Chinese Kinship Systems

Topics: Family, Kinship, Marriage Pages: 8 (3349 words) Published: October 8, 1999
It would be impossible to disagree with the statement that "Chinese kinship is based on male predominance". In fact this statement may even be under-emphasizing the control and absolute power that males wield across all levels of Chinese society. Of course, where their power initially comes from though, is through the family or termed differently the "jia". It is this extended or ideal family that cultivates the consistent patrilineal form of control/descent and dictates that residence in said "jia" is primarily patrilocal. That being said, what I hope to be able to create over the following pages is a clearer understanding of the ideal (Chinese) system of control. This ideal system,based on the ideal of male predominance, is outlined impeccably in the writings of Baker, Watson and Xiaotong. There are also excellent examples of an ideal "jia" and its power structure in Wolf's ethnography, "The House of Lim". But Wolf"s ethnography also outlines examples whereby the ideal system of dominance is not always put into practice or is just not as smooth running as the writings of the 3 former anthropologists would have you believe. It is my aim then, to include examples of a patriarchal system encountering problems and realities that are difficult to explain in an "ideal" sense.There is little doubt, according to Baker, that the first and foremost aspect to understanding Chinese families and society at large is the importance placed on male relationships and descent that is traced through a male line. In contrast, women in Chinese society were given little thought and even less power. They were to be used as reproducers of the male line and to aid in home/farm labour, apart from this; women had only small amounts of power and responsibility. In fact, the patriarchal system demanded that a wife's only connection with her husband's family be through the husband himself. Her future then, was caught up with his and her sons only, and she is expected "to see her husband's interests as paramount in importance" (Baker, 1979).Yet, women and childbirth, were essential to the continuation of the patrilineal system, which started with the birth of a son or sons to any kinship system be they peasant or gentry class. It was considered vitally important in Chinese society, that a wife bare a son as soon as possible not only for the continuity of descent (Baker, 1979), but also for her own well being and position in her own family. I will return to this point later, but before going anywhere further it is best to ask why a son was so important in the first place? There is, of course, a myriad of strong reasons, one reason being that surnames were passed down through the male line. This process meant that a male child was needed to take the surname of their father not their mother. Meaning that surname in China was integral to creating a kinship system, which placed heavy emphasis on male superiority. It was through this handed-down surname, that the massive kinship systems such as a lineage or a clan could be generated and held together over generations and generations. Hereditary surnames were also the primary form of hierarchical family organization, and were inherently needed to practice ancestor worship. This type of worship, through a patrilineal method, was exercised even after kinship members had long since been deceased. The handing of the surname to a father's son (s), then meant that he now existed to continue not only his present family but the extended family that came before him, and the "jia" that would surface in the future. Baker's use of a rope metaphor works well here, depicting a rope (standing for male heirs and descendents) which stretches back into the past and forward into the future. "The rope at any one time may be thicker or thinner according to the number of strands (jia) or fibers (male individuals) which exist, but so long as one fiber remains the rope is there….That is the individual alive is the...
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