Chinese Family and Society

Chinese Family and Society

Chinese Family and Society

Chinese Family and Society

Excerpt

Courageous European thinkers of the eighteenth century foresaw a world increasingly enriched by Asia's great Eastern civilization, China. Today the old vision is being fulfilled like many other dreams, in a manner radically different from the original conception; but as part of a vigorous and painful process of global integration in which we all participate, it is being fulfilled.

The study of things Chinese has ceased to be an academic hobby; it has become a practical necessity. We have to know why the Chinese behave as they do. We have to understand the pattern of their culture and thought. Among the many roads that lead to this goal, few hold more promise than the investigation of the Chinese family.

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IT has frequently been said that the Chinese are family centered. The statement needs qualifying, though in essence it is true. The study of the family offers an unusual opportunity to reveal the human substance of Chinese society, but this opportunity can be fully utilized only if the family is considered a concrete and basic component of the whole social fabric, not an abstract and isolated phenomenon.

The success of such an approach, however, is dependent on an appropriate concept of the nature of Chinese society. Is it correct to equate China during the last two thousand years and Europe of the Middle Ages? Or must China be examined in the light of categories alien to Western tradition? A few modern social scientists have clearly seen the problem. R. H. Tawney, the great English economic historian who, after a lifelong study of the growth of Western society, made an investigation of land and labor in China, concludes his analysis by remarking emphatically: "The hackneyed reference to the Middle Ages . . . is misleading, indeed, both in principle and in detail. On the one hand, it implies a comparison of stages of development, as though the Chinese version of civilization, instead of differing in kind from the European, was merely less mature. On the other hand, it ignores the . . .

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