Chinese Views of Childhood

Chinese Views of Childhood

Edited by Anne Behnke Kinney
Copyright Date: 1995
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Views of Childhood
    Book Description:

    Chinese in the twentieth century, intent on modernizing their country, condemned their inherited culture in part on the grounds that it was oppressive to the young. The authors of this pioneering volume provide us with the evidence to re-examine those charges. Drawing on sources ranging from art to medical treatises, fiction, and funerary writings, they separate out the many complexities in the Chinese cultural construction of childhood and the ways it has changed over time. Listening to how Chinese talked about children--whether their own child, the abstract child in need of education or medical care, the ideal precocious child, or the fictional child--lets us assess in concrete terms the structures and values that underlay Chinese life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6188-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chinese Dynasties
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    C. John Sommerville

    When setting out on a historical study of childhood, as these path-breaking scholars have done, one cannot be sure which of two approaches toward children will emerge from the resources. Some societies can only see childhood in terms of its potential—in relation, that is, to eventual adult roles. Others recognize childhood as a separate time with its own rights and tasks and its own fulfillment. This is not a moral distinction; some societies that indulge children in a world of their own do a poor job of preparing them for later life. But the difference is striking, nevertheless, and...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This is a book about childhood in China. Given the great number and diversity of works bearing on various aspects of Chinese civilization, it is curious that among all these studies the discussion of childhood is almost totally absent. In premodern Chinese culture, passage into adulthood usually occurred anywhere between age fifteen and twentysui(fourteen and nineteen by Western reckoning). Thus the sheer length of childhood in traditional China constitutes such a considerable proportion of a typical lifespan that we cannot afford to neglect it. Furthermore, if one accepts the idea that it is during childhood that gender roles...

    • 1 Dyed Silk: Han Notions of the Moral Development of Children
      (pp. 17-56)

      As early as the Shang dynasty (ca. 1700–1050 B.C.), kings made divinations about the births of their children and engravers recorded these prognostications in oracle-bone inscriptions.¹ Inscriptions on Western Zhou (ca. 1045–771 B.C.) bronze vessels also mention children in formulaic phrases that express wishes for “sons and grandsons,” who would treasure the vessels and act as future guardians of the ancestral cult.² Children and childhood are also mentioned sporadically in the transmitted texts of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771–256 B.C.), and though the infant becomes an important symbol of naturalness in theDaode jing(late fourth to...

    • 2 Famous Chinese Childhoods
      (pp. 57-78)

      The Chinese dynastic historian dealt with lives much more than with institutions or events. Emperors’ lives(benji)were cotemporal with the eras; with each new emperor came a new reign title and a new year 1. Individual exemplary lives(liezhuan)were arrayed in chapter after chapter of the dynastic histories, for through the lives of exemplary individuals the significance of history for the whole of Chinese civilization was revealed. Absent the lives, the family chapters, and the genealogies, a dynastic history would consist of a dozen technical treatises and a few tables. Historians retold past dynasties by telling the lives...

    • 3 Private Love and Public Duty: Images of Children in Early Chinese Art
      (pp. 79-110)
      WU HUNG

      A child who died in A.D. 170 is portrayed on a relief stone, originally part of an offering shrine but reused in a later tomb (Fig. 1).¹ The picture is divided into two registers. The child appears on the upper frieze, sitting on a dais in a dignified manner, and his name, Xu Aqu, is inscribed beside him. Three chubby boys are walking or running toward him; clad only in diapers, their tender age is also indicated by theirzongjiaohairstyle: two round tufts protrude above their heads. They appear to be amusing their young master; one boy releases a...

    • 4 Filial Paragons and Spoiled Brats: A Glimpse of Medieval Chinese Children in the Shishuo xinyu
      (pp. 111-126)

      The Chinese-American anthropologist Francis L. K. Hsü used to complain facetiously that he had had “the worst of two worlds”: he himself had been brought up in China, and he had had to bring up his own children in America. In China, even after forty years of anti-feudal indoctrination, filial piety(xiao)is still the expected mode of behavior toward one’s parents, although, to be honest, it has been challenged in recent years. In America, especially after two hundred years of the Bill of Rights, the attitude of children toward their parents is far more ambivalent. However, I have no...

    • 5 Childhood Remembered: Parents and Children in China, 800 to 1700
      (pp. 129-156)
      PEI-YI WU

      A major problem confronting historians of premodern Chinese childhood is that of source material. In spite of the massive written records of the past, there was nothing in China that could even remotely compare to the diary of the court doctor Jean Héroard, who kept a day-to-day account of the infancy of the future King Louis XIII (1601–1643), beginning with the accouchement. Everything that a modern social historian likes to know can be found in it, often in minute detail: food, clothes, corporal punishment, toilet training, infantile sexuality, weaning, parental interactions, education. No wonder, then, that the history of...

    • 6 From Birth to Birth: The Growing Body in Chinese Medicine
      (pp. 157-192)

      How is a life located in time? Birth and growth from child to adult may be aspects of a universal human life cycle, but we are taught how to number our days. As a cultural reading of old age, the biblical three score years and ten, freighted with fleshly mortality, is profoundly unlike Confucius’ summation of maturity at seventy: “I could follow my heart’s desire and not transgress what is right.” These examples show one commonplace repertory of markers for the passages of human time: numbers computed according to calendars or by some more organic pattern of the “ages of...

    • 7 Infanticide and Dowry in Ming and Early Qing China
      (pp. 193-218)

      In the past decade or so, historians of China have increasingly turned their attention to matters of private life, examining such subjects as family dynamics, sexuality, and childhood. In our attempts to reimagine the past, we are asking questions about the intimate details of personal lives. The sources available to us, however, are not always forthcoming about these matters. The questions we ask and the questions our sources address do not always converge. We are placed in the complex (and sometimes unenviable) position of pushing our sources to tell us what it is we want to know, rather than what...

    • 8 Children of the Dream: The Adolescent World in Cao Xueqin’s Honglou meng
      (pp. 219-248)

      In relation to world literature, generically and comparatively speaking, Cao Xueqin’s eighteenth-century novelHonglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber)is not a work of children’s literature. Absent are the magical yet foreboding fairy-tale world of the Grimm brothers’Ash Girl(Cinderella), the beauty-and-the-beast pattern ofSnow White and Rose Red,the enfant terrible of Nepalese animal stories, the journey into fantasy ofAlice in Wonderland,and the wondrous crossing of barriers seen in folktales by Yunnan minorities.¹ We cannot compare it to Western twentieth-century young adult fiction or “coming of age” ethnic autobiographies of adolescence such as Joy Kogawa’s...

    • 9 Relief Institutions for Children in Nineteenth-Century China
      (pp. 251-278)

      This chapter explores how new ideas on the destitute child emerged and developed in the nineteenth century through the organization of relief institutions. These views are significantly different from those that informed early and mid-Qing foundling hospitals (established in the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and have already been the subject of several studies.¹ Recently, the Japanese scholar Fuma Susumu has published several ground-breaking studies on nineteenth-century institutions for children in the Jiangnan region.² Consequently, that these institutions were, with few exceptions, essentially initiated, managed, and financed by the local people under elite leadership is now a generally accepted fact. Yet...

    • 10 Remembering the Taste of Melons: Modern Chinese Stories of Childhood
      (pp. 279-320)

      Born in the last decades of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), early modern Chinese writers grew up in an era of radical social change.² With the abolition of the Confucian bureaucratic system, intellectuals began to reassess their very function in society and developed a strong sense of mission, perceiving themselves as shapers of new modes of thought and behavior. Their most important tool was a revolutionized literature that they hoped would broaden their base of influence and give voice to those seldom heard from directly in the past, in particular, women, peasants, and children. Through the new literature of the...

    • 11 Revolutionary Little Red Devils: The Social Psychology of Rebel Youth, 1966–1967
      (pp. 321-344)

      This essay examines and reinterprets the social psychology of rebel youth during the tumultuous opening phases of the Cultural Revolution. From late spring 1966 until Chairman Mao Zedong’s September 5, 1967, national decree, urban youth in China played the leading part in a social and political convulsion that shook the Chinese Communist system to its foundations. Set in motion and legitimated by the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) himself, the Red Guard movement galvanized legions of university and middle school students, including millions of children in the true sense of the word. This youthful upheaval has become infamous;...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 345-346)
  11. Index
    (pp. 347-353)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 354-354)