what else happened during the middle ages?

so we’ve seen that, starting in the early medieval period, european populations went through some pretty big changes (some more than others) including: changes in mating and family patterns largely thanks to the christian church, a big agrarian revolution, and a new socio-economic structure (manorialism). but things we’re a-changin’ in other parts of the world, too, right around the same time — namely in what became the muslim world (arabia, middle east, maghreb, mashriq, and all the way over to pakistan) AND in china.

islam burst out of the arabian peninsula and most likely introduced a new mating practice to the populations living beyond the middle east/arab world — father’s brother’s daughter marriage (and some of the probable knock-on effects from that are here and here). there may or may not have been an agrarian revolution in the islamic world at this time — that’s not clear to me. the fundamental socio-economic forms of the regions don’t seem to have shifted much — there were tribes before islam, and there were tribes after — there wasn’t a shift from tribes to more open societies like there was in europe.

meanwhile in china — rice production was wildly improved during the song dynasty. i don’t know specifically about changes to socio-economic structures, but there were definitely changes to the mating patterns and family structures — or, rather, a change of direction — a u-turn — that reinforced more ancient family structures — i’m talking about neo-confucianism (i know! who knew?). here from my friend mitterauer [pgs. 82-83]:

“China is an ancient, advanced civilization shaped by ancestor worship in a special way: the practice has been called the ‘key to Chinese culture.’ This is certainly true of its family and kinship relationships…. [I]n the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Confucianism rose to become the state orthodoxy. But strong competition was to follow, first from Taoism, then especially from Buddhism. At the same time that Christianity was being established as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the West, Buddhism became the dominant religion in China in the East. Both religions are remarkably similar in their attitude toward family matters. Both are strongly oriented toward asceticism; they call for a person to leave the family — the Chinese phrase for ‘to become a monk’ is chu-chia, ‘to leave the family’ or ‘to leave home.’ Leading a communal life with other monks is valued more highly than living with the family. Both are religions of salvation that strive for the perfection of the individual. Both give preference to moral behavior over descent…. It follows that both reject any thought of sacrificing to one’s ancestors. Buddhism in China inevitably had to come into conflict with Confucianism…. The monk would renounce his family name and take on a new one placing him within a continuum with his teachers or the Buddha. He would be celibate, thereby refusing to carry on the male line of the family….

“Buddhism was preeminent in the early Tang dynasty (618-906). Then Neoconfucianism began its ascent, bringing an anti-Buddhist reaction along with it. All Buddhist monasteries were disbanded between 842-845, and any monks and nuns in them were forced to join the laity…. Neoconfucianism brought about the complete triumph of ancestor worship; its rites were now clarified, standardized, and canonized. For its part, Buddhism continued to be an important factor in Chinese life and made some compromises with traditional views of the family.

“And so two developments in the history of religion — in western Europe and the Far East — that at first ran parallel ultimately went in diametrically opposite directions during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. In the West, a Christianity inimical to the rights of genealogical descent maintained supremacy. In the East, a Neoconfucianism supportive of genealogical descent won out. These divergent developments are significant not merely for the history of the family and kinship; taken together, they provde a key to our understanding of how two cultures and societies can develop so differently.

not to mention the evolutionary histories of both these populations!

and marriage practices in china during this time period (and since then)? [pgs. 84-85]:

“The traditional rules of marriage in China display the same basic outlines of a strict patrilineal ordering of kinship that is found in the terminology of kinship. From the Tang dynasty on, legal codes prohibited marriage to a woman from four classes of relatives: first and foremost, marriage to women with the same surname, then to widows of members of the same household, to women of another generation of fairly close kinship on the mother’s side or by marriage, and finally to sisters from the same mother by a different father (half-sisters). In China identical surnames meant in principle descent from the same patriline. The ban on marriage was valid even if the common ancestor was a long way back in the male line. The Chinese family held to these basic principles of exogamy, which can be found in many other cultures in Eurasia with an analogous kinship structure. In early medieval Europe, far-reaching rules concerning exogamy were also established, but they were confined to certain degrees of relatedness. They mainly concerned the paternal and maternal lines completely symmetrically. In China, on the other hand, the emphasis on the father’s line led to crass inequalities when it came to enlarging the list of banned female marriage partners. The fact that marriage to one’s sister from the same mother but by another father had to be expressly forbidden clearly shows that greater importance was granted to the father in determining kinship…. Marrying relatives from the mother’s side was not forbidden in principle. In earlier times, marriage in China even between cross-cousins not only used to be permitted but was common practice. Among China’s neighbors it can be found up to this day as a preferred form of marriage.”

it’s my understanding that, while cousin marriage on the father’s side was prohibited in china, marriage to a maternal cousin was not and was often even preferred (see here and here and here [opens pdf]). (not anymore — cousin marriage is now [technically] illegal in china and has been since 1980.) mother’s brother’s daughter marriage — the most common form of cousin marriage in the world — seems to have been the preferred form in china. if done continuously amongst several lineages, you can create broad ties between rather large clans — but they’re still clans.

finally, family structures in china — or extended-family structures — really extended-families (i.e. clans) — are very different from those in (core) europe in the middle ages or since then [pgs. 86-88]:

“[D]uring Neoconfucian times … [there was an] … increased impact of patrilineal descent groups, corporate lineages, and clans. On the one hand, Neoconfucian texts propagated a mindset that thought in terms of lineages; on the other hand, colonization in the new rice-growing regions in the Southeast during the Song dynasty provided an opportunity to institutionalize lineage groups. Southeast China is where clans are most firmly anchored to this day. Patrilineal lineage groups held land in common there, principally to serve the needs of a common ancestor worship…. The lineage group’s common land served other, nonreligious purposes as well; for example, a common granary could be built there. The land was frequently used for clan schools that were intended to open the door to a career in the civil service. Any member taking this route would then beneift the entire clan. Land lying next to the undivided common land of a descent group was split among different branches and houses. Land division within the family was the organizing principle for new peasant farms in rural areas; divisions of this kind always occurred between agnates, brothers, or cousins in the same male line…. In this way villages were created that belonged entirely to a single lineage group. In this way, too, surnames turned into village names. Given these conditions, neighbors in a village were also related as agnates….

The situation in western Europe stood in strong contrast to the circumstances in China. In the European hide system, it was not at all the norm for a neighbor to be a relative. To be sure, there were parallels with the Chinese patterns in the eastern and southeastern parts of the continent, where equal male inheritance of land was operative. Villages, or districts within them, were founded according to the division of land among agnates. In the western Balkans, we can find organized lineage groups founding settlement units. But there is no evidence in Europe, with few exceptions, of common religious institutions within lineage groups that were similar to the ancestral shrines of Chinese clans. Ancestor worship simply did not become the dominant form of worship anywhere in Europe. Its fiercest opponent among world religions won out instead: Christianity.”

why should anyone interested in hbd care about any of this? four things. (at least!)

previously: behind the hajnal line and the middle ages and four things and china today…

(note: comments do not require an email. too cold!)

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6 Comments

  1. Nice stuff on China. Its a funny story how the southern expansion created this new clan culture, which then expanded back north when the Mongols were driven out.
    Also the SEA diaspora comes almost exclusively from the Chinese southeast, and they also organized in surname clans; which were so effective that they still dominate the area to this day.

    They are very disagreeable people though, as expected. They’re programmed not to care about anyone but family.

    Reply

  2. @spandrell – “Its a funny story how the southern expansion created this new clan culture, which then expanded back north when the Mongols were driven out.”

    yes. Mother Nature loves her little ironic jokes. (~_^)

    Reply

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