if western europeans in the middle ages had a belief system that put a damper on clannishness and a socio-economic system that discouraged marriage at a young age, the chinese, it seems, had eons of just the opposite. (this is all new territory for me, btw, so feel free to correct me where i’m wrong.) where western europeans had christianity, the chinese had neo-confucianism. and where western europeans had manorialism, the chinese had landlords [pg. 12]:
“Fu Zhufu has pointed to another difference between manorialism and landlordism. In the serf-based manorial system, the lord had to look to the subsistence and reproduction of his workers, lest the very basis of the manorial economy be undermined. But the Chinese landlord was under no such constraints. He could seek the highest possible returns that the land-rental market would support. Though Fu skirts the issue here, it is obvious that such principles became harshest when the pressures of social stratification were joined by the pressures of population; under those conditions, a tenant who failed to survive could always be replaced by another. Landlordism could become an institutional system in which the poor tenants were pressed below the margins of subsistence.”
sounds like that, in the time-periods and areas of china where landlordism existed, and maybe where the landlord wasn’t your relative, there were some pretty harsh selection pressures on farmers during china’s history. farm successfully, or … die probably.
and under “the pressures of population”? china has been under severe levels of population pressure since practically forever. “core” europeans, with their late marriage and comparably low fertility, have had it easy compared to the malthusian world that the chinese have lived under for literally millennia. if you weren’t a productive tenant, it would’ve been real easy for your landlord to replace you [pgs. 328-29]:
“Combined with ‘normal’ peacetime rates of mortality, fertility was high enough to sustain a population growth of as much a 1 percent or even more a year. China did not require, as early modern England did, the protoindustrialization that would break down late marriage and low nuptiality to usher in population growth of such an order.
“We must remember that a 1 percent per year increase is sufficient to double a population in 72 years, and quadruple it in 144, and that given the sustained periods of peace during China’s long imperial era, population expansions of several-fold were not at all uncommon. In this perspective, the nearly threefold increase in population between 1700 and 1850 in China, so often referred to as ‘the population explosion,’ was actually but the most recent of a series of peacetime population expansions in Chinese history. Each expansion was interrupted, and sometimes reversed, by the wars and famines of dynastic transition. Thus, the Qin-Han saw Chinese population reach possibly 60,000,000. It then dropped severely during the long centuries of division that followed, then expanded again during the Tang-Song, to reach perhaps 110,000,000, only to be drastically reduced once more and then expand again during the Ming. What was different about the final wave of expansion of the imperial era, in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850, was not the rate of growth but the starting base of 150,000,000. The nearly threefold expansion to 430,000,000 in fact required only a growth rate of 0.7 percent, modest even by premodern standards, and puny in comparision to the more than 2 percent rate of postrevolutionary China and most of the contemporary Third World, societies in which modern medicine has sharply reduced the mortality rate before socioal-economic change has had a chance to usher in the lower fertility rates associated with the modern ‘demographic transition.’
“If the above speculations are valid, they suggest that China’s demographic change was driven by alterations in the mortality rate, not in the fertility rate as in early modern Europe. Early and universal marriage saw to the doubling of populations in a century or less during peacetime, until drastic rises in mortality curtailed the rate of increase or reduced the total population. In early modern Europe, by contrast, late and less-than-universal marriage saw to low fertility rates and little population growth, until protoindustrialization raised fertility rates by lowering the age of marriage and increasing the proportion of ever-marrying…. Early modern and modern Europe’s demographic change, in short, was principally fertility-driven, whereas China’s was mortality driven.”
chinese emperors had a long history of encouraging the small, independent farmer, as well as promoting (via laws) inheritance systems in which all the sons inherited some property. this meant that all sons could marry and marry young. from very early on, farms were independently owned and so could be bought and sold. if you inherited a very small farm from your father, you might try to buy a bigger one. or you could go into tenancy and work for a landlord. either way, most or all sons in china would marry, whereas in many european societies, only the first son was guaranteed that opportunity (“an heir and a spare”) [pgs. 327-28]:
“Under a system of primogeniture (or unigeniture), the heir cannot become economically independent until he inherits the farm on the death of the father. That may cause later marriage, as it did in Europe before protoindustrialization provided alternative sources for economic independence. All the siblings, moreover, have to seek alternative sources for economic independence. That may lower the rate of the proportion ever marrying, as it did in Europe before the coming of protoindustrial employment. Partible inheritance, on the other hand, ensures the economic survival of all siblings, even if at lowered standards of living, and hence enable higher nuptiality. Where it is accompanied by household partitions during the lifetime of the father, it also encourages earlier marriage. Early and universal marriage, of course, produces higher fertility rates in the population.
“The ability of the peasant economy of the Warring States period [475-221 b.c.] to support an entire household with as small a farm as Shang Yang envisioned was due at least in part to technological advance that came with the ‘iron age.’ Contemporary sources document an already well-advanced and highly intensive agricultural regime, with planting in furrows; iron plows pulled by animals; hoes and spades for weeding, turning, and pulverizing the loess soil to preserve moisture; irrigation; crop rotation; and so on. The perfecting of the curved-iron moldboard for the plow during the Han was not to be matched in European agriculture until the eighteenth century. It was this combination of technological advance and the active promotion of early and universal marriage that produced the high-density small-peasant economy.
“The triumph of the Qin entrenched the formula of combining centralized state power with high-density peasant farming in China. Subsequent dynasties were to follow largely the same policy. Each new dynasty typically set out to check the growth of large estates and reinvigorate the small-peasant economy. The Tang instituted the ‘equal field’ system of small cultivators. The Ming decreed that those who resettled the vast areas devastated by the wars of dynastic transition were not to claim more land than they could farm themselves. The Qing, along the same lines, undertook vigorous measure to check the touxian practice of the late Ming, by which smallholders sought shelter from taxation by placing themselves under the big gentry estates. Likewise, Shang Yang’s policy of partible inheritance became the standard social practice among most of the population by Tang times. The Tang code, which served as the model for the later dynasties, contained detailed provisions on how to divide up family property among brothers under all sorts of circumstances.”
so, for millennia, the chinese have been small, independent farmers who married young and had lots of kids who each (all the males) inherited some of the property to start the whole cycle all over again. if you weren’t an independent farmer, you might be a tenant of a landlord (if you were capable enough), but you were still a small farmer. sounds like a very competitive world to me!
and since the prevailing ideology for centuries in china did not discourage close marriages, and even encouraged strong family bonds, the chinese, unlike the europeans, remained clannish. by the early twentieth century, anyway, the clannishness was slightly different in northern china than in the south, but there was — and still is — clannishness almost everywhere in china [pgs. 145, 147-48]:
“Shajing (Shunyi county, Hebei province [north]) and Huayangqiao (Songjiang county, Shaghai municipality [south]), on which we have detailed empirical data from both wartime Japanese field research and my own oral-history research, are good illustrations of more general regional differences between North China and the Yangzi delta….
“The size of descent groups and villages, of course, varied with the age of the community. The Huayangqiao villagers can only trace their originas back to the post-Taiping period, when the present settlements took shape. Ancestral gravesites were limited to four generations, and no household could reconstruct its genealogy beyond four generations. The Zhangs of Shajing, by contrast, counted 60-70 graves for the Mantetsu investigators, and the Suns 40-50. The village had been formed in the early Ming by settlers from Hongdong county in Shanxi, though the families in the survey only dated back to the early Qing, when Hao Family village, as it was then known, was resettled (and renamed) after the devastations of the wars of dynastic transition.
“A second major contrast between the two communities’ residential patterns is the degree to which they reflected kinship ties. In Huayangqiao, the settlements were fundamentally agnatic (i.e. related by male descent). He Family Village [one of the villages within Huayangqiao settlement] was made up exclusively of Hes of the same patrilineal line — seven households in 1940. Xue Family Village had originally been made up entirely of Xues, five households in 1940….
“The central importance of these agnatic ties can be seen in the tendency for a village comprising more than one descent group to form separate hamlets (also called da locally) around each. Thus, Xilihangbang village was divided into Gao Family Hamlet (Gaojiada) in the north, Lu Family Hamlet (Lujiada) in the middle, and the South Hamlet (Nanda, also made up of Lus). The residents of these clusters evince a multi-layered sense of community identity, with the descent group at its core, identifying themselves only to outsiders by their village. In their own minds and those of their fellow villagers, they are from Hamlet X or Hamlet Y. [this reminded me of the somali bantus – hbd chick.] …
“All this stood in sharp contrast to Shajing village. Common descent groups also tended to congregate there, to be sure. Most parents wanted their children to have houses contiguous to theirs, usually built as extensions of the original home. The Yangs, Dus, Lis, and Zhangs lived in such clusters. But those agnatic groups did not represent separated communities. The villagers identified themselves unequivocally as members of Shajing village, never of a sub-entity such as the Li Family Hamlet or Yang Family Hamlet, as they did in Huayangqiao.”
i’m guessing that there must be different mating patterns in northern and southern china that led to the smaller, hamlet-based family units in the south versus the broader, village-based units in the north.
in any case, these are all very different selection pressures than what “core” europeans experienced, so it wouldn’t be strange if the types of innate altruistic (and other social) behaviors amongst the chinese (that’s a LOT of people) were different than in “core” europeans.
previously: what else happened during the middle ages?
(note: comments do not require an email. snow day!)