Elderly farmer is at the heart of the space programme

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am

Do you live inside the base?

No, I lived in the valley where the [Red Army] Bridge crosses the river.

My house burned down last month because of an electrical problem, so I took my granddaughter to live in an old house on the hill. We have an acre of cornfield.

Where did you come from? Beijing?

My two sons and daughter are [migrant workers] in Beijing, too.

I am going to Niutou village to fetch my granddaughter from school. The ground was slippery this morning. I just fell and cut my lips.

The hill belongs to the army. Can you still live and cultivate the fields there?

Yes. It's just that the house is too old and not as comfortable as the new one, and my granddaughter is not used to it.

Have the launches poisoned your field?

Poison? I have never heard of anything like that.

No, it does not affect the corn. I think crops actually grew better after they launched rockets. I am 72 years old. No, we have never left for a satellite launch. I have seen a number of them. We were told to hide in a tunnel. They had dug it for a train but they abandoned it long ago. I don't like rockets. They are too loud and frightening.

Do you know the soldier who saluted you?

I don't know him. They have been saluting us since the Red Army arrived [in 1935]. I am used to it.

I was born when they came. For that reason, my mother named me after them. Liu Honghong is my name. [Hong means red in Chinese.]

I don't remember which year they started building the base, but our lives have improved a lot. Some villagers are making tens of thousands of yuan building roads for the base. They built my granddaughter's school. My [burned] house was built by them. They said they would fix my house next month.

Every Lunar New Year, they give us money and gifts. We were very poor before. Life has improved a lot since the soldiers came. If I'd known I'd be talking to a journalist from Beijing, I would have put on better clothes.

Did the army build the base on your land?

Yes, my husband and I had 4 acres [1.6 hectares] of land inside the base.

They gave us compensation. Some villagers got more but some, like us, received very little. I can't remember the exact amount but it was about 20,000 yuan. It was more than two decades ago. My late husband knew more because he was the one who closed the deal. Others said the army gave everyone the same amount of money, but that village cadres kept the lion's share for themselves. They also line their pockets with subsidies meant for us. Corrupt officials deserve to be shot.

What do you think of the base?

I don't understand why they are building so many houses there.

Many of them are empty. No one lives in there. What a waste! They are big, clean and bright houses, too. Every year they add new buildings in there while the number of residents declines. I like big windows. It would be nice if we could live in those houses.