Changes in women's lives accompanied the changes coming with colonial expansion and the Second Indochina War. Men's public roles expanded in the twentieth century owing to growing trade and to political involvement in French-controlled Laos. In the 1940s, as new French-built roads reached into the hill areas, new economic opportunities arose for hill farm families. Farmers were able to sell potatoes and other crops in Hanoi, notably from the area of Nong Het on the Vietnam-Lao border. The variety of goods brought by traders to some villages increased markedly; women added new colors and materials to their needlework repertoire, using French cotton and Chinese silk floss. The jewelry women and men wore was made from French coinage--Indochinese piastres either pierced and hung in great jingling arrays, or melted and formed into hollow tubular neck rings and incredibly intricate chainmail-like breast coverings.
Hmong were able to accumulate more and more of these expensive decorations as the century progressed, and also to increase the amount of silver used in bride wealth exchanges and in ritual, because with the encouragement of Chinese and French buyers they became increasingly involved in the opium trade. As this developing trade increased the Hmongs' wealth it also reduced their isolation, as did their rapid population increase and consequent spread, and the ever more effective means of transportation and communications through roads and telegraph. With the ejection of the French and the formation of the Royal Lao Government, rural development continued, for instance in the increasing number of schools that were founded in rural towns. Previously I described how girls learned domestic tasks in traditional Hmong villages in the Lao mountains. For girls in rural towns, different opportunities were available:
When my family moved out to the country, we built another little house in town for our children who wanted to stay in school. There were eight of us, six girls and two boys, all Blue Hmong children of the Xiong clan. My grandfather's cousin's son, who was about 15, was the oldest. It's OK for girls and boys to stay together if they have the same last name, because then they are like brother and sister, and the boys will not do anything bad to the girls.