interesting questions for the future of economic development in China. Without major overhauls to some of the fundamental underpinnings of the current social and political system, it will be impossible for rural areas in China to follow the same pattern of rural to urban migration and consolidation of farms which worked for the United States and so much of Europe. Only on such large-scale farms does the adoption of more sophisticated farming equipment and chemical fertilizers and pesticides become economically feasible, and thus make possible the huge increases in agricultural productivity which American and European farms experienced during the twentieth century. Can the region continue to grow economically without an increase in agricultural productivity?



Fishing in a Tie

October 23, 2010

I spent yesterday learning how to fish with Yang Taigang, who is an old army buddy of one of the local volunteers at the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County. As I learned how to thread a worm on a hook and cast a line, lessons which had been missing from my boyscout-less childhood, Yang told me about his life. He joined the paratroopers in 1993, in a period when there were few other economically viable options for someone from a family as poor as his. The military salary of less than 100 RMB a month was enough at least to relieve his parents of the economic burden of supporting himself. Today, after over a decade of economic growth in China, a Chinese soldier earns several hundred RMB a month. Jumping out of airplanes, he explained, is something one picks up quickly by necessity, but “the first time was scary. The first time my instructor just pushed me out of the plane.”

In 1999, after six years in the military, Yang left to seek work as a migrant laborer in Beijing. After two years of manual construction labor he was able to gain promotion into a construction management position. Much of the money that he saved by working in the city went to building a new house for his wife and children, which was recently completed. In 2008 he invested some of his own money in his own hot pot restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant failed to take off, and since closing it he has been back in Yilong since, planning his next business move. I was quite surprised when Yang showed up to our fishing trip this morning in a sport coat, a tie, and leather dress shoes. The land surrounding the lake where we fished was taken up mostly by rice paddies currently out of season, and after an afternoon of stomping around in the mid his leather dress shoes and dress pants were completely caked with dirt. When I asked him about his choice of attire, he replied, “my family was always poor growing up, we didn’t have much choice of what to wear.” Now, that he is able to afford to Yang always tries his best to look professional.


Our first catch of the day.


I should note, though, that not every peasant in Yilong shows up to the fishing pond dressed to the nines. When I told this story to the ARDY volunteer through whom I met Yang, he laughed. “Yang has always had peculiar dressing habits, even in the army,” he replied. In any case, the story seemed to me to be an interesting example of what China’s recent economic explosion meant for one individual. For Yang, looking the part is only the beginning. While his first private venture, the hot pot restaurant, failed, he has spent his time back home talking to neighbors and learning more about the different types of businesses currently being run in Yilong. He explained to me that in the China of his childhood, in the years before and the first years of the Open and Reform movement, one’s economic options were so limited that the amount of effort that one put into self-improvement was irrelevant. Now, in contemporary China, “if you work hard, if you struggle, then you can make a better life.”

While Yang landed around 20 small fish by himself, I was proud enough to manage to reel in 4 or 5. We took them back to his home that night, where his wife cleaned and gutted them, then boiled them with pork fat, pickled vegetables and chili peppers to make a delicious sour soup. I asked her if the time Yang spent as a migrant laborer, during which he could only return home once a year to spent Chinese New Year with the family, had been difficult on them. “That’s just the way it is,” she replied, resigned, “when he had time he would call home. It’s the same for most families around here.”\


De-scaling the fish



Sour fish and pickled vegetables soup 酸菜鱼汤. Unfortunately, I was called into the dining room to drink with the host as she was making the soup, and so I couldn't get the whole recipe.


Rural Recipes: Spicy Dry-Braised Rabbit with Tofu

October 20, 2010


For some reason there was an issue when I posted this yesterday, so here it is again:

On my blog for the Wokai website I have started writing a number of posts featuring the food that I have been eating here and discussing what cooking in a rural Chinese setting is like. Anyone who knows me in the real world knows that Chinese food played a bigger part in my decision to start learning the language than I should readily admit. Besides learning about life and culture in rural China, my second biggest priority for the time that I’ve spent here may be to come back to the US with at least a bare minimum of cooking skills. Most of my posts about food haven’t made it onto this blog yet, something which I will try to rectify in the next week.  Besides, I know all of you who made it through my post the other day about killing the rabbit are dying to know what they did with it afterwards.

They braised the rabbit in a style

commonly referred to as 干锅, or “dry pot.”

The combination of douban 豆瓣, or spicy bean paste, and hotpot seasoning mix made this dish quite spicy, but in my opinion, tolerable. This was my first time eating rabbit, which had a consistency that resembled chicken even more than I expected. Rabbit is actually not traditionally a common food in Yilong County, in large part because the meat is so lean. Chinese peasants prefer fatty meat, a fact which goes a long way toward explaining why pork is by far the most consumed meat here. In any case, I’m sure that anyone aspiring to re-create this dish in the United States would, facing a lack of reliable rabbit sources, probably get much the same result using chicken.

Ingredients (as always, amounts are estimated):

1 packet of spicy hotpot seasoning mix (this can be found at any supermarket in China, and I imagine at Chinese supermarkets in the United States as well)

½ cup of vegetable oil 菜籽油

1 cup tofu cubes 豆腐

1 Rabbit 兔子

Douban 豆瓣, the spicy paste made with crushed chili peppers and salted fermented beans which is a staple in many Sichuanese dishes

½ large white onion 洋葱

~10 peeled garlic cloves 大蒜

1 tbsp. Chicken bouillon 鸡精

1 tbsp. Salt 盐

1 large green chili pepper 尖椒

Cilantro 香菜(for garnish, if desired)

1. Cut the rabbit (bones and all) into bite-sized chunks. My friend needed to slam the butcher’s knife down into the rabbit in order to sever the bones, spraying droplets of water from the cutting board on me as he cut.

2. Fill the wok with hot water and pour the chunks of meat in. Stir the meat for 30 seconds to wash it and then drain the water. Fill with new water and repeat, draining the water again.

Rinsing the meat



Draining the meat

3. Add a ½ cup of vegetable oil and heat in the bottom of the wok.

4. Add a liberal helping of Douban 豆瓣—my friend added a whole ladle—and allow to heat.



5. Pour in the packet of spicy hotpot seasoning mix.

6. Chop the cloves of garlic in half and add them to the sauce.

7. Add the rabbit meat, as well as a half-cup of water, and stir.

8. Continue to stir the mixture, periodically adding water to the mixture to keep it moist. Because so many guests had come for dinner, they ended up cooking two rabbits, resulting in a very large dish that my friend had to sauté for a long time.



9. Add a tablespoon each of chicken bouillon and of salt.

10. Wait until the meat is mostly cooked through before adding the tofu. The tofu needs to be cooked long enough to get the taste of the sauce, but not for too long or it will get too soft.

11. Cut the half onion into slices. Add half of the slices into the pot and continue to stir.

12. Allow the remaining water to boil off from the dish before removing from heat.

13. Cut green chili pepper into rings, chop the cilantro, and add with the rest of the onion slices on top as garnish.

14. Serve!



Killing a Rabbit–WARNING: Graphic. I mean it.

October 20, 2010

This weekend a friend I had made whose family runs a rabbit farm in the town of Dingziqiao (see previous post, “How to Raise Rabbits”) invited me to his father’s birthday dinner. The food was amazing, and the family really friendly, though the whole experience turned out to me more intense than I thought when I got the chance to watch the father kill the rabbit that would be the main course for the evening’s meal.  I really wanted to write about the experience, though I’m warning in advance that this was really gruesome. I’m serious. Anyone who would feel any discomfort reading about little animals suffering should skip this one, suffice to say that it was a more intense experience than your standard animal killing.  If you’re not dissuaded yet, the full post below can be accessed with the password “rabbit”


How to Manage Your Money in Rural Sichuan

September 25, 2010

Besides distributing microloans, the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County prioritizes working with peasants to cultivate the skills necessary for them to improve their own economic situation. A crucial part of that skill set is basic financial management. In the course of working with peasants ARDY has discovered that many peasants lack a basic understanding of how to keep track of their income, budget for expenses, and consolidate their remaining funds in an accessible and manageable way. “We would have couples,” Li Shibing, the vice secretary-general, explained to me, “where the husband would send money that he earned as a migrant laborer home to his wife each month, but by the end of the month she wouldn’t know where the money had gone.” Many peasants have no formal system in place for keeping track of expenses and are thus unable to make longer-term financial plans or to prepare themselves against emergencies.

In February of this year ARDY launched an initiative to encourage fiscal responsibility among peasants, which they called the “Rural Family Financial Management System.“ In essence, the program introduces peasants to the basics of fiscal management and provides them with the tools to document and trace their own finances. ARDY has designed a special balance sheet that allows peasants to easily record and keep track of all of their assets. The front of the form gives spaces to note the types and quantity of agricultural products a family might grow, the amount of property they own, what types of machinery and vehicles they operate, and whether or not any members of the family earn additional income through migrant labor. The back provides space to record living expenses, water and electricity fees, school tuition, and other expenditures.

An ARDY volunteer explains the ins and outs of the family expense form to a community leader

Having designed these tools, the organization is beginning to hold training sessions to explain financial management to local peasants and to explain the use of the form to them. This week I accompanied an ARDY volunteer on a visit to a community leader in the village of Dengbao ?? to explain the financial management system. I watched as the volunteer walked him through filling out the form, stopping every once in a while to ask other family members how many jin (1 jin = 500grams) of various crops they had grown that year. To illustrate the purpose of the form, he used the example of opening a small shop. “First you have to figure out how much it will cost to buy all of the supplies you want to sell in the shop, plus to rent a storefront in the village. That’s your start-up cost,” he explained. “Compare that to your total funds for the year, which we found here by adding up the money that your family members make working in the city and the amount you made by selling vegetables. If the cost of starting the store is less than your income for the year, then you can afford to open the store.”

It was interesting to watch this insight, which may seem so intuitive for many, be explained in such careful detail. It was clear from watching the process being explained that a transfer of practical skills, like how to interpret and fill out a form, was only one of the goals of the meeting. The more fundamental task, and perhaps the more difficult one, is getting the peasants to believe that they are capable of changing their own economic conditions. This financial management training illustrates to borrowers that they must make their own choices regarding how to manage their resources, and that responsible management and careful planning can help them to fundamentally improve their lives.