The Rhythm of Life. Long talks with Ching Chi and the Old Secretary, Li Yu-hua, and shorter ones with practically all the women of Liu Lin

The mothers of Liu Lin suckle their babies until they are two or three. Many go on even longer, especially if it is the last child, or if the mother wants to avoid having any more children for a time. If a mother does not herself have milk, she does not get another woman to suckle her baby. Here, in north Shensi, a woman does not suckle another’s child. In these cases the baby is given goat’s milk. Some children drink milk up to the age of seven, but never after that. ‘Milk is bad for your health.’

A baby starts being given other food than breast milk when it is seven months old. It then starts being given a thin gruel of millet and rice and water; then a thin porridge of millet and water. At one year old, the child starts getting thicker porridge, then noodles and steam-baked bread soaked in gruel, but no vegetables at that age: ‘Vegetables are too difficult for children’s stomachs to digest.’

At three, when a mother normally stops suckling her child, it starts being given steam bread with bean stuffing, eggs and vegetables. While I was talking with Tuan Fu-yin’s wife, she had her youngest daughter on her knee, and there the child sat, clutching its mother’s right breast in one hand and a tomato in the other, and taking alternate sucks and bites, while we talked. This was not usual, though.

After three, a child starts to eat with the family. It is given soft, easily masticated food without strong spices. All members of the family help to feed it. Then it begins trying to eat with chopsticks, after which its diet becomes progressively like that of the others in the family.