reading greif and tabellini, one would be left with the impression that clans in china are eight hundred or so years old. nothing could be further from the truth. afaict, clans have been around in china since at least zhou dynasty days (1046–256 b.c.).

first, from g&t [pgs. 3-4, 17]:

“In China settlement was “based on kinship ties and migrants ‘constructed a new kin-group on the frontier for the purpose of land clearance and developing an irrigation infrastructure’” (Rowe, 2002, p. 534). The hallmark of the emergence of clans during the Song Dynasty (960-1297), is that commoners began keeping genealogies. At that time, European commoners were adopting surnames for the …first time. In sharp contrast to China the most common surnames do not designate common-descent (e.g., Smith, Clark, Draper, Taylor)….

“Table 1 reveals that clans …first emerged in the east and south — —areas that attracted migration during the Song (960-1279) –— and not in the north, the birthplace of the Han people that during this period were out-migrating to the East and South. The table presents the percentage of each region’s genealogies –records of a clan’s members –that trace the clan’s origin to a given period. Thus, for example, about 40 percent of the sample genealogies from the east trace the clan’s origin to a year prior to 1644. The data thus suggests that prior to 1368, clans prevailed in the east and south. They emerged in the north and west only by the Ming period. This period witnessed a large migration back to the north and west, following depopulation due to the Yuan-Ming and the Ming-Qing westward expansion….

“Chinese clans relied on voluntary contributions to …nance their activities. The Chinese ‘clan trust ’was fi…rst introduced during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and it enabled clan members to jointly hold property. Trusts were endowed by wealthy clan members and some clans, particularly in the south were very wealthy.”

so, something interesting apparently did happen with clans in china during the song dynasty. there were these migrations of clans, but also the clans became more formalized — or something. not sure how to put it.

but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t clans in china before the tenth-thirteenth centuries. the zhou dynasty’s fief system, fengjian, forms of which, from what i understand, were also utlized by other dynasties at various points in time during china’s history, was based on clans and kinship and lineages [pgs. 31-32]:

“The Zhou systems of government adopted quite a few of the political patterns of the Shang Dynasty, retaining and modifying their methods of controlling the internal and external areas under their sphere of influence. The central area where the Son of Heaven of Zhou lived was called King’s Land, the environs of the capital city, beyond which were the areas governed by the lords on behalf of the Son of Heaven. Of course, many Zhou institutions differed from those of the Shang Dynasty in a number of aspects. The establishment of those new institutions was significant in the history of the Zhou, and even influenced the entire course of development in Ancient China.

“To strengthen their power, King Wu and King Cheng enfiefed their sons and other people they considered suitable as lords and dispatched them across the country to act as a protective screen for the Zhou royal house. This kind of feudal system was called the feudal fief system. An important model of Zhou governance, the feudal fief system was close to the Shang system of appointing officials to outer regions to subdue barbarians, but was also quite different from it in that the fief system was built on close clan and blood relationships….

The Zhou Dynasty mainly enfiefed descendants with the same surname, which was quite closely related to the clan system practiced in those days. According to the principles of the Zhou clan system, Zhou Son of Heaven was the supreme head of the Zhou people, and his sons were sub-heads, fiefed across the country, defending the territory of Zhou. The fiefed lords gave themselves the title of head of their respective clans. They then enfiefed their land to their sons, who became ministers and senior officials, who, in their turn, enfiefed their land to their sons, called intelligensia. Subsequently, from the Son of Heaven to lords to minister and senior officials to intelligensia, a strict hierarchical system based on blood relationships constituted the essential basis of the Zhou rulership.

(see also zongfa — the clan law.)

my point is that clans and clannishness have been around in china for a loooooong time.

various dynasties have, however, tried to curb the powers of chinese clans. examples of which i am aware: the qin dynasty which tried to put an end to the zhou fengjian system; possibly during the tang dynasty when cousin marriage may have been banned; definitely during the ming dynasty when cousin marriage was banned — this ban was reversed during the following qing dynasty and it doesn’t seem to have been very well enforced anyway; finally, in 1980 with the communist government’s ban on cousin marriages.

previously: the return of chinese clans and the return of the return of chinese clans and abridged history of cousin marriage in china

(note: comments do not require an email. clan temple, canton.)

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