Lulanzi—A Crop Obtained with Much Hardship

The colour of lulanzi is very close to mung beans, but it is a variety of soybean. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)

Oral account by Luo Xiuqiong, villager of Xiaozhai Community, Wayao Village,
Niuchang Township, Baiyun District, Guiyang City, Guizhou Province
Written by Zhu Xiaoxing, Assistant Programme Officer, PCD

Editor's note:

A traditional variety of soybean known as lulanzi (blue and green beans) used to be cultivated by most farmers in the village of Wayao in Guizhou Province. Among the three varieties of soybean traditionally grown by these villagers, lulanzi makes the best soy milk and bean curd. It is a variety of soybean that the people of Wayao obtained after much hardship, the story of which is represented by a legend about their ancestors. Luo Xiuqiong, a villager of Wayao, tells the story of how her ancestor very cleverly obtained lulanzi from a greedy landlord, which helped build a life of self-sufficiency and self-reliance for the farmers and their descendants as well as a culture of tasty local food. In contrast, the new varieties of soybean now being adopted by villagers bring only pests.

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The colour of lulanzi is very close to mung beans
The colour of lulanzi is very close to mung beans, but it is a variety of soybean. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)
The bean curd made from lulanzi is especially tasty
The bean curd made from lulanzi is especially tasty. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)
On the table, over half of the many dishes of local food unique to Wayao are made of soybean
On the table, over half of the many dishes of local food unique to Wayao are made of soybean. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)
A feast of bean curd during the flames ceremony
A feast of bean curd during the flames ceremony. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)
Luo Xiuqiong (standing) explaining the taste of old varieties of soybean
Luo Xiuqiong (standing) explaining the taste of old varieties of soybean at a community food tasting session. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)
Luo Xiuqiong standing next to her soybeans
Luo Xiuqiong standing next to her soybeans. (Ding Ying)
A rice field in Wayao during harvest time in autumn
A rice field in Wayao during harvest time in autumn. (Zhu Xiaoxing/PCD)

Wayao used to cultivate a rich diversity of crops. However, in the old days, this was not the way people thought. They only knew that some varieties were handed down by their ancestors. Some varieties were used as offerings to their ancestors and some were consumed by the elderly people at home. In other words, every variety had its use and that was why they grew them. After some time, these crops became 'old varieties' because other people have turned to growing new varieties.

In Wayao, very few people grow the new crop varieties. Like others, I attach importance to the use of different varieties and want to continue to grow them. Actually there’s also an emotional reason: the old varieties are very dear to me. That's why I continue to cultivate them.

The best soybean food made from Lulanzi

Take, for example, soybeans. In Wayao, three varieties of soybeans are cultivated: ximidou (small rice beans), baishuidou (white water beans) and lulanzi (green and blue beans). The colour and taste of the three varieties of soybeans are very different. The eyes (the hilum) of the beans look different, too. The taste of soy milk and bean curd made from lulanzi is the best. In Wayao, when we conduct the flames ceremony (a custom in Wayao carried out during New Year to ward off disasters), every family has to contribute in cash and in kind. While the cash is used to buy chickens and ducks, soybean is one of the main products that the villagers contribute. Every family contributes the lulanzi they have grown. The bean curd from these soybeans is then made into one of the main dishes for the flames ceremony. Everyone wishes that they can be as pure as the bean curd in the coming year and that life will be as fragrant and sweet.

I remember my grandpa was still alive when I began to attend secondary school. I was a teenager. He told me why and how our family started to cultivate lulanzi. Many years ago, an ancestor of our family worked for a landlord. No one now knows which generation this great grandpa belonged to, but he was very poor and his boss the landlord was very smart. The landlord wanted to make sure that the tenant farmers did not get anything from his fields. Every day when the farmers finished work, a servant of the landlord would search them to make sure that they had not taken anything, including seeds of the crops that grew in the field. The landlord believed that so long as the tenant farmers had nothing at home, they would have to work for him.

Great grandpa obtained lulanzi with cunning

Great grandpa got tired of working for the landlord. Apart from three meals, he had no other payment and he could not return to his own home. Even if he could, there was nothing there except for four walls. He had nothing to grow. He felt that life would be happier if he was labouring for himself. Working for the mean and stingy landlord day and night, he finally had an idea. He noticed that when the landlord’s servants searched him, they were not very bothered with his shoes. So whenever he got a chance, he hid a few seeds in them. He did not dare to hide too many for fear of being found out, and when ordered to take off his shoes, he would even turn them upside down to show that he hadn’t taken anything. However he always used his fingers to pinch the tip of the shoes where the seeds were hidden.

He started to go home more often. When it was the season for growing beans, he went home and stealthily planted the lulanzi he had taken. Later on he secretly collected the harvest. After a few years, he had many more seeds, not just of soybean but also of red rice. With the seeds, he could now earn his own living even if he left the landlord, who he could no longer bear the thought of working for. When he decided to leave, in order to prevent any suspicion, he deliberately infuriated the landlord so that he was driven away. He went home and lived a happy life of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

Farmers who cultivate new crop varieties are turning to new 'landlords'

Now in Wayao some farmers are growing new varieties of soybean. People bought the new varieties from outside and no longer save the seeds of old varieties of soybeans. But, apart from the difference in taste, new varieties of soybean are much more susceptible to pests. If the farmers do not apply pesticide, insects lay eggs in the flowers. Beans grown are already infected. The old varieties of soybeans rarely suffer these pest problems.

It is interesting to note that in the old days, our ancestors went through so much hardship to save seeds. Nowadays, people pay cash to buy seeds of new varieties. It is like turning to another ‘landlord’—they rely on others to provide them with seeds and are able to produce only under such conditions. It seems to me that again we own our land in name only. Why do these people act like that? This is something I cannot understand!