Li Li took her father and brother to court, believing that her father and brother should return her and her mother’s portion of the four houses that were demolished. Behind this claim is the struggle of an educated rural girl against the village tradition that “the family property goes to the son”, and also for another woman in the family. –Lili’s mother’s years of secrecy, pain and struggle to find an explanation.
If it weren’t for the well-publicized legal battle between Li Li and her father, Li Ming, and brother, Li Fei, the villagers of Jia Village, Yuhua District, Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province, might have forgotten about Zhang Xiuju, Li Ming’s wife, Li Fei’s stepmother, and Li Li’s mother. For those who live in this fast-changing land of Jacun, there are so many changes in their lives that need to be embraced, adapted and dealt with, that it is not the right time to talk about a deceased person who has passed away more than two years ago, no matter who she is.
It would not be an exaggeration to describe the changes that have taken place in JiaCun as “dramatic”. The place we are now is difficult to describe with the word “village”. Li Li told me that the original Jia Cun was divided into four areas based on family names: Li Jia Street, Cui Jia Street, Zhang Jia Street and Zhao Jia Street. Each street had a main arterial road and on both sides there were small roads that extended to each family. Their home was in the northeast corner of the village, a small two-story building with a courtyard, typical of a small rural house. In the yard, there is a pomegranate tree planted by her mother, Zhang Xiuju, which grew so weak that she didn’t eat it until the house was demolished. The village has a school, steamed bread house, water tower, credit union, health center, the villagers’ daily needs can be solved in the village. Now these are all gone.
Right now Jia Village is already an urban neighborhood, with two neighborhoods, A and B. Zone A was completed in 2016, and Zone B was only handed over in July last year. The neighborhood accumulated 15 buildings, each building is 33 stories high, and the ground between the buildings is a patchwork of landscaped trees, because the transplanting days are short, the trees are not lush enough. If the relationship between the family has not broken up, if Zhang Xiuju has not died, in accordance with the most normal pace of life, last year she will move into the B area with her husband, son and his family, daily from the stand “Jia Village New Village “of the community gates in and out, out of the community gates, across the street is the market, there is a small supermarket, buy some daily needs of items is also convenient.
These are just if. The fact is, since the death of Zhang Xiuju in December 2017, Li Li has been difficult to find traces of her mother’s life on the land where she used to live, they all disappeared with the demolition and new life. Zhang Xiuju married in 1987 and lived here for 30 years in Jacun, but now, fewer and fewer people talk to Li Li about her mother, “as if this person never existed, disappeared from life “. Li Li’s sadness is mixed with resentment. Her features and face shape resembled her father’s, but her body shape followed her mother’s, her upper body was on the thin side, her lower body was long and thin, she used to compare her height with her mother, “Actually we are the same height, both are 1.65 meters! “.
Li Li tries to make her mother’s image a little clearer through memories and conversations. She told me that Zhang Xiuju likes to take photos, travel, and most of all, she likes to grow vegetables – the village land was expropriated before 2012, leaving each family with only a few points of their own land, which is Zhang’s treasure, and she grows eggplant, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, small greens, collard greens, kidney beans, green onions, garlic, and bok choy in winter planted. Almost all of the dishes on the family dinner table come from Zhang Xiuju’s diligence: who has more new varieties of vegetables in the field, she went to move some over. These vegetables, she never on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, morning and evening down to catch insects, also go to the village’s farms to pull ostrich manure, to fertilize the vegetable patch.
After Zhang Xiuju’s death, Li Li seldom came back to Jia Village, the last time she came was to pay respects to her mother in the memorial hall set up for the deceased in the village on New Year’s Eve, and she did not enter the house. She has broken up with the family, the only link between the two sides is a lawsuit.In April 2019, Li Li went to court to sue her father and brother, the claim is to get the family demolition of the split four sets of house in their own and mother’s part. The basis of Li Li’s lawsuit was that she, as a member of the family, had not moved her household and should be entitled to the compensatory settlement in the demolition agreement.
In addition, she had a will left by her mother: after my death, my entire estate, including all that belongs to me personally, my personal share in the community property, my share in the undivided property, and I am entitled to other rights and interests, are inherited by my daughter Li Li alone. The date of making the will is October 2017. In this will, Zhang Xiuju gave the reason for making the will: after serious illness, her husband and adopted son (stepson) did not care about her, relying on her daughter alone to take care of.
Thirst for demolition
Zhang Xiuju was diagnosed with mid-stage pancreatic cancer in April 2017. By then she had left home due to disagreements with her husband and stepson and was borrowing a relative’s house. The disagreement was due to disagreement over the allocation of the demolition and resettlement house. Jia Village is located in the southeast corner of Shijiazhuang City, near the South Second Ring Road, and is a famous urban village in Shijiazhuang. Since 2008, the Shijiazhuang city government has proposed a “three-year transformation” plan for the demolition and transformation of urban villages: 2.3 million square meters of buildings will be demolished in three years for the transformation of the old city. Urban villages were renovated and demolished buildings of 3.34 million square meters. There was even a saying at the time that Shijiazhuang would become “Shijiazhuang City”, a city with more than 1,800 households and a population of more than 8,000. The transformation of Jacun, which has more than 1,800 households and a population of more than 8,000, benefited from the continuation of this policy.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Jacun’s renovation plan was launched. That year, the Jacun Village Committee announced the “Jacun Urban Village Renovation, Demolition, Compensation and Resettlement Agreement”. According to the agreement, each family in Jia Village will be compensated for 360 square meters of housing on a per-household basis. In addition, the villagers would also receive compensation for the houses on the ground, relocation fees and a transition fee when the villagers rented the houses. For the villagers of Jia Village, this is something they have been looking forward to for a long time.
A villager told me that before 2012, the village’s farmland was expropriated for the construction of roads and public facilities, and since then, most of the villagers have been working outside the village or in factories around the village, which doesn’t provide them with much income. The good news is that Jacun is only 8 kilometers from the city, and is close to the bus station, so many people rented houses in the village to work or do business. A special issue of “Reconstruction of Urban Villages in Jacun” published at the time mentioned that Jacun had a population of about 4,000, but there were more than 10,000 migrants, and the streets were narrow and overcrowded with people and vehicles, and the living environment was dirty.
Li Li remembers that after she went to college in 2009, the second floor of her home was divided into four rooms and rented out to others for 200 yuan a month each to supplement her family’s income. Other than that, the only income the family could count on was her mother’s salary. She worked in the village and was earning only 450 yuan a month. My father, Li Ming, used to work as a bricklayer, earning 30 yuan a day, and after 2008, because of a perforated stomach, he seldom went out to work.
Li Li said the family has been living a tight life, and all the clothes she had as a child were left over from her sister’s relatives. Her mother was also frugal; she had a half-sleeved dress with black lace flowers and a lining on the top half and a white skirt underneath that cost a little over 100 yuan and she only wore it when she met people or went to work. “She loves that dress so much that every time she takes it off, she has to use a hanger to hold it up and hang it up again. “Li Li said.
Whether from the point of view of improving the living environment or living in distress, Zhang Xiuju’s family’s desire for demolition is even stronger. In particular, Zhang Xiuju, her childhood hair child living in another village, moved into a spacious and bright back to the building in 2011. Zhang Xiuju went to visit the house and came back to describe to Li Li what she saw, and her words were full of envy. “Our village before the demolition of the village has not been self-heating, that is, to burn their own boilers, sometimes to save coal, but also to stuff firewood inside. The sealing of the room is not good enough, even if the heating is very hot, the family has to wear a jacket. My mother said that she will be able to live in a warm house after the demolition. And the bottom of the house is here, no matter how clean it is, when you move to the upper floors, you can throw away some of the mess. “Lilly said.
Starting from 2014, for these properties and money that will come to hand, Zhang Xiuju’s opinion is to put them in her and her husband Li Ming’s name and give them to her son when they are 100 years old. In addition, since the family’s homestead has two more rooms than others, she hopes that the village will give her an extra house to Li Li, who is already married.
All of these practices are out of consideration for her own future retirement: after all, her son is not her real son, what will she do if Li Ming passes away first one day? There is a precedent in the same and surrounding villages – a couple of parents who gave all four houses to their two sons and paid for their renovations. After the house was finished, the elder son’s family was reluctant to move in because his parents were biased towards his younger brother; the younger son died in an accident, and his daughter-in-law thought they should not be in charge of them. In the end, the two old men had to live in a relative’s house, with nothing to do with their old age.
In order to avoid such a situation, most of the parents in the same age group as Zhang Xiuju have the proceeds of the demolition in their own hands. A villager in Jia Village told me that for a family with only one son, like Zhang Xiuju’s, most people in the village would leave two sets of houses to the old couple, and the other two to their son and daughter-in-law. The family members default to each other that when the old man is 100 years old, the rest of the property will go to the son. “The son is biological, but the daughter-in-law is not, and no one can say what will change in the future. “In this way, Zhang Xiu Ju’s request is not excessive.
Li Ming and his son but did not agree.In 2016, in Zhang Xiuju’s ignorance of the situation, Li Ming changed the head of the family to his son Li Fei’s name, and by him instead of this family signed the demolition agreement. In the rural customary folk rules, the head of the household from the old son to the son, which means that Li Ming gave up the status of the head of the family, any independent rights and interests of this family, in the future, will be decided by the son, he will single-handedly decide the village demolition allocation of four sets of houses, accumulated 360 square meters of the right to use.
After her brother, Li Fei, signs the demolition agreement, Li Li feels that her mother has become emotional. She expressed time and time again in front of Li Li for the whole family’s efforts and the unfair treatment received. Li Li said that after her marriage, she would go back to her parents’ house on weekends after work, and every time she would go for a walk with her mother after dinner in the evening, when as soon as she stepped out of the front door of the house, her mother would become agitated, her two hands floundering in the air, wrapped in grievances and anger. “She repeated these things over and over again, like a flood pouring down, and she couldn’t control her emotions. “
Lili can understand her mother’s feelings. “She felt that she tried her best to fight for more for her family, but was betrayed by her family. “Li Li said that after the demolition policy came down in the village, her mother, who is a village official, along with others, was organized in the first meeting and asked to play an active role in leading the way. However, because of dissatisfaction with the housing allocation area, Zhang Xiuju’s family’s demolition has been delayed until 2016, and has become a “nail household”. The family later raised two big dogs, fierce and big, just to prevent someone from breaking into the house to demolish. Zhang Xiuju has been working in the village for more than 20 years, the village sent word that if you don’t sign, the work can’t be done. Li Li remembers her mother’s determination, “don’t work also okay, work day to day”.
But these can only be considered a catalyst, Li Li know, mother behind these emotional expressions, is a long years of repression, the final outbreak of pain, it stems from her father’s violence. Li Li said, since childhood she knew that her father beat her mother. There is no reason for his actions in many cases. He liked to drink, twice a day, as long as he was drunk, he would call his mother over. Li Li’s bedroom and parents just across a door, which will then come from the sound of breaking things, fighting, collision. Li Li’s fondest memory of this is when she was in elementary school, after her parents fought, her mother went out in the middle of the night. She climbed to the second floor to look outside, but could not see her mother’s figure, and waited all night. The next morning, her mother came back and brought her a pancake.
At that time, as a child, Li Li, on the one hand, felt that she should not interfere with her parents’ affairs; on the other hand, she was afraid of her father. Until now, Li Li remembered that when she was young, her brother Li Fei was hung up and beaten by Li Ming for stealing 20 yuan from the family. She was only a few years old at that time. Her father had never beaten her, but he had set many rules for her. For example, if you don’t use chopsticks in the right way, your father will use chopsticks to knock her; at festivals, Li Li Li can only clip the food in front of her and can’t stand up if she can’t reach it; you have to pour wine to others, pour tea to eight points full, the spout can’t face the person, and if you do it wrong, you will be scolded on the spot.
“When I was a child, a holiday, my father’s side of the extended family will organize a party, the adults drink together, drink too much, other daughters have the courage to teach their father to drink less, I do not have the courage. It’s not like I can just say whatever I want in the house. I say whatever I want to say with discretion. “Lili told me that her father’s eyes were her beacon. “If I did something wrong, my father would glare and his eyes would be mean and big. As soon as he glares, you stop yourself, it’s like it becomes a default behavior, you’re afraid to say or do anything. You get the impression that this man is the embodiment of violence. My dad is the dominant atmosphere in the house, if he’s happy, the family is happy, if he’s not happy, the family is cold. “
It was after 2009 that her mother, Zhang Xiuju, began to talk to Li Li about her husband Li Ming’s domestic violence. Li Li was in college that year, and in her spare time, she had been able to work part-time jobs to earn money. Li Li found that her relationship with her mother had changed. In the earliest days, her mother would seek her advice on simple things, such as shopping, and they picked out the bracelets together. Her mother planted flowers and wanted to get some new varieties, but she would also let Li Li see what looked good first. After making a little more money, Li Li also bought her mother a mobile phone and replaced the TV for the family. Li Li guess, in Zhang Xiuju’s view, these may be her self-reliance and dependable performance.
The first thing you need to do is to take a look at the newest version of this article. The first thing you need to do is to find your mother’s brother. At first, several of Li Li’s uncles were also outraged, and on several occasions they brought people to the house to warn her father, Li Ming. However, after more domestic violence, I don’t know if it was because they were tired or felt that they couldn’t help, but the uncles were no longer willing to get involved. “Persuade this and not listen, persuade that, no matter. “One of Li Li’s uncles told me.
Occasionally, Zhang Xiuju also told her close colleagues, but without exception, everyone urged her to put up with it again, some of them would say: “After all, it has been tolerated for so many years. “So, when the mother and Li Li opened the topic of domestic violence, Li Li understood that the mother is no one to tell.
When Li Li was a sophomore in college, her mother was beaten again, and Li Li Li could still see the bruises on her mother’s face when she returned home during winter break. After listening to her mother’s confession, Li Li decided to do justice to her mother, she made a big determination. After dinner, she asked her father, brother and mother to stay. Li Li did not find it difficult to speak, she just organized her thoughts based on her mother’s past statements. She remembered saying to her father, “In the future, it can’t be like this. ” and the conversation changed when her brother took over and began to talk about the family’s property rights.
What Lili remembered most about this unsuccessful conversation was that her mother and Lili were sitting together that day, and her brother and father were sitting on the couch across from each other. Later, Li Li thought that her act not only failed to save her mother, but also placed her publicly on the opposite side of the family from her brother and father, and instead intensified the family’s internal conflicts. Zhang Xiu Ju’s later suffering can be seen in the photos she left behind. The young Zhang Xiu Ju was a smiling woman with a fleshy face, her eyes would squint when she smiled, and her face was relaxed and easy to look at. Such smiles appear by the city walls, at the zoo, and in front of blooming flowers. But as she grew older, it would become apparent that later photographs, especially after age 50, would show her forehead, the ends of her eyebrows, and even her eyes with years of caked-on misery.
There is a rule in Jia Village that when the deceased is carried into the funeral home, when they meet the threshold, the relatives have to shout the name of the deceased to remind the deceased to “watch out, don’t bump into”. Li Li said she still felt her mother was still there, just lying there, when the voices in her ears rang out, “Do you take her as a child? How could I have tripped”. But the moment her mother was pushed into the crematorium, Lili cried loudly, “I just knew my mom was going to be gone, gone. I just realized that I don’t have a mother anymore. “
After the death of her mother, Li Li to pack up her belongings, and found a lot of with her mother’s handwriting on A4 paper, all of which were copied by her mother and divorce and domestic violence related to legal provisions. Li Li will show these to me. One of the written: “domestic violence, including physical violence, sexual violence, mental violence …… many victims live in pain, anger and fear. “These papers, there is also Zhang Xiuju draft divorce complaint, in the grounds for divorce one, Zhang Xiuju wrote: after marriage found domestic violence, repeatedly beat and scold, because it is the village people afraid of being ridiculed, a bear again and again really can not stand.
These contents were written in the second half of 2016. Li Li said that after another conflict with her father, her mother Zhang Xiuju left home for Beijing. She found a job as a cleaning lady and went to the library to check out literature in her spare time, full of thoughts of divorce. When collecting her mother’s belongings, Li Li’s heart was filled with self-recrimination. This self-reproach stems from the comparison between her and her mother.
Li Li said that she found that she had actually been trying to escape from the marks that the family had left on her. For example, dating, father silent, temper screwed up, she likes a little more cheerful, good communication, do not get into a corner; mother out to play, father prevented, she hopes that the other half to give her enough freedom, she can go out to play; she dating men, the first thing to look at is whether the family is harmonious …… she found that her criteria for choosing a partner Almost the antithesis of the family. Before marrying her ex-husband, she made two promises to him, the first of which was that she would not commit domestic violence and that if she did, she would divorce him immediately.
“I had a choice, but my mother couldn’t back out,” she said. “Whether it is family, friends and even her own, no one and her mother Zhang Xiuju has ever mentioned” divorce. “Such words. Although they are around, divorce has been a very common thing, many young people have tied the knot and divorced.
Almost everyone thinks, for more than 50 years old Zhang Xiuju, patience is a better choice than leaving, whether it is for the sake of children, or for their own future retirement. The first time I saw her was when I was a child, and she was not willing to do that. “If I had been independent and have a job, can earn more money, to be able to support her, her mood can be better, maybe not sick. “Lili thought about the time her mother ran away from home when she was a child. Later she had asked her mother where she had gone that night, and Zhang Xiuju replied, “I sat in the village all night, feeling that I had nowhere else to go, so I came back. My mother’s house is no longer my home. “
Li Li initially took her father and brother to court, fighting for a house, for her mother’s anger, but also to fulfill her mother wanted to have a “nest” will. However, the first trial lost, the second trial also lost the case. In both cases, the court ruled that rural customs and covenants should be respected. The court held that the resettlement house is a welfare compensation measures, Zhang Xiuju has died, can not enjoy this kind of welfare, and Li Li after marriage to live elsewhere, the resettlement house does not involve her interests. Li Li felt that the result was unfair: the demolition agreement was signed before the death of her mother, the demolition proceeds were issued per household, every family member should enjoy the rights and interests, why should her mother pay for the family all her life, but could not get the house.
After the second trial, she appealed again, and the results of the first and second trials in 2020 ruled against her. She felt that in the countryside, if she, as a woman, was able to establish a separate household as well as a man, she would be able to apply for a homestead so that she would have her share of the demolition rights. And if the mother enjoyed such rights in her youth, she would not be homeless after quarreling with her father. In Li Li’s view, the lawsuit has a greater significance, namely for rural women to fight for their rights.
Li Li constantly explain her logic. She often refers to “women” and “rights” in her speeches. Words like “inequality” are on the lips. She needs to gain self-acceptance too much. Since she had taken her father and brother to court, some people supported him, but more people were against it. Those who were against it thought it was unheard of and wrong for her, as a daughter, to fight her father and brother over the family’s property.
In mid-2019, Lilly was depressed. Part of the reason was that the lawsuit was not going well, but another part of the reason came from her examination of her marriage. Her husband, Zhang Ning, rarely did housework after marriage. Li Li argued with him, she feared that if this continued, she would become like a mother, having to do everything and working hard for the rest of her life; Zhang Ning would become Li Ming, telling her what to do.
For a while there, she felt like she was being roasted at the stake, where the little bits and pieces of her life could quickly take root and grow into huge fears. The two eventually went through a divorce in 2019. When she was in bad shape, Lilly wrote her will many times, right on her phone, in the format her mother wrote to her at the time. At first, the will would detail how the estate would be divided for her husband and children, but later, when she divorced, she updated it to leave all of her assets to her daughter. This included the house that she hadn’t yet fought for from her father and brother.
Li Li would always think of the days she went to see her mother when she left home to work in Beijing. Her mother lived in a group dormitory, with bunk beds. Li Li felt that her mother’s condition was much better than before, and the most obvious change was that her mother’s conversation topics were no longer about accusing her father of violence. She will take Li Li to buy chestnuts, will talk about Dao Xiangcun’s pastries are too sweet, will talk about their own every day is to wipe the stair railings, work is not tired. The first thing you need to do is to buy a light down jacket, which will cost you two to three hundred dollars, and she praised it as “light and thin and warm”, which she was reluctant to buy before. “I thought my mother was trapped in her original environment before, so she couldn’t get out, but now that the environment has changed and she’s not surrounded by a life with a father and brother, she’s in a better state. “
This was one of the few happy days that Li Li remembered of her mother, Zhang Xiu Ju.
(Li Ming and Li Fei are pseudonyms in the text)