more on mating patterns in china

the chinese have been marrying their cousins since at least the third century b.c. — not everybody all of the time, of course, but they have had a preference for it. specifically, they’ve had a preference for mother’s brother’s daughter marriage (see also here), and they’ve avoided the really inbred arab form of father’s brother’s daughter marriage.

luke asked if han chinese clans would regularly swap brides in what is known as bilateral cross cousin marriage (see also here). i’m not sure, but i don’t think so — at least i haven’t read anywhere that that was a common practice. it was back in the third century b.c., but that’s a long time ago. perhaps it has been done in more recent times, too, but like i said, i haven’t seen anyone referring to it. i’ll be keeping an eye out for more info on this, tho. (^_^)

traditionally, marriage in china was exogamous in that you weren’t supposed to marry someone with the same surname. in other words, you had to marry someone outside the patrilineage (this is the exact opposite of what the arabs do). in addition, you were also supposed to avoid all relatives within the “fifth degree of relationship,” i.e. four generations of paternal and maternal ascendants, four generations of ego’s own descendants, and five generations of the descendants of the ascendants mentioned. that’s a really broad set of prohibitions almost rivalling that of christian europe. that means no uncle-niece marriages, no first- or second-cousin marriages — maybe even further out, i’m not sure (haven’t worked it out). however, there was a big exception to this rule and that was for cross-cousins (mother’s brother’s daughter or father’s sister’s son). it was okay to marry those cousins for some reason, so the chinese did, in fact, inbreed.

in 1950, the communist government tried one of their little social engineering projects (in addition to all the others) to try and get rid of the feudalistic familial attitudes that were especially prevelant in the countryside. they instituted a new marriage law which, except for incest, allowed anyone to marry anyone even without parental consent. i guess they thought that, in their brave new world, chinese folks would just strike out on their own and marry between urban and rural areas and between classes or whatever. i’m not entirely sure how that all worked out, but i don’t think the government was satisfied with what happened since they instituted a new marriage law in 1981 which banned cousin marriage. my guess is that what happened between 1950 and 1980 when the marriage laws were loosened was that cousin marriage rates, to the horror of the commissars, probably increased. the strength of village clans apparently increased in the 1970s — perhaps this social engineering scheme of theirs backfired.

here are some excerpts from The Politics of Marriage in Contemporary China originally published in 1981 which gives a little info on traditional marriage patterns in china as well as what’s happened more recently (up until 1981 obviously)…

pg. 3:

“In traditional China, marriage had been destined to accomplish both these aims. The old definition of marriage had described the purpose of taking a wife as the begetting of children to ‘worship at the ancestral temple and continue the family line’. The other main purpose of marriage was to establish alliances advantageous to the interests of the descent group of the respective parties as a means of socio-economic and political mobility. The Book of Rites, dating from the second century A.D., which was held to embody the rules defining correct social behaviour, declared that the purpose of marriage was to unite two families with a view to harmonising the friendship of two lineages….

pgs. 80-81:

“Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the government has aimed to create an open marriage system in which the only group of persons unequivocally proscribed as marriage partners are those to whom the incest taboo applies. The new Marriage Law attempted to remove as many restrictions as possible from the marriage field in order to establish a broad field of eligible mates and increase the range of choice for each individual. The marriage prohibitions outlined in Article 5 of the Marriage Law thus reduced the number of kin restrictions in a society where the number of prohibitions has been so large that surname exogamy was once the rule. Previously a person was forbidden or at least discouraged from marrying another of the same surname no matter how distant the relationship or different the zu, or lineage. Since the number of surnames has been estimated at approximately 500, this rule had succeeded in substantially circumscribing the field of eligibles. The new Marriage Law of 1950 reduced the exogamous group to lineal blood relatives. In contrast to the Ching dynasty (1644-1911) and the Nationalist Civil Codes (1930), affines were now exempt from this rule. Similarly, collateral relatives by marriage were not included in the new reduced list of prohibitions. As to prohibiting marriage between collateral relatives by blood beyond that of brothers and sisters born of one or both parents, but within the fifth degree of relationship, the law allowed the question to be determined by custom. This concession to custom was probably designed to accommodate the cross-cousin marriage.

Within the prohibited five generations on the maternal side an exception was made from Ching times for the marriage between biao, cousins of different surname, such as children of mother’s brother and father’s sister. These biao cousins, as opposed to cousins of the same surname, tang cousins, were permitted to marry, and, it seems, may have been encouraged to marry in various historical periods and in certain geographical regions of China….

the ching dynasty lasted from 1644 to 1911, but there is evidence that the chinese were marrying their cross cousins in earlier times — egs. third century b.c. and during the ming, and possibly even the tang, dynasty — so i don’t think the author here is correct in saying that mother’s brother’s daughter marriage in china dates from the ching dynasty.

A number of filed studies suggest that different forms of cross-cousin marriage were allowed, preferred or discouraged and that matrilateral and patrilateral marriages were not always similarly categorised. The findings of these field studies can be presented as in table 10. It is based on summaries provided by Osgood (1963). In educational materials published after the promulgations of the new Marriage Law, Chen Shaoya and Li Zuyin argued that biao cousin marriage was now allowed and that there was no need to maintain the prohibitions against intermarriage between collaterals. Socio-economic conditions would increasingly remove the conditions encouraging biao cousin marriage and in the meantime the matter could be left to custom….

“The government planned to broaden the field of eligible marriage partners not only by reducing the number of kin prohibitions, but also by abolishing socio-economic criteria as factors governing the choice of marriage partner. After 1911, legal restrictions no longer prohibited marriage between persons of certain classes or social status, but, despite this legal change, village studies in the 1930s and 1940s suggest that families negotiating a marriage had continued to be guided by the old maxim that ‘wooden doors should match wooden doors and bamboo doors with bamboo doors’. According to a study of lineage rules and a number of field stuides this rule of homogamy was more particularly interpreted to mean that there should be hypergamy for daughters….”

pg. 86:

On the whole there seemed to be a marked preference for local girls….

The data from the other communes visited in Guangdong reinforce the impression that most brides are recruited from within the same commune, although in the larger villages with more than one surname, a few of the wives came from within the village…. In one commune the majority of the wives came from a neighbouring commune, but in fact their villages of origin were closer in actual distance than most of the rest of the same commune. In urban Guangzhou, in each of the dozen households interviewed where wives had recently been recruited or were about to be recruited, brides had previously lived nearby…. It can be observed in China too as elsewhere that there is some coincidence of spatial and social distances, but the operation of both new and traditional norms defining the criteria on which ‘choice’ should be based point to the location of preferential mates within a field of eligibles already bounded by surname exogamy and residential propinquity.”

so in the twentieth century, even if marriages weren’t between cousins they were geographically endogamous. this means that the mating patterns might’ve also been rather biologically endogamous — in marrying locally, people might’ve, in fact, been marrying their fourth- or fifth-cousins or something like that.

previously: cousin marriage in china and cousin marriage rates in modern china and abridged history of cousin marriage in china and china today…

(note: comments do not require an email. the ancestors.)

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24 Comments

  1. @hbd chick ” in marrying locally, people might’ve, in fact, been marrying their fourth- or fifth-cousins or something like that.”

    And that, oh best beloved, is the default. We’ve been doing it since before we were human. Other animals do it, snails, mammals, birds, fish, insects and so forth. Odd nobody seems to notice.

    Reply

  2. I would be especially interested in the degree of in-breeding among the newly emergent “princeling” elite that seems to be monopolizing all the out-sized economic opportunities in China today. There was an extraordinary article about that in the NYT this morning. Also, to what extent do patron-client relationships involve marriage alliances. Does polygamy play a role. (I saw a reference to one mogul who had so many mistresses (around 30) that he held a beauty contest among them.)

    With the one child policy clans may all but disappear among the common people. But what about the tiny elite at the top? It could be a whole different ball game there.

    To switch gears a little, I’ve been doing an awfully lot of reading on China lately. Right now I’m in the middle of a real page-turner called The Dragon Syndicate about organized crime syndicates in Chinese society. They have a long, long history and are like nothing in the West: partly based on surname, partly on occupation, on village, and functioning as both a welfare agency, secret quasi-religious society (a la the Masons), and often as a criminal enterprise too boot preying on fellow Chinese who don’t belong or on rival groups. There is an extraordinary lack of unity in Chinese society. They prey on each other unmercifully. Yet combined with xenophobia somehow. Go figure.

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  3. One more thing about those Chinese criminal syndicates (Triads) mentioned above: they were also into political insurrections. Armed factions as it were. Sun Yatsen, for example, came to prominence through them — before he was double-crossed. Double-crossing was/is standard operating procedure in Chinese society.

    [I asked my wife at dinner tonight if there ever had been English organized crime syndicates in America, or Scots-Irish, or German? We couldn’t think of any.].

    Reply

    1. [@ Luke LeaI “asked my wife at dinner tonight if there ever had been English organized crime syndicates in America, or Scots-Irish, or German”

      I find your observations very interesting and most important. If the elite in China are not clans then their control must fade in a few generations. That might be good for freedom in China as a whole. As for any Scotch Irish and so forth crime sydicates, one could wonder whether moonshiners filled the bill. Of course they do not prey on others. My more left wing friends might say that the original constitutional convention was a crime sydicate, but I would call that extreme.

      Reply

  4. Luke:
    Didn’t the Scots-Irish crime syndicate go straight and become NASCAR eventually?
    Half-joking, btw.

    Reply

  5. @LInton Herbert
    “Other animals do it, snails, mammals, birds, fish, insects and so forth.”

    Experiment shows that Japanese Quails prefer to be near opposite sex 1st cousins more than siblings or 3rd cousins.

    Japanese Quail experiment.

    Five windows each with a quail behind it, arranged in a circle. Subject quail observed to see which window it stands in front of.
    the graph
    Female test bird stands in front of window:
    Sibling raised with = 11 % of time
    Sibling raised apart = 16 % of time
    1st cousin = 36 % of time
    3rd cousin = 19 % of time
    unrelated = 17 % of time

    from:
    Mate Choice By Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

    Reply

    1. @sNoOOpy “Experiment shows that Japanese Quails prefer to be near opposite sex 1st cousins more than siblings or 3rd cousins.”

      Wow. That’s fantastic. Thank,
      Linton

      Reply

  6. @sNoOOPy – “Experiment shows that Japanese Quails prefer to be near opposite sex 1st cousins more than siblings or 3rd cousins.”

    that IS fantastic! how cool. thnx. (^_^)

    Reply

  7. @linton – “Odd nobody seems to notice.”

    most people don’t notice nuthin’. most people certainly don’t notice that we’re animals, too — and that, therefore, we share a LOT in common with other creatures.

    Reply

  8. @luke – “I would be especially interested in the degree of in-breeding among the newly emergent ‘princeling’ elite that seems to be monopolizing all the out-sized economic opportunities in China today.”

    i’m sure they’re probably mating assortatively, i.e. within their class. whether they’re marrying cousins or not (technically that is illegal nowadays in china), i dunno.

    i’ve gotten the impression from all what i’ve been reading about mating patterns in different socieites that, often, the upper classes tend to be the ones inbreeding quite a bit — like in nineteenth century england and, afaics, all throughout medieval and early modern europe. ’cause there was a lot to be gained from it, of course — keep the wealth in the family and all that.

    on the other hand, the last few generations of middle- and upper-class egyptians have been outbreeding more than the rest of the egyptian population, so you never can tell about these things. circumstances matter.

    @luke – “There was an extraordinary article about that in the NYT this morning.”

    thnx for that link! (^_^)

    @luke – “With the one child policy clans may all but disappear among the common people.”

    surprisingly (to me, anyway) cousin marriages in the countryside seem to have gone UP because of the one-child policy — ’cause there are fewer women around to marry:

    “Pretty girls who could have their pick of men in the cities are instead told they must stay home and marry internally—all for the good of their family clan.”

    maybe the one-child policy will actually strengthen the clans. oh noes!

    and here the theory is that cousin marriage rates go up with increasing population size, not with decreasing population size.

    @luke – “The Dragon Syndicate about organized crime syndicates in Chinese society.”

    oooo! sounds like just the sort of book for me. (^_^)

    Reply

  9. @luke – “There is an extraordinary lack of unity in Chinese society. They prey on each other unmercifully.”

    yup. chinese society is clannish. and i wonder how much of the apparent ruthlessness has to do with the density of the population. i mean — they got a LOT of people over there. talk about having a lot of competition!

    @luke – “Yet combined with xenophobia somehow. Go figure.”

    oh, i think those two things — clannishness/tribal and xenophobia — go hand in glove. when you’re clannish or tribal you hate outsiders — ALL outsiders.

    this is why westerners don’t hate outsiders. we’re not clannish or tribal.

    Reply

  10. @spike – “Didn’t the Scots-Irish crime syndicate go straight and become NASCAR eventually?”

    ot (hey, it’s my blog!), i used to have a friend who, looking back on it all now, was very swpl. to her horror, she left her toddler son alone with the television once (i think she had him watching sesame street or something like that), but he accidentally flicked over to nascar racing and, upon her return, she found him to be TOTALLY engrossed in the race — and VERY upset when she turned it off. she was horrified — i was amused at her story thinking, boys will be boys! (^_^)

    Reply

  11. @luke – “I asked my wife at dinner tonight if there ever had been English organized crime syndicates in America, or Scots-Irish, or German? We couldn’t think of any.”

    nope. i can’t think of any either. anybody?

    Reply

  12. The closest I can think of is the 19th century Scottish mob up in Canada that had some Scots-Irish leaders and minor activity in Detroit. That’s it, though. Historical resources are pretty scarce on them, and from what I gather they were small potatos compared to the Irish gangs of the time and place.

    Reply

  13. @spike – “The closest I can think of is the 19th century Scottish mob up in Canada that had some Scots-Irish leaders and minor activity in Detroit.”

    it would be interesting to know what sort of scottish we’re talking about. the highlanders and western islanders have a long history of inbreeding/endogamous mating and were definitely clannish. so were some of the border families. the eastern “anglo”-scots — not so clannish.

    Reply

  14. What kind of inbreeding is involved with these Mexican drug cartels which are tearing up the country just to our south?

    Reply

  15. @Luke Lea “What kind of inbreeding is involved with these Mexican drug cartels which are tearing up the country just to our south?”

    Excellent question, and I should imagine it’s substantial. Still, finding myself a rare voice trying to challenge the prejudice against consanguinity, I think I should keep my sense of humor. That’s easy if you are alone. It’s desciples who overdo things. Anyway, the question sort of reminds me of the couple that took their English bulldog to Saudi Arabia. Pigs there are considered unholy and not even a picture of a pig is legal. The feeling is so strong that when a few cans of pork fell from an airplane, not even breaking any cans, the Saudis jackhammered the whole runway and dumped it into the sea.

    The airport guards having seen neither pig, picture, nor anthing quite so ugly as the dog decided that the dog must be a pig and were on the point of shooting the unclean monstrosity figuring it had to be a pig. They relented when everyone who had actually seen a pig swore that this was a dog.

    The behavior of the cartels is uglier even than a bulldog (yes, bulldogs are loving and I love them in return). But one might see the logic as going: I hate inbreeding. I hate what the cartels are doing. Maybe they are doing it because they are inbred. Well they weren’t doing it before American money was added to the mix, so I would put the blame with us rather than them. Still, it is an interesting question.

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  16. @luke – “What kind of inbreeding is involved with these Mexican drug cartels which are tearing up the country just to our south?”

    are the mexican/other latin american cartels family-based like the italian mafia? i see that the tijuana cartel is (first one that popped up on a google search), but i really don’t know anything about the mexican cartels except that they are scary as sh*t.

    i looked at mexican inbreeding/endogamy very, very briefly in this post (in which i was reacting, a bit emotionally i’ll admit, to one of ron unz’s screwy ideas, so just skip over the emotional bits in the post (~_^) ) … and what i found were some hints that: 1) the mayans probably married their cousins, 2) the catholic church made a big exception of their no-cousin marrying rule for the new converts in latin america, and 3) up until fairly recently, marriage was pretty local/endogamous in mexico (people married within their barrio). in other words, there’s probably a long history of close marriages in mexico which wasn’t broken by their adoption of christianity, so mexicans are not like nw europeans but probably more like greeks or italians. on the other hand, they seem to have pretty low cousin marriage rates today, so that might be a good thing going forward — in terms of altruistic behaviors anyway.

    recall, too, that native americans share a lot more genes in common with one another across the board than europeans and other populations, probably because they squeezed through a bottleneck when they migrated to the americas. so, if closeness in genetic relatedness is important in the frequencies/evolution of altruism genes, which it seems to be, the fact that mexicans start off with more genes in common — or another way of looking at it is fewer unique genes (alleles) in the population — ought to have some effect on the frequencies/evolution of altruism genes. what that effect might be is not clear to me at this hour of the day. (~_^)

    Reply

    1. @ Hbd chick Mexicans “seem to have pretty low cousin marriage rates today” Of course. Their firtility is going through the floor. Enjoy their work while you can.

      Reply

  17. @linton – “The behavior of the cartels is uglier even than a bulldog….”

    peoples in mexico — the aztecs famously, but the mayans and mixtecs, too — were so brutal in their human sacrifices that i don’t think we should be at all surprised at the brutality we see from the cartels today. i mean on some occasions, we’re talking about thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people being sacrificed in less than a week in aztec society just 500 years ago. wouldn’t surprise me at all if the personality types and attitudes connected to that sort of behavior are still floating around in the mexican population of today. i mean, 500 years is just twenty generations (generation = 25 years). that’s not that long ago, biologically speaking. things change, but only if there are selection pressures to change them (or — yeah, yeah — via drift, too).

    Reply

    1. @hbd chick “the mayans and mixtecs, too — were so brutal in their human sacrifices that i don’t think we should be at all surprised at the brutality we see from the cartels today” Maybe, but I was once in a very modest apartment in Mexicao. The only print on the walls was an active young man rescuing a pretty girl from the top of a temple and braining the priest. They still hate the memory of the Aztecs. And Cortea had no problem defeating them. Once the war was on the locals rose as a man. It doesn’t sound like the casual acceptance of brutality to me, but of course it’s a small sample proving nothing.

      Reply

  18. […] compared to its neighbors. The Chinese are known for their merciless exploitation of one another, which is consistent with their very long history of cousin marriage. Overall, Chinese and East Asian society in general is far more dysfunctional than in the West, […]

    Reply

  19. “it’s the “A-quality” of intelligent and educated women that the government most wants to procreate, according to Leta Hong-Fincher. She cites a statement on population put out by the State Council – China’s cabinet – in 2007.

    “It said China faced unprecedented population pressures, and that the overall quality of the population is too low, so the country has to upgrade the quality of the population.”

    Some local governments in China have taken to organising matchmaking events, where educated young women can meet eligible bachelors.

    The goal is not only to improve the gene pool, believes Fincher, but to get as many men paired off and tied down in marriage as possible – to reduce, as far as possible, the army of restless, single men who could cause social havoc.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21320560

    Reply

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