The Effects of One-Child Policy on Chinese Kinship

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Burt Jiang
Anthropology 331
4/22/2013
Term Paper
The origins of Chinese civilization derive its roots from the Huang-he and Yangtze Rivers. Like other ancient river valley civilizations, these two rivers provided early Chinese settlers with the raw materials necessary to sustain culture and society. Burgeoning from small, scattered clans, autonomous groups of Chinese villages situated around the rivers would in turn become the building blocks of the ancient Chinese dynasties to the modern day, People’s Republic of China. The system of clans became an effective method of identifying one’s own lineage through the maintenance of a single surname throughout the clan. As the social structure of the clan grew, the complex interactions among clan and non-clan members eventually synergized to create China’s own form of kinship. Anthropologists have since come to classify Chinese kinship under the broader term of Sudanese kinship. The Sudanese, and by extension Chinese, kinship is considered the most complex system with a separate designation for almost every one of ego’s kin based on generation, lineage, relative age, and gender. As observed, the Chinese kinship system already has a strictly defined scheme of kin identification, but the monikers only serve as an outline of China’s kinship system. The true backbone of Chinese kinship draws its source from Confucian ideals, ideals that have been deeply ingrained in Chinese dogma since the late fifth century B.C. Among his teachings of filial piety and ancestor worship, Confucius outlines for the Chinese people the five most basic interactions: interactions between ruler and subject; father and son; elder and younger brother; husband and wife; and between friends. Of the five interactions, the interactions between father-son, and husband-wife, have seen the greatest amount of development and change throughout to course of China’s history. As China exited the feudal age and entered the modern world as The People’s Republic of China, the two interactions identified experienced considerable changes while maintaining their signature Chinese accent. Feudal China’s departure, and the advent of communist China, has brought forth rapid family reform and ultimately, the initiation of the One-Child Policy. Even in the face of rapid modernization and reform, the strong influences of Confucian ideals and an intrinsic patrilineal descent pattern still characterize Chinese kinship; however, the introduction of the One-Child Policy, and its ramifications, has put stress on the traditional Chinese family structures as well as possibly creating many more problems future generations must solve.

Of all the pseudo-religious institutions that took hold in China, Daoism and Zen Buddhism, most notably, the concept of ancestor worship put forth by Confucius is by far the most ubiquitous in Chinese culture and kinship relationships. Defined by the nine agnates, Confucius took great efforts to outline the nuclear family as clearly as possible, three generations prior to the ego, the ego, and three generations after the ego. Within the nine agnates, ancestral worship and filial piety became the driving forces that perpetuated kinship interactions in China for generations. Thus forms the cyclical cycle of Chinese kinship, the younger generations are kept in line by the rules of filial piety while the older generation is kept in memory and reverence via ancestral worship. The importance of ancestor worship can be conceptualized and materialized through the complex mourning attire and rituals exhibited by the Chinese people. Much like the suru’ai of Kwaio, individuals in mourning must display no worldly attachment, must not be seen in public, must have abstain from sexual activity, and generally must live a life of detachment throughout the mourning period (Akin March 11). The mourning period is defined by the relationship of the mourner to the individual that has passed away; consequently, the duration of...
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