Fenjia: Household Division and Inheritance in Qing and Republican China

By David Wakefield | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8
Region and Class: Exceptions, Strategies, and Orientations

A s 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 a setaside or trust at household division time, families dedicated specific property to some purpose other than equal division among the sons.

The major set-asides were the eldest grandson portion, the eldest son portion, and yanglao support, which benefited individuals. The major trusts were sacrificial property, joint ceremonial rooms, common property, educational property, and charitable estates, which went for more communal purposes. When families of a particular region or social class employed these strategies over several generations, significant variations could emerge in household division and property relationships as a whole. These inheritance strategies, both singly and in combination, I call "orientations," and to illustrate them I first analyze three exceptions to the general rules--the eldest grandson portion, the eldest son portion, and special gifts--and then several orientations typical of a certain region or class.

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