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UNIT 13: Family and Household

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Confucian Views of Family and Household in China

This segment examines the tightly woven connection between Confucianism and family life in Imperial China, from the second century BCE to the sixteenth century. During the latter Han dynasty (in the first and second centuries CE) the ideas of Confucius and his followers began to dominate all realms of Chinese social and political life. For Confucius, the family, not the individual or the community, was the fundamental unit of society. In the Confucian ideal, families were to be strictly hierarchical: old over young, and male over female. In addition, Confucianism idealized the extended family, and encouraged families to favor sons over daughters.

By around 1000 CE, Confucian ideals had intertwined with law codes of the state to define the family from an official and legal perspective. But, as in other cultures, additional factors played a greater role in shaping the actual experience of family life: economic realities, regional customs, and individual personalities. Many people could not afford to live in extended families, and the practice of infanticide — especially of infant girls — became common. Moreover, although women were supposed to be subordinate to men, their role in educating sons, in running households, and even in arranging marriages is just one example of the many differences between prescription and reality in Chinese family life.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, PORTRAIT OF CONFUCIUS [555-479 BCE] (1743). Courtesy of WorldArt Kiosk/Kathleen Cohen.

Anonymous Chinese, PORTRAIT OF CHINESE ARISTOCRATIC WOMAN (n.d.). Copyright 2003 Oregon Public Broadcasting and its licensors. All rights reserved.


Anonymous Chinese, MANDARIN AND HIS TWO WIVES (n.d.). Copyright 2003 Oregon Public Broadcasting and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Chin T'ing-piao, TS'AO T'AI-KU [BAN ZHAO] TEACHING CALLIGRAPHY (ca. 1760). From the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Republic of China.



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