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Rice was husked by women using a mortar and pestle. The verb “to grind” (chong) is used metaphorically by the bride to bemoan her inadequacies. She fears she will not fit into her new home, never be able to “blend” with her in-laws, unlike rice that is husked and made ready to cook. Nor will she be able to cope with heavy duties such as carrying burdens using bamboo poles. The senior sisterin-law of the groom (Dama), on the other hand, has “shoulders of bronze and a waist of iron”. It is intriguing that the Dama is presented sometimes as a labourer of heroic proportions and at other times as a “white-faced”, educated lady who spends her time on embroidery.
Within Nanhui the major marketing towns of Zhoupu, Xinchang, and Datuan were linked by waterways. 12 Even in the 1930s and 1940s, the route from the southernmost tip of Nanhui to Shanghai, including a ferry trip over the Huangpu River, took several days: Before Liberation you had to walk to Datuan and Nicheng, you could not go by boat. We only had small boats anyway and to go from here to Datuan by boat would involve a lot of twists and turns. People said there were seventy-two bends, it was simply not convenient.
This contradiction comes from the nature of the inherited formulaic repertoire. The pojia is necessarily described as very wealthy but the reality of the bride’s situation is that she will marry into a family of similar or only slightly higher economic status. 21 Female literacy was very low in this region in the early twentieth century and before. Indeed, lamenters I met in Nanhui were described as illiterate (“of low cultural level”). But the bride is very aware of the advantage of literacy and its association with the upper class.