Ida Pruitt is an anthropologist at Stanford University who spent two years interviewing Lao T'ai-t'ai about her life in China (1967-1938). Lao T'ai came to Ida Pruitt's room for breakfast every morning, and although Lao T'ai did not eat, she would smoke cigarettes for hours while talking to Pruitt about her life. Unfortunately, when Pruitt left and the Japanese had invaded in 1938, Pruitt never heard what had become of Lao T'ai.
Lao T'ai recounts many stories of other people, neighbors, relatives, or urban myths, which illustrated Chinese customs and beliefs. I have not included these stories in this summary due to space and the minimal effect they had on explaining Lao T'ai's life.
[...] This caused tension in the house and the cousin had to leave (Pruitt 1945: 41). Lao T'ai was now the woman of the house and had to stop playing and start being a wife (Pruitt 1945: 41). Lao T'ai's father-in-law also lived in the house (Pruitt 1945: 40). He made baskets to sell, but only made enough money to support himself (Pruitt 1945: 40). Her husband was an opium addict and did not work or make enough money to feed himself or Lao T'ai (Pruitt 1945: 41). [...]
[...] This way of life was hard, however, and soon Lao T'ai decided to move to Chefoo to work at the house of one of her previous employers (Pruitt 1945: 194). In 1911 Lao T'ai found a job for her daughter as well as herself, in Chefoo, at the home of a civil worker (Pruitt 1945: 195). They could both bring their children with them, and they shared a rented home (Pruitt 1945: 195). Soon after starting work, however, Mantze found a man that she liked and she took him into their home (Pruitt 1945: 203). [...]
[...] By the time she was thirteen (eleven in USA standards), she was considered a woman and was not allowed outside the compound where they lived (Pruitt 1945: 23). She was also not allowed to raise her voice and had to stop talking whenever a man entered the room (Pruitt 1945: 29). Lao T'ai was frustrated by her lack of independence and decision making ability (Pruitt 1945: 29). For example, she wanted to wear a silver chain in her hair, which was quite fashionable, but her father refused to buy her one (Pruitt 1945: 30). [...]
[...] He would come home to visit for a couple of weeks every year (Pruitt 1945: 49). He made good money in Chefoo, but died there of an injury to his leg, although Lao T'ai did not find out how he died until much later (Pruitt 1945: 49-50). Not long after her father died, in 1887, her mother became very ill (Pruitt 1945: 50). She was weak and would go into fits of confusion, but Lao T'ai nursed her for seven days until she passed away (Pruitt 1945: 51). [...]
[...] In 1895, Lao T'ai left the family, after a fight with one of the mistresses and she got a job in the home of the Shou Pei yamen, where she helped prepare the New Years meal (Pruitt 1945: 87). In 1899, Lao T'ai's husband comes back and is no longer addicted to opium (Pruitt 1945: 142-144). He works selling goods on the street, anything from fried foods to woven baskets and he helps feed the family (Pruitt 1945: 144). Soon after the family is back together, it is time for Mantze to get married and Lao T'ai finds a cobbler for the army, Li Yuntze, who has a rich family (Pruitt 1945: 151-155). [...]
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