Inheritance Law and Practice before the Qing
A BEGINNING, or entry point, to any topic in Chinese history is always a dilemma. I have opted for a 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 the zongfa, with kingship passing through the dazong, or main line, and secondary and tertiary noble titles descending through xiaozong, or minor lines. This social hierarchical ordering of the elite is further reflected in hierarchical burial patterns of the nobility. Commoners were buried in hierarchical patterns as well, but whether commoners were part of the zongfa system is unclear. It is also unclear how property devolved to the next generation, because it is doubtful that private property in land existed. Thus, while kingship, royal titles, and fiefs passed down through the rules of primogeniture, the pattern of property devolution among commoners, if any, remains unknown ( Eberhard 1987:50; Hsu and Linduff 1988:163-171).
It was not until the end of the Eastern Zhou dynasty ( 771-256 B.C.) that private property among the common people emerged and