Lineage Organization in Southeastern China

Lineage Organization in Southeastern China

Lineage Organization in Southeastern China

Lineage Organization in Southeastern China

Excerpt

This essay is the work of a social anthropologist but it is not based upon field work. It is concerned with Chinese matters but it is not written by a sinologue. To explain why I have ventured to write a book about China I must go back to a subject which I have studied as a field anthropologist. In the years 1949 and 1950, under the auspices of the Colonial Social Science Research Council, I carried out a study of family and marriage among the Chinese living in the Colony of Singapore. While this study was in progress and during the years which followed I pondered the significance of what I gathered both from my Singapore informants and from my reading of the works in European languages on the nature of Chinese society in the two provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung. To begin with I was interested in these provinces as the homeland of the Chinese in South-east Asia, but I came gradually to see in the material I was able to collect problems of a general sociological importance. If political and academic circumstances had been in my favour I should have gone to south-eastern China to study at first hand the questions which engaged my attention, but as matters have turned out I have seen no more of my field than glimpses of Kwangtung seized during a flying visit to Hong Kong and Macao in 1955.

I have set out in this essay my reflections on certain aspects of south- eastern Chinese society during the last hundred and fifty years. What I write cannot amount to a complete study, but it may help to interpret a kind of social complex which has much interested anthropologists in recent years. Unilineal kinship organization in a differentiated society and a centralized political system forms the main theme of the essay.

My attention was attracted to Fukien and Kwangtung because this region of China has specialized not only in large-scale unilineal organization but also in sending people overseas. Although I am concerned here with China itself, I hope that some of the matters I discuss will be of use to students of overseas Chinese society; for this is a field which, while of great interest in its own right, tends to grow in importance the longer China remains inaccessible.

It is possible that Chinese rural society will soon have changed beyond recognition. If China opens its doors to field investigation before happens, we shall have the fruits of first-hand work to set against the . . .

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