Fenjia: Household Division and Inheritance in Qing and Republican China

By David Wakefield | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Conclusions and Speculations

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.

For the Qing dynasty and the Republican period, this pattern remained intact. In the chapters of this book it has been possible to analyze the patterns regarding why, when, and how household division occurred. Household division happened because of the tensions inherent in the relationship between an expanding family and the property it possessed, and not because of community or legal pressures, or even necessarily the deaths of both parents. The tensions often centered on the per capita nature of daily consumption and the per stirpes nature of household division. These tensions were most often expressed as disputes between brothers, between sisters-in-law, and between parents and children. Although theoretically household division could take place at any point after the birth of two sons, it tended to occur after the marriage of the sons, yet before the deaths of both parents. This early timing of household division tended to

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