Fenjia: Household Division and Inheritance in Qing and Republican China

By David Wakefield | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Republican Rural North China

LET us now shift focus from Sichuan northward to the North China Plain and from the Qing forward to the Republican period of the 1930 s 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 government in 1927, and the conquest of North China by Japanese imperialist armies in 1937.

For purposes of inheritance, the critical change was the founding of the new Republican government, which passed a set of new laws that suggested radical transformations were in store for Chinese inheritance practices. This complex series of statutes attempted to bring Chinese inheritance law into accordance with major traditions in European law and simultaneously keep it linked to Chinese reality ( Chang Tao Hsing 1935; Riasanovsky 1976:278-303; van der Valk 1969). Promulgated on January 24, 1931, and made effective on May 5, 1931, the laws totaled 171 statutes on family law, eighty-eight on succession and inheritance, and eleven on application ( LRPG 1961: 338-360).

As a system, they embodied many radical departures from Qing law and practice, and space dictates that only the most salient changes

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