T HIS is a book about Chinese inheritance, usually called fenjia in Chinese, and fenjia is best translated as houeshold division. The basic issues I explore in the book are, first, the nature of household division and, second, household division's importance to Chinese history and social structure. I do this by attempting to answer several major questions regarding household division that have long bothered historians of China. The first perhaps deceptively simple question is, what was the Chinese inheritance regime? Since Thomas Malthus wrote in 1826, scholars have long assumed that at inheritance time Chinese family property was divided equally among all brothers ( Malthus [ 1914] 1982:129-130). This assumption was never directly challenged, but it did come packaged with a sense of unease. Privately, many scholars felt that such an inheritance regime was economically "irrational" in that it created, indeed guaranteed, property fragmentation, downward mobility, and morcellated landownership. Why would Chinese families do such economically "irrational" things? Secondly, the increasing sensitivity to the vast historical and geographical variations in areas of Chinese culture such as language dialects, marriage patterns, and dowry practices led many to worry that perhaps inheritance might also contain regional variations. The knowledge that in some locations eldest sons or grandsons received some extra property often fueled this concern. Thus a major portion of the argument here is designed to answer the question, did Chinese families really divide the family property among all sons?