A Lever Scale
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Weili Village is to the south of town.* Villagers are mostly hard-working, frugal farmers. They can endure much suffering. They are peaceful, obedient people. Aside from a few influential families and petty officials, most of the people in the village are poor. But these families can peddle influence, nonetheless, thanks to their connections with government officials. One wretchedly poor family in Weili is that of Qin De-san's.** By the time he was born, his father was long dead. While the elder Qin was alive, he was able to lease a couple of acres of farmland to till. On death, he left behind a poor baby and its mother. Had the landlord bestowed a little gracious favor, the widow might have kept the lease on the patches of farmland, where she could hire workers to continue to farm so that she might eke out a living for herself and her poor baby. Well, the rich never will share anything good with anybody else; otherwise, they wouldn't be rich in the first place. That's why the landlord took back the lease and rented the land to a new tenant farmer, from whom he could exact a few more dou of unhulled rice as rental.*** The elder Qin took with him all the money he had earned with sweat and blood while he was alive to his grave where he was buried. So after his death, his widow and her baby were hopeless and helpless.
All their neighbors were very sorry for them. Some elderly neighbors tried to make arrangements for the widow and the baby, for the possibility of their starving to death was something they could not take lightly. As a result, they made a match for the widow, arranging a marriage to a Qin family in-law **** A stepfather, as a rule, never takes good care of his stepchild. The new husband of the widow saw her as a mere child-bearing machine. Consequently, De-san's childhood wasn't a happy one. More often than not, he was chided, scolded and beaten. For that reason his mother wasn't able to remain on harmonious terms with her second husband.
Fortunately, she could endure suffering. She could also plan for a future. So she started making rice straw sandals and raising chickens, ducks, and hogs. She worked so hard as to earn a somewhat decent living for the family now headed by her new husband. It wasn't an easy life but finally, she was able to get De-san to tend a water buffalo for a neighbor when he was nine years old.***** The boy was to do farm chores on a daily basis as well. It was then that his stepfather all but stopped taking care of the family. However, the mother and son could now resort to their labor for warding off the threat of a chill and starvation.
When De-san was 16 years old, his mother asked him to give up his chore-boy job.**** She wanted to lease a few acres of farmland for her son to till to make a living. But it wasn't the right time. Farmland could scarcely be leased for rice farming anymore.
*Weili (威麗) means “Dignified Beauty.” The name of the village is fictitious.
**Qin De-san (秦得?)
***Dou (斗) is an old unit of dry measure for grain equal to a quarter of a bushel. It is often translated as peck.
****A man can be married into his wife's family in China and Japan. In such case, he has to change his family name to that of hers. Arrangements can be made to get one of his sons to carry on his original family name.
*****A water buffalo used to be kept by a farming family to drag the plow to prepare rice paddies for transplanting seedlings. Tractors are now in use.
****Not exactly 16 years old. A baby is one year old when it was born. It was one sui (歲) old.
The China Post serialization is sponsored by the Council for Hakka Affairs.