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The Traditional Chinese Family.docx

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The Traditional Chinese Family & Lineage Arguably there has never been a stable human society in which any institution has been more important to the participants than the family. Thus China is by no means unique in considering the family important, and scholars of Chinese life are well served by focusing attention upon it. The strong institutionalization of the family in traditional China would seem to have made familism even more central in that society than in most. It is not possible to do j
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  The Traditional Chinese Family & Lineage   Arguably there has never been a stable human society in which any institution has been more important to the participants than the family. Thus China is by no means unique in considering the family important, and scholars of Chinese life are well served by focusing attention upon it. The strong institutionalization of the family in traditional China would seem to have made familism even more central in that society than in most. It is not possible to do justice to the complexity and diversity of this institution on a simple web page, but this page attempts at least to provide a few coordinating principles and define a few terms. (Given the state of college teaching about Chinese society, this web site is probably the only place you will ever have the Chinese terms revealed to you if you happen to be studying Chinese. Copy them now!) Because this page is devoted to the traditional Chinese family system, I have tended to use the past tense (and the pictures are mostly from the 1800s). Many of the institutions, beliefs, and values discussed here are still present in China, but I have preferred to focus on the past in order to stress traditionalism and to avoid dealing with the complexities introduced by the modern growth of industries, urban populations, and foreign influences, especially foreign influences on law. For the text of the family-related passages of the late imperial legal code, click here. For underpinnings (or reflections) of family life in the words used in Chinese philosophy, click here. Occasional additional links are provided further down the page. This page uses simplified characters, printed in red. When the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies differ, the traditional equivalents are added in blue.  Page Outline I. The Family II. Descent Lines, Lineage, & Clans III. People Not in Families IV. Marriage V. Sexuality VI.  Adoption & Other Fictive Kinship  I. The Family Definition : The traditional Chinese family, or jiā   家  (colloquial:  jiātíng   家庭 ), called a chia by a few English writers, was a (1) patrilineal, (2) patriarchal, (3)prescriptively virilocal (4) kinship group (5) sharing a common household budgetand (6) normatively extended in form. (It was not the same thing as a descent line, lineage, or  clan, all of which also existed in China.) This means: 1. Patrilineal The term means that descent was calculated through men.  A person was descended from both a mother and a father, of course, but one inherited one's family membership from one's father. China was extreme in that a woman was quite explicitly removed from the family of her birth (her niángjiā   娘家 ) and affiliated to her husband's family (her pójiā   婆家 ), a transition always very clearly symbolized in local marriage customs, despite their variation from one region to another. Reverence was paid to ancestors (zǔxiān   祖先 ). For a man this referred to his male ancestors and their wives. For a woman it referred to her male ancestors and their wives only a couple of generations up, but was extended also to all   of her husband's male ancestors and their wives. In popular belief ancestors depended upon the living for this reverence (usually seen as provisioning them with sacrificial food, literally feeding them), and therefore the failure to produce (or, if  necessary, adopt) male offspring was considered an immoral behavior or, if accidental, a great misfortune. In popular religion, dead people without male descendants to look after them tended to be thought of as potentially dangerous ghosts. Among the living, people of age to be parents but without children tended to be looked down upon. 2. Patriarchal The term means that the family is hierarchically organized, with the prime institutionalized authority being vested in the senior-most male, who was considered to be responsible for the orderly management of the family. (A fascinating late Imperial text of instructions to family heads is available on this web site [Link]) No two members of a Chinese family were equal in authority. A state cannot have two monarchs, a widely cited proverb held, or a family two heads (Guó wú èr jūn, jiā wú èr zhŭ   国无二君,家无二主 .) Officially at least, (1) senior generations were superior to junior generations, (2) older people were superior to younger ones, and (3) men were superior to women. ( Men are high, women low —   nán zūn, nǚ bēi   男尊女卑 —  said another old proverb.) Normatively (that is, in what most people thought of as the ideal form), a family would be headed by a man who was older and/or of more senior generation than anybody else. However, whatever the deference due to older people or older generations, if it was a choice between an adult man and his widowed mother, say, it was the man who became the household head. (Click me.) In actual practice, there is no known family system in which members do not contribute to the collective welfare and decision making, with their differential knowledge, perspectives, and skills. Thus patriarchy is a jural norm, but is differentially salient in different families. Obviously, personality has much to do with how the members of a family actually behave. In China there were always families dominated by women, old people whose lives were run by their children, and so on, just as elsewhere.  Family hierarchy was very emphatically symbolized in the concept of xiào 孝 (colloquial: xiàoshùn 孝顺  / 孝順 ), which is usually translated filial piety, but is more accurately rendered filial subordination. When wills clashed, it was expected (and legally enforced) that the will of a family superior should prevail over the will of a family inferior. Traditional law held a child's insubordination to a parent to be a capital offense, and a daughter-in-law's insubordination to her parents-in-law grounds for divorce. (The picture shows a son, lower right, begging a court to allow him to suffer the punishment for his father's crime.)  At the same time, popular morality made it the right or even obligation of a child to point out the risk if a parent or monarch was about to embark on an ill-advised course of action. The action is usually referred to as remonstration. (Link) Grief over the death of a parent was considered the deepest kind of grief, calling for the longest period of mourning. (In contrast, in some regions it was considered inappropriate to mourn the death of a child, since the child had proven its unfiliality by dying first.) Mourning was highly stylized in traditional China and was structured to throw kinship relationships into high relief. Click here  for a separate page on the famous Wǔfú   五服 , or traditional Chinese mourning categories.  Acts of heroic sacrifice in the support of one's parents were the commonest and most important genre of Chinese moral tales, and were considered especially fit material for the education of children. (The most important group of such tales is a collection called the Twenty-Four Filial Examplars , available elsewhere on this web site.Link) 3. Pr 
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