cousin marriage in china

from “Rethinking cousin marriage in rural China”:

“This article considers cousin marriage rules among affines in rural Chinese culture, based on research in Hubei Province….

“Studies during the last several decades have proposed different explanations of cousin marriage among Chinese, but none provides an accurate and comprehensive principle to explain the rules that guide the selection of marriage partners among relatives in rural Chinese society….

“For the Chinese, qinqi (affines) are relationships created through marriage, and are sharply distinguished from members of one’s own lineage. In the kinship terminology, patrilateral parallel cousins are tang (FBS and FBD), but all patrilateral cross-cousins, matrilateral cross-cousins, and matrilateral parallel cousins are biao (remote) relatives for Ego, male or female.

“Marriage within the lineage, especially FBD marriage [father’s brother’s daughter marriage], is treated like marriage between kin and tantamount to sibling marriage. Because this type of marriage is strictly forbidden, both in custom and in law, it does not need attention here. (2) But marriages between other types of first cousins are regarded quite differently. FZD [father’s sister’s daughter marriage], MBD [mother’s brother’s daughter marriage], and MZD marriages [mother’s sister’s daughter marriage] for a male ego have usually been referred to as biao or zhong-biao (outside) marriages. Although the marriage rules that prevailed during the dynastic era of China’s history generally tolerated such marriages (Li 1950:99-100), they have been prohibited for genetic reasons in both mainland China and Taiwan since the 1980s (Tao, Wang, and Ge 1988:313; Liang 1995:14). In practice, however, this type of marriage continues in a great many villages (Wu, Yang, and Wang 1990:330).

Previous research indicates considerable regional variation in attitudes and preferences related to biao marriages. For example, in both Kaixiangong Village in Jiangsu Province, where Fei (1939) did fieldwork, and Phoenix Village in Guangdong Province, which Kulp (1925) studied, MBD marriage was preferred and FZD marriage frowned upon (Fei 1939:50-51; Kulp 1925:168). According to Hsu (1945:91), the people of West Town in Yunnan Province favored MBD marriage, tolerated MZD marriage, but disapproved of FZD marriage. On the basis of his fieldwork and that of Fei and Kulp, Hsu (1945:100) makes the generalization that MBD marriage is preferred all over China, whereas in most regions FZD marriage is not….

Controversy remains, however, as to whether among cousin marriages MBD marriage is preferred in every region of China. Freedman (1958:98-99), for example, contends that MBD marriage is not prevalent everywhere in China and certainly not in southeast China. Gallin (1963), based on his research in a Taiwanese village, considers that in China MZD marriage is not considered particularly problematic, and that MBD marriage is preferred over FZD marriage. Furthermore, MBD marriages are not favored so much as simply permitted, and FZD marriages tend to meet with disapproval more often than with tolerance. Gallin (1963:108) suggests that in some regions MBD marriages may be actively preferred, but in general they are merely considered acceptable.”

so historically — which is a loooong time in china — cousin marriage was very much a part of chinese marriage practices. but it sounds like the types and frequencies varied between regions — and prolly over time, too. china’s a big place, after all.

that’s why i questioned kirin, et. al.’s statement:

“This is not surprising because both of these groups [europeans and east asians] are mainly represented here by fairly large populations with no documented preference for consanguineous marriage.”

if they mean now — well, yessort-of. if they mean at all historically — and by that i mean anytime before the mid-twentieth century — then, no. that’s just not right.

i don’t have acess to the above article, but i’m gonna order it, so i’ll post more about chinese cousin marriage sometime soon(-ish). (^_^)

previously: china today… and what else happened during the middle ages? and china and landlordism and chinese kinship terms…

(note: comments do not require an email. snow day!)

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17 Comments

  1. Years ago I read an article about Chinese businesses outside China. The author made a point that the maximum size of such firms was limited by the fact that the owners would not trust anyone who wasn’t a relative. Not sure what the implications are.

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  2. My wife was once a waitress at a Golden Nugget diner in Chicago, a classic Greek-owned chain of about 9 restaurants. Outside investors came to the family with money and plans to expand to about 100 restaurants throughout the Midwest. The investors were sent away: “But we don’t have 100 nephews to manage each restaurant.”

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  3. “father’s brother’s daughter”

    I struggle perpetually with the level of abstraction required to think about even simple family tree relationships like this. I suspect, from how little thought about all this is, that most Americans do too. If we had precise names for each relationship it would be easier to keep track of, but English doesn’t, perhaps because the Anglo-Saxons became less interested in relationships beyond the nuclear family.

    You know what would be helpful: if there could be a canonical family that could be used to illustrate with names all these generic relationships with names. Maybe the Kennedys or some sit-com family or family from fiction. “Ego” could be John-John or Caroline Kennedy.

    Or maybe you could make up names that give clues, like Ego’s father’s brother could be Fabian and his mother’s sister could be Melissa. Or something like that …

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  4. i don’t have acess to the above article, but i’m gonna order it,

    While you’re waiting, I can send you the text part (I don’t have access to any charts/tables/etc.)…can’t find your e-mail contact though, mine is tchatstilles at gmail.

    I’m fascinated by the different societal outcomes between FBD and MBD/MZD/FZD marriage. I just did a post about FBD marriage and the Arabs over here. As you said, very far back in history, cousin-marriage was rather the norm than the exception. What pushes people toward FBD rather than MBD or the others? I tend more and more to think that it’s environmental. Reading Louise Sweet’s paper on desert camel herding really drove home how much our environment shapes our family choices. So different than being a farmer in the plains, or a farmer in a valley, or near the coast, or being a transhumance herder, or living in the mountains… At the end of the day, do these marriage choices (and the societal differences they cause) just spring from the environment of whatever place our distant ancestors plunked down in?

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  5. @luke – “Order it?”

    i meant order it through my local library. the public library system is connected to the state college system, so it’s very handy to get academic stuff. (^_^)

    @luke – “The author made a point that the maximum size of such firms was limited by the fact that the owners would not trust anyone who wasn’t a relative. Not sure what the implications are.”

    you would think you would have difficulties founding large corporations or — like steve’s greek restaurateurs — expanding the business in general. although, the japanese seem to manage with their HUGE corporations that are family operations, e.g. toyota. i wonder how they manage?

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  6. @steve – “Outside investors came to the family with money and plans to expand to about 100 restaurants throughout the Midwest. The investors were sent away: ‘But we don’t have 100 nephews to manage each restaurant.'”

    heh. can’t trust those strangers! (^_^)

    we used to go to the golden nugget on lawrence all the time. one of my grandmas lived not too far away in edgewater. that’s where my dad grew up. i was always jealous that he grew up so close to the lake/beach.

    for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating at a golden nugget, golden nuggets = pancakes! (^_^) (in a greek diner sort-of way….)

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  7. @steve – “You know what would be helpful: if there could be a canonical family that could be used to illustrate with names all these generic relationships with names….

    Or maybe you could make up names that give clues, like Ego’s father’s brother could be Fabian and his mother’s sister could be Melissa. Or something like that …”

    that’s a good idea! especially with a naming system like oppenheimer did for all the y-chromosome and mtdna haplotypes. (although, to be honest, all of his names kinda confused me, i think ’cause i was used to just thinking about the j-haplotype or whatever, but i can see that more ordinary names can be clarifying.) thnx!

    @steve – “If we had precise names for each relationship it would be easier to keep track of, but English doesn’t, perhaps because the Anglo-Saxons became less interested in relationships beyond the nuclear family.”

    the shift in family terms in the germanic languages happened right around the 1100-1200s (second-half of this post starting with “william jervis jones shows…”).

    the naming of family members — esp. extended-family members — is related to identifying whom you can marry or not. so, if you can marry your fbd, and if that is even preferred, you give that person a unique name. but, if you can’t marry any of your cousins (western europe), they all just become “cousin.” they’re all off-limits.

    there’s more to it than that, of course. but that’s a big part of it.

    interestingly, going by these sorts of linguistic shifts, it looks as though there was also a shift from close inbreeding to greater outbreeding towards the end of ancient athens’ heydays.

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  8. @m.g. – “While you’re waiting, I can send you the text part (I don’t have access to any charts/tables/etc.)…can’t find your e-mail contact though….”

    thnx!! i’ll email ya. (^_^)

    @m.g. – “What pushes people toward FBD rather than MBD or the others? I tend more and more to think that it’s environmental. Reading Louise Sweet’s paper on desert camel herding really drove home how much our environment shapes our family choices. So different than being a farmer in the plains, or a farmer in a valley, or near the coast, or being a transhumance herder, or living in the mountains… At the end of the day, do these marriage choices (and the societal differences they cause) just spring from the environment of whatever place our distant ancestors plunked down in?”

    yeah, there’s absolutely a connection between a peoples’ environment PLUS whatever their economy is (the two are related, obviously) and mating patterns. almost all (or is it all?) of the founding fbd marriage groups were goat herders from desert regions. it made sense to keep all of the property — the goat herds — together as much as possible for survival reasons in such a marginal environment, so they went for this really close mating practice which produces these really closely knit tribal groups. fbd marriage is very close — you don’t draw in “fresh blood” from other tribes and, so, it’s difficult to form alliances with unrelated tribes.

    some farming populations in places like pakistan adopted fbd marriage, tho, just ’cause they wanted to be like the successful arab/persian muslims who had conquered them. but the system is really an artificial introduction for them — kind-of like the ban on all cousin marriages was for northern europeans. that had NOT been an indigenous practice amongst the germanics or gauls or anybody up north.

    i wonder, tho, if once you go down a certain cousin marriage route — whether it be fbd marriage or mbd marriage — if you become more attracted to your cousins (maybe even certain cousins?) after some amount of inbreeding has occurred. i’m thinking of the idea of genetic sexual attraction where one is rather attracted to family members (esp. if you haven’t grown up with them) because you share a lot of genes with them.

    well, what about the forms of genetic relatedness in, say, an fbd marriage tribal society? perhaps they are even more attracted to their cousins than we are to ours because they are even more related to them. and perhaps they are even more attracted to their paternal cousins than their maternal cousins because they’re more related to them (although the paternal and maternal cousins are really all the same in an fbd society, but you get my point … i hope).

    maybe once you go down a cousin marrying route in response to environmental/economic stimuli, you — in addition — acquire stronger biological drives encouraging you to marry your cousins? i dunno. just a thought.

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  9. Instead of special names for FBD, MBD, etc. like Stave suggested, how about simple diagrams? Diagrams are too big? Then reduce them down until they turn into ideograms, sort of like Chinese characters. With a little practice you might be able to recognize them at a glance. Just a thought.

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  10. maybe once you go down a cousin marrying route in response to environmental/economic stimuli, you — in addition — acquire stronger biological drives encouraging you to marry your cousins? i dunno. just a thought.

    I’d never thought of it that way, that it feeds into itself biologically. How much do we do it “because we’ve always done it this way” (the force of custom) versus how much we do it because of hidden drives we’re not even aware of.

    Your Pakistan example is interesting. I’ve read articles on Pakistani immigrants to the U.K. who are very, very attached to their cousin-marrying system, even though it’s causing huge health problems (mental retardation, blindness, etc) in the community. Despite all that, the people they interview about it seem absolutely repulsed at the idea of not doing it that way. Force of custom, biological drive, or are they feeding into each other? Very interesting.

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  11. “At the end of the day, do these marriage choices (and the societal differences they cause) just spring from the environment of whatever place our distant ancestors plunked down in?”

    I think that’s the root of it. The environment (including current technology) determines the local way of food getting and that way of food getting has an optimal group size: closed lineage, dual lineage, quad lineage etc. There’s no guarantee people will hit on the optimum for their environment but by the law of averages most of them will. The main exceptions would be when a people move from one environment to a totally different one e.g. the Islamic conquest, or the odd case of Catholic Christianity.

    I think the basic idea is that the different systems are best suited to combining different numbers of lineages.

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~anthrop/tutor/marriage/xcuz.html

    “1.Bilateral cross cousin marriage results in a system of direct exchange marriage between paired lineages.
    2.Matrilateral cross cousin marriage results in a system of indirect exchange marriage between an indefinite number of descent lines, also called asymmetrical exchange.
    3.Patrilateral cross cousin marriage results in a system which can be viewed as a combination of both of the others systems.”

    .
    “the japanese seem to manage with their HUGE corporations that are family operations, e.g. toyota. i wonder how they manage?”

    Now you mention it i think they do it the same way except with blocks of shares instead of brides. Each member company owns stock in the others.

    http://internationalbusiness.wikia.com/wiki/Japanese_Keiretsu

    So maybe it’s the capitalist version of matrilineal cross cousin marriage

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~anthrop/tutor/marriage/matxcuz.html

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  12. @g.w. – “So maybe it’s the capitalist version of matrilineal cross cousin marriage”

    heh! yes, the bilateral sort of cross cousin marriage — only maybe multilateral in these instance where, instead of swapping brides, you swap board members. (^_^)

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  13. “i was always jealous that he grew up so close to the lake/beach.”

    You were right to be jealous. It was great.

    And yes, I went to the Golden Nugget on Lawrence lots of times.

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  14. HBDchick
    After 3 + years I somehow expect this will be missed, but if you see it, give it some thought. China seems to in general – but not exclusively preferred MBD marriages for their sons. China also has children take care of the Son’s parents in old age, this means that the MBD leaves her childhood house entirely and supports her FiL and MiL.- see current events articles from Late Oct/Nov 2015 about China’s one child policy change and how that may or may not affect the culture.

    I’m thinking then these two aspects certainly go hand in hand making daughters less valuable to the old age of parents. After all if she marries she will support her in-laws, not her parents. This could point to the lesser clannishness of China’s MBD vs. Islam’s FBD marriage patterns.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around how this would drive the genetic factors. Since daughters are constantly out grouped, or at least minorly out grouped – more distant rather than close family – it would seem to help support an idea of subservience on the daughters as a way of integrating themselves and ingratiating themselves to their new parents. Or I’m way off. Again, I’m just trying to get my head around this and how it affects things.

    Reply

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