#3 Old Farmer, Xiekou, Shaanxi
Fabric #3 – The Farmer
An hour outside Xian, our transit van drives across a field along a dirt track. We park at the brow of the hill and look down on a small village before making our way down a winding footpath to the village. Brick outhouses, some roofless, surround courtyards and huge garlands of corn hang drying in the milky polluted air. The back of the courtyard ends in a small cliff carved into which is a door and window.
Whilst the rest of China rushes to modernise, 40 million people still live in caves. The village of Xiekou on the outskirts of Xian in Shannxi province houses a dwindling number of cave dwelling farmers and their families. The soft earth is easily excavated and caves offer protection from the summer heat and the winter’s cold.
We are warmly welcomed by the old farmer and his wife. He is diminutive and sprightly, in his eighties, and seems surprised that a family of Westerners is interested in his life and home. His wife places fresh persimmons on the wooden table. My young daughters play with a tiny white kitten on the floor.
He shows us around his subterranean compound. In one cave a small brick bed lies beneath old advertisements, half covered in a sheet. A fire can be lit beneath the bed to ward off the freezing winter cold of central China. The walls of the cave are worn smooth from generations of use. The back of the cave is dark, and is used as the store room.
The village is dying, like many in China. The young are drawn to jobs in the cities, living in a cave not fitting in with their ideals of modern life. Who can blame them. The farmer shows us the entrance to a higher cave, 20 feet above the floor, which was used as a refuge when the countryside was overrun with bandits. Then, he invites us into an adjoining cave where his son used to live. His son has moved to the city with his family. The spare cave is now also used as a store – for two coffins – one for the farmer and one for his wife.