The Chinese Kinship System

The Chinese Kinship System

The Chinese Kinship System

The Chinese Kinship System

Excerpt

The interest of the Chinese themselves in problems of kinship was manifested quite early. This interest is primarily a practical one, for the whole Chinese social structure is built upon the basis of the "extended family" organization, which in turn is based upon the systematization of the mutual relationships among its members. If the whole social structure is to function harmoniously, the kinship system, which expresses and defines the rights and obligations of individuals to each other, must first be adjusted. This ideology is further fostered by the teachings of Confucianism, so that kinship becomes a subject of perennial interest.

The systematic recording of relationship terms goes back as far as the Êrh Ya, a work of the third or second century B. C. (according to the more conservative dating), in which the terms are carefully classified and arranged. Subsequent works of a similar nature all contain special chapters on kinship nomenclature, e. g., the Shih Ming [ca. 200 A. D.] and the Kuang Ya [ca. 230 A. D.] -- to mention only two of the comparatively earlier ones. These works record later terms which are not present in the Êrh Ya and in a sense bring the Êrh Ya system up to the date of each compilation. This practice has continued down to the present day. Even larger encyclopaedic works devote special sections to this subject, e. g., the T'ai p'ing yü lan (983 A. D.) . . .

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