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Fenjia: Household Division and Inheritance in Qing & Republican China

Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "A detailed, interdisciplinary, empirical study of an important phenomenon....As such, it should quickly become the standard work on the topic." --American Historical Review "Illuminating research on an important topic in Chinese studies." --Choice "Highly informative and quite detailed." --China Review International, Fall 1999 "Wakefield's broad-ranging and detailed analysis of inheritance practices documented in household division documents, laws, and litigation fills many of the historical gaps left open by anthropologists primarily concerned with explaining contemporary practices of household division and family dynamics." --Journal of Asian Studies, February 2000 "Cet ouvrage s'adrèse ... aux historiens de l'économie, en ce sens que le thème de la division égalitaire des patrimoines est étudié dans l'optique d'une recherche sur les obstacles au développement spontané d'un capitalisme chinois." --Revue Bibliographique de Sinology, 2000

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6249-7
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    This is a book about Chinese inheritance, usually calledfenjiain Chinese, andfenjiais best translated as household division. The basic issues I explore in the book are, first, the nature of household division and, second, household division’s importance to Chinese history and social structure. I do this by attempting to answer several major questions regarding household division that have long bothered historians of China. The first perhaps deceptively simple question is, what was the Chinese inheritance regime? Since Thomas Malthus wrote in 1826, scholars have long assumed that at inheritance time Chinese family property was divided equally among...

  6. Chapter 2 Inheritance Law and Practice before the Qing
    (pp. 10-33)

    A beginning, or entry point, to any topic in Chinese history is always a dilemma. I have opted for the simple answer. I will begin at the beginning, with the earliest recorded references to inheritance. Thus Chapter 2 is a quick overview of China’s inheritance law and practice over a period of thirty centuries.

    For inheritance in China’s Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 1027–771 b.c.), some scholars have argued that primogeniture was the rule.¹ The system has been labeled thezongfa, with kingship passing through thedazong, or main line, and secondary and tertiary noble titles descending throughxiaozong, or...

  7. Chapter 3 Qing Household Division: Why, When, and How?
    (pp. 34-63)

    From the vantage point of three thousand years of history, let us now turn to household division in the Qing period. When households divided, they did so for a variety of reasons and with a variety of outcomes in mind, but they did so through a fairly universal process. I propose to view this procedure from three perspectives, looking at the reasons why, the timing of, and the process through which household division occurred.

    The reasons why and when households divided varied, with all aspects of family experience playing roles. As Maurice Freedman so well put it: “The problem is...

  8. Chapter 4 The Rights of Individuals in Qing Taiwan
    (pp. 64-89)

    With a basic understanding of the whys, whens, and hows of household division, let us now turn to a case study: Qing dynasty Taiwan. This chapter presents the principles and practices of household division in Qing Taiwan from 1730 to 1900. Rooted in ground-level materials such as family documents, it analyzes the rights of each individual in the family at the point of household division and in so doing creates a baseline from which to compare Qing Taiwan to Republican North China in Chapter 7.

    Household division among the Chinese in Taiwan during the Qing dynasty followed the inheritance regime...

  9. Chapter 5 Dividing Different Types of Property in Qing Taiwan
    (pp. 90-112)

    Having illustrated the rights of individuals in Qing Taiwan, let us now turn to the objects that these rights pertained to: property in its various forms. The major forms of property divided at division time were housing, land, and debt, but each form had myriad variations in the Qing Taiwan context.

    As to the division of living space, the primary concern when dividing housing was to provide each brother with an equal amount of space, regardless of the present size of his conjugal unit. Though equality of space was the salient concern, two other factors operated as well. First, the...

  10. Chapter 6 Household Division Disputes in Qing Courts
    (pp. 113-127)

    The normal process of household division did not involve the Qing state or the courts. But a small percentage of inheritance-related disputes did go to court, and given China’s large population, they represent a significant number of cases. In particular, the cases from Baxian in Sichuan are so rich in detail that they can be used to illustrate several inheritance-related issues at the same time. This chapter seeks to analyze how the community-based process of household division interacted with the Qing court system and how Qing magistrates adjudicated household division–related disputes.

    Family quarrels, including inheritance disputes, generally involved great...

  11. Chapter 7 Republican Rural North China
    (pp. 128-154)

    Let us now shift focus from Sichuan northward to the North China Plain and from the Qing forward to the Republican period of the 1930s and 1940s, allowing comparisons over both place and time. The differences in geography are essentially three: rural North China is characterized by a dry, less productive agriculture, simpler patterns of land tenure, and a closer proximity to the traditional center of political authority in Beijing. The differences in time are punctuated by three crucial political events: the destruction of the Qing state by the Chinese revolution of 1911, the establishment of a partially effective Republican...

  12. Chapter 8 Region and Class: Exceptions, Strategies, and Orientations
    (pp. 155-184)

    As we have seen, the basics of household division were the same in Qing Taiwan and Republican North China. Household division documents and legal cases from other areas of China demonstrate that the pattern was standard throughout Han China. But even within this well-structured system, families could and did employ differing strategies of property dispensation for a variety of purposes. One strategy was to make use of accepted violations of the equal division rules, including set-asides known as the eldest grandson portion, the eldest son portion, and special gifts. Other strategies used acceptable property set-asides and trusts. When opting for...

  13. Chapter 9 Household Division and Society: Land, Orientations, and Social Mobility
    (pp. 185-199)

    The treatment of property during household division raises questions central to the functioning of China’s economy and society. Because land was the most important means of production and because it was divided equally among the sons, it is first useful to ask, what were the effects of this inheritance regime on farming and landownership? Available evidence allows us to answer this question posed from three perspectives: Did China’s peasants divide farms beyond the point necessary for survival of a single family? Did China’s peasants fragment plots to the point of agricultural inefficiency? Did regional and class orientations significantly affect landholding...

  14. Chapter 10 Conclusions and Speculations
    (pp. 200-210)

    In the centuries prior to the Qing, Chinese inheritance law was not entirely static. As the dynasties came and went, inheritance law underwent changes in key areas of adoption, women’s property rights, and perhaps the power of the will. But more important, the principle of equal division of property among all sons was the consistent legal principle guiding inheritance. Through an analysis of pre-Qing household division documents and legal cases, we can see that the basic principles of Chinese household division practices were three: living parents received support, unmarried siblings received marriage expenses or dowries, and all sons inherited equally....

  15. Appendix 1: China’s Laws on Inheritance
    (pp. 211-219)
  16. Appendix 2: Historical Sources and Their Limits
    (pp. 220-223)
  17. Appendix 3: Chinese Terms for Weights and Measures
    (pp. 224-226)
  18. Appendix 4: Chinese Terms for Guarantors on Household Division Documents, by Province
    (pp. 227-227)
  19. Appendix 5: Common Terms for Household Division Documents, by Province
    (pp. 228-230)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 231-238)
  21. Glossary
    (pp. 239-240)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-250)
  23. Index
    (pp. 251-261)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-262)