Peasant Autonomy
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Story 167

A village in Ningxia Province, China – 2016

The old bull

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Xiaoming Wang)


“Please, father, think about it. If you don't want us to kill the bull, we will not do it,” says the young peasant to his old father Ma Zishan, who comes walking on, carrying a bucket of water, and emptying it into the small basin of the bull, who starts slurping contentedly. The young man brushes him firmly, as he does every morning. The animal is old, and a bit skinny, but his ruddy-brown coat shines. The young peasant cleans his muzzle with a cloth, and the animal looks amiably at him.

A month ago Zihan's wife had died. That was a heavy blow to him. The old peasant doesn't talk about it, but you can see in his lined face that he is missing her a lot. He is obviously affected.
In about ten days the 40 days disappearance ceremony will take place. Then, many people will come. What will they give them to eat? His son had said: “We can slaughter some poultry, or a lamb, but that will not be enough. Let us just kill the bull. The animal is already so old, it almost cannot pull the plough any more. And it is a nice sacrifice for mother. She worked her whole life so hard, she was such a good woman. She has deserved that we honour her with a generous offering.”
But Zishan cannot do without the animal, with whom he has worked together for so many years. “You can make that decision yourself,” he had answered his son.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Carsten Ullrich)


Finally, Zishan makes it known in a covert way that they can slaughter the bull. He cuts some extra alfalfa in the field, to pamper the animal. But it is as if the bull senses what is about to happen. He sniffs at the fodder, but doesn't eat it. He also leaves his water untouched.
When the bull is slaughtered a few days later, Zishan is not there. He has gone for 'some shopping'. He doesn't want to witness it.


Wang Xuebo beautifully paints the peasant life in a remote part of China in his movie Knife in the clear water (2016).

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= the next page: The petty thief and his grandma - a village in Burkina Faso – 2017, story 168.
= the Table of contents, story 167.