the return of chinese clans

i posted once before about how, since the 1970s/1980s, clans have returned to china with a vengeance. (i suspect that they never really went away, just went underground.) the people’s communes, established during the great leap forward, were supposed to do away with clans. for some reason, that didn’t work.

here from Rural China: Economic And Social Change In The Late Twentieth Century (pg. 258 – emphases and link added by me):

A clan may consist of up to several thousand people. It is headed by the eldest member of the clan and a group of elder men and provides its members with economic and social protection. An internal clan law regulates clan matters.

“The vacuum created by the erosion of party and administrative structures in villages is gradually filled with traditional values. In many places in south and central China, traditional clan organizations have taken over village administration, and the activities of local functionaries are often bound to clan interests. A survey of five villages in Hubei Province in the early 1990s revealed that 41.8 percent of the individuals interviewed were convinced that village functionaries merely acted in the interests of the clan; 45.9 percent thought that they were only interested in their own profit (including clan interests), and only 12.3 percent thought that the functionaries acted in the best interests of the village inhabitants. The weakening of political control has led to a revival of traditional structures (kinship relations, secret societies, clans) that locally have even started to organize themselves politically. All over China there are reports on the new power of clans and on violent and bloody clan fights concerning forests, irrigation, building lots, and borderlines of fields and lanes. In regions where clan dominate the villages, they have frequently taken over local power in the form of VACs.

“With the establishment of people’s communes in the second half of the 1950s, the traditional clan connections were supposed to be destroyed. With the disbanding of the communes and the return to family economic activities in the 1980s, the role of the family and clan in rural areas increased and the economic function of traditional family structures was revived. As long as the village residents were organized in production brigades, family and clan connections were of no great importance. It was the return to family economic activities, at first in agriculture, that made family relations essential again. Thereafter, mutual aid and support of the production process, the need for capital when starting a business or establishing an enterprise became more and more important. Individuals could not rely on fictitious collectives, but had to rely on family or clan bonds. This process of the growing importance of family groups in the economy stimulated economic dynamism.”
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and from Local Government and Politics in China: Challenges from Below (pgs. 180-181 – emphases added by me):

“Finally, the revival of traditional kinship groups and clans in Chinese villages creates competition with village authorities in China. Kinship groups and clans, which were strong rural political forces in traditional China, were suppressed but were never eradicated during the Mao era and have resurfaced in the reform era. Apart from traditional kinship groups and clans, secret societies, which were common in rural China prior to the Communist era, have also sprung up since the 1990s in the Chinese countryside. A main reason for the resurgence of kinship groups, clans, and secret societies is the peasants’ need to depend on some kind of organization or association for better protection of their interests as the feel they can no longer trust the official village authorities to do so. As a matter of fact, traditional cleavage created by kinship groups and clans have played a prominent role in villagers’ committee elections in rural regions, especially poor and remote rural ones. In some places, ‘undesirable elements’ or even ‘evil forces’ (based largely upon kinship and clan support) have come to power via village elections and have coalesced into a force resistant to carrying out township/town government policies.
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finally, lots of good stuff from China: The Next Superpower: Dilemmas in Change and Continuity (emphases and links added by me):

pgs. 58-59:

Clan wars continue to be waged largely out of sight and out of mind in many rural areas, some of them having their origins in events long before the Communists took power, and even from imperial days. In August 1993, for example, in Hunan Province, birthplace of Mao, thousands of villagers fought a pitched battle armed with home-made guns, grenades and explosives that left at least five people dead, 12 seriously wounded and several buildings in ruins. Security forces had to fire tear-gas into the crowd to split up the warring factions. [see footnote 27 below.]

“Inter-regional conflicts are no longer confined to the coast-versus-hinterland syndrome. Rich provinces and cities are pitted against each other even as poor areas pummel one another with stunning ferocity. The reasons are little more than money, resources, and greed. Take the scuffles over the delineation of borders between provinces. Since 1980, more than 10 bloody clashes have taken place between the cadres and residents in Guangxi and Hunan provinces. Fifteen hundred people were allegedly killed or seriously injured in quarrels over land and water rights. Equally venomous battles have been fought between villagers living on the Qinghai-Gansu border over gold-mine rights. Two special work teams sent by the Communist Party and State Council to the area failed to solve the problem….

“Inter-provincial confrontations, of course, go back several centuries. Since 1949, thousands of Chinese have died in more than 1,000 armed conflicts over the imprecise demarcation of frontiers. They have worsened owing to the eclipse of central authority. For most of the new-style ‘economic warlords’, local development bringing tangible benefits such as wealth to close relatives and business associates is more important than heeding Beijing’s call to promote national cohesiveness….

pg. 227 – footnote 27:

“The Battle of Matian Marketplace, as it has become known, was the latest chapter in a bitter clan feud between Matian villagers surnamed Liu and Jinggang villagers surnamed Li that dated back at least to the 1920s. The Canton Evening News reported that Matian and Jinggang had been at war since 1928, when a Matian landlord ‘massacred 27 innocent Jinggang villagers in the name of eradicating Communism’, launching decades of unceasing disputes of various kinds.”

pg. 123:

But when Americans and Chinese talk about ‘democracy’, they are not necessarily referring to the same animal. Democracy as it is known in the West is the product of Roman Law, the Magna Carta, the Boston Tea Party, the Fall of the Bastille, the Industrial Revolution, and the intellectual contributions of many great thinkers, such as Rousseau, Locke and Jefferson. The Chinese are coming from an entirely different tradition.

“The great virtues that the Chinese traditionally have valued so highly are tolerance, patience and non-interference in others’ affairs. There is also the strong individualism of the Chinese, which may seem a contradiction when one is taught that it is the ‘group’ not the individual that is important in China. But loyalty to the ‘group’ is still on a family or clan basis, rather than the vaguer concept of nation. Chinese do not particularly like to interfere in what they see as ‘idle affairs’. Public spirit and civic pride are difficult to grow in this type of soil, and that mitigates against the planting of democratic ideals.

“Secondly, the parental concept of government that has evolved over millennia and survives to this day means government of the people, for the people but not by the people. Essentially, the average Chinese simply wants to be left alone to get on with daily life without outside interference from *anyone*. Democracy is the play-thing of intellectuals, and China essentially is still a peasant society which traditionally has shown little interest in voting, paying income tax or helping to run the country.

pg. 127:

“One legacy of the country’s long history is that behavior is based on the rule of man, not the rule of law. A complex body of nationally-enforced law was not considered necessary in traditional society because society had built in powerful forces of self-regulation. Government intervention was rarely needed because social order could normally be maintained through the family or clan, or other associations and occupational groupings. With the whole family liable to be blamed for the wrongdoing of an individual member [reminiscent of the albanians – h.chick], this was a powerful force to keep everyone in line.

pgs. 145-146:

“The revival of ‘feudalistic clans’ which are undermining the authority of the party in the countryside are a growing concern. Clan organizations, which were supposed to have been wiped out in the 1950s, have become the centres of power in counties with low income and education levels, according to internal circulars issued by government security units. ‘Some village cadres have abolished local party committees, with the clan chiefs becoming the de facto administrators,’ one document said. ‘In other rural areas, the election of village committees is under the control of clansmen.’

“While the revival of clans began in the early 1980s, they have become larger and much better organized recently. Rural cadres complain that clan activities have siphoned off badly needed funds for agriculture and education. The security departments cited villages in Hunan as having clan units so powerful they had refused to pay taxes or implement family planning measures. At the same time, since only males can join clans, their revival has fuelled families’ desires for male children in rural areas.

ah haaaaaaaaaaa!

One clan in central China boasts more than 30,000 members from three generations. Clan members make regular contributions to Spring Festival celebrations and the maintenance of ancestral shrines, temples and cemetaries. The Education Ministry cited the case of a county in the north-West which had more than 100 clan temples. Enthusiasts there spent more than one million Yuan ($120,500) in 1994 on clan-related activities, more than the area’s budget for schools. In the Hunan Province districts of Dingcheng and Hanshou districts, where there are several prominent clans, fights over territory or committee positions often degenerate into blood battles. ‘Many villages turn to clan organizations instead of the police or courts to settle disputes,’ a rural official in Hubei told a local newspaper.”
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recall that the chinese have been regularly marrying their (mostly maternal) cousins or marrying endogamously since at least the third century b.c. (for more info, see links in mating pattern in asia series in the left-hand column below ↓ — almost at the bottom of the page.)

previously: china today…

(note: comments do not require an email. it’s late. i’m tired.)

49 Comments

  1. That’s quite a find and those are great quotes! I’d love to get a copy of the whole book.

    One of the most remarkable characteristics of Chinese society is how utterly disunited it is. Maybe I linked to this story before but it illustrates the problem perfectly.

    The most hopeful development I’ve seen — maybe I’m dreaming here? — is the rise of the factory girls combined with the forced demolition of traditional villages in favor of high rise apartment building in the nearby townships. Unless the clans are occupying the apartment buildings one by one and are maintaining their traditional claims to surrounding farm land this could spell the end of the patriarchal social structure.

    I’d like to think the biggest women’s liberation movement in history is happening in China cause they surely need it. Right now it is still ruled by “male chauvinist pigs.” The industrial revolution has led to greater equality in other societies, largely, I think, because it renders human servitude obsolete: it is no longer a necessary component of a complex society. The inequality of man and woman is a response to the inequality of man and man.

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  2. In a strict one-child society, there are no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no uncles, no aunts. Such a society makes the concept of “clan” and “kin” a bit tricky.

    Such a society would seem more naturally disunited and alienated than an extended family-tribe-clan society.

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  3. “In a strict one-child society, there are no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no uncles, no aunts. Such a society makes the concept of “clan” and “kin” a bit tricky.”

    Yes, that is odd unless the regions of China that were the most clannish before communism were also the regions most likely to try and evade the one-child rule. If so it also makes me wonder if breaking the clan structure may have been part of the reason for the one-child rule in the first place?

    On the other hand if you have a particular valley with a population of c3000 with a particular surname who have been marrying solely within the male part of the lineage for a very long time then they might start off being very related before the policy was adopted. Then if you have 2-3 generations of strictly enforced one-child policy how would that effect things if the marriage system remained the same? The total numbers would shrink i guess but if the Jiu surname men always stayed in the Jiu valley or the Jiu part of the valley and imported non-Jiu surnamed women into the clan for marriage would a one-child policy make them less related over time or more related or stay the same? I’m not sure.

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  4. 1 child has only been going for once generation, and it’s not that strict. Little brothers but lots of cousins around, and the people in government are old enough to have lots of brothers and uncles and whatever.

    chick you bought this book? 100 bucks of it?

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  5. @al fin – “In a strict one-child society, there are no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no uncles, no aunts. Such a society makes the concept of ‘clan’ and ‘kin’ a bit tricky. Such a society would seem more naturally disunited and alienated than an extended family-tribe-clan society.”

    @g.w. – “unless the regions of China that were the most clannish before communism were also the regions most likely to try and evade the one-child rule.”

    @spandrell – “1 child has only been going for once generation, and it’s not that strict. Little brothers but lots of cousins around, and the people in government are old enough to have lots of brothers and uncles and whatever.”

    the thing is, the one-child policy hasn’t been that strict. there has always been greater leniency in rural areas (just the areas where tptb are complaining about the “return” of clans, btw) with many parents being allowed to have a second child, particularly if their first child was a girl or handicapped.

    according to wikipedia (so it must be true!):

    “As of 2007, 35.9% of the population were subject to a strict one-child limit. 52.9% were permitted to have a second child when the couple’s first child is a girl; 9.6% of Chinese couples were permitted two children, regardless of their gender; and 1.6% – mainly Tibetans – had no limit at all.”

    that’s still a lot of second children.

    in any case, what you’re talking about, al fin, really applies to the here and now (well, the late-1970s and forward) as opposed to how things developed in the past. if the whole inbreeding-clannishness theory is right, then the crucial thing is that the chinese were inbreeding for millennia and so there was plenty of time for evolution to work in such a way that the chinese would have lots of “gene for familial altruism” (whatever they are). if so, those aren’t going to go away overnight. see what i mean?

    otoh, if they keep up the one-child policy, then yes — you’d think that would weaken any clan system (although second cousins would still be there, but they are not so closely related of course).

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  6. @luke – “One of the most remarkable characteristics of Chinese society is how utterly disunited it is. Maybe I linked to this story before but it illustrates the problem perfectly.”

    that is a really good story (and a really sad one).

    people’s proverbs certainly tell a lot about them, don’t they?:

    “Each person should sweep the snow from his own doorsteps and should not fret about the frost on his neighbour’s roof.”

    mmm-hmm.

    shaoguanxianshi is very telling, too: “don’t get involved if it’s not your business.” that echoes what murray said in China: The Next Superpower:

    “The great virtues that the Chinese traditionally have valued so highly are tolerance, patience and non-interference in others’ affairs.”

    (as an aside, note a small detail related to the yueyue story — i.e. the little girl who died after being run over TWICE: “She [yueyue’s mother] said she had just brought Yueyue back from her kindergarten. She popped out to collect the dry clothes and returned to find Yueyue gone – probably trying to look for her elder brother.”)

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  7. @luke – “The most hopeful development I’ve seen — maybe I’m dreaming here? — is the rise of the factory girls combined with the forced demolition of traditional villages in favor of high rise apartment building in the nearby townships. Unless the clans are occupying the apartment buildings one by one and are maintaining their traditional claims to surrounding farm land this could spell the end of the patriarchal social structure.”

    yeah, you mentioned the factory girls before. you gotta wonder how much of an effect on the social structures of china will all that movement (both physically and economically/socially) of females have. it’s definitely gotta have some effect! what i wonder, though, is how much of this sort of thing is going on at the same time. if the answer is A LOT, then that might act as a couterweight. dunno really.

    as someone who really likes tradition and history (with a good dose of modern stuff like technology!), the forced demolition of peoples’ homes — that may have been in their families for generations — saddens me. i have to say that fundamentally i don’t like it. (i’m clannish!! (~_^) )

    certainly if clan property (i.e. farmland) is taken away from them, clans could collapse — if they have no other means of economically maintaining themselves. but putting clans in a bind could also strengthen them when all the members feel under pressure to pool their resources.

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  8. @luke – “The industrial revolution has led to greater equality in other societies, largely, I think, because it renders human servitude obsolete: it is no longer a necessary component of a complex society.”

    except for the Working for The Man part. (~_^)

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  9. @g.w. – “If so it also makes me wonder if breaking the clan structure may have been part of the reason for the one-child rule in the first place?”

    could very well have been! although they really did (do) have a population problem. too many people.

    i’m now sure that the cousin marriage ban from 1981 was definitely all about trying to put an end to the clans — at least for people who couldn’t afford to pay the exemption fees, namely rural people, so maybe it’s all an urban clans vs. rural clans struggle. chinese emperors in the past (during the tang dynasty, iirc) tried to put an end to cousin marriage, too, for exactly the same reason — to stop people from being focused on their extended families/clans. they didn’t manage to enforce it back then and/or there was too much pressure from the chinese populace to reverse the cousin marriage ban (which it eventually was — actually, quite shortly after it was instituted).

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  10. @spandrell – “chick you bought this book? 100 bucks of it?”

    oh, sure! didn’t you know i’m independently wealthy? (i wish! (~_^) )

    google books. and the liberry (i can get books from the state university library system via inter-library loan at my local library). those are my secret resources. (^_^)

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  11. @g.w. – “On the other hand if you have a particular valley with a population of c3000 with a particular surname who have been marrying solely within the male part of the lineage for a very long time then they might start off being very related before the policy was adopted.”

    just to nit-pick on a detail here: remember that the chinese don’t marry in the patrileage. marrying someone with the same surname ist verboten! (~_^) (the cousin marriage studies i’ve posted about have found the occasional fbd marriage, but it is very rare amongst the han chinese.)

    otherwise what you say holds, i think. even though the chinese have traditionally married between clans, there was still probably only a handful of clans in any given village, so you still wind up with everyone locally being very related to one another (although not as related to their fellow clan members if they had’ve had the arab-style fbd marriage!).

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  12. “just to nit-pick on a detail here: remember that the chinese don’t marry in the patrileage. marrying someone with the same surname ist verboten!”

    Yes i put it badly. What i meant was the surname system means all the males with a certain surname carry on being strongly related even with a one-child policy as they’ll still share the same ancestors along the male line.

    I was just wondering if a strictly enforced one-child policy would actually concentrate that effect rather than dilute it. If it was a strict policy and gender was 50/50 then each Jiu couple that had a girl would drop out of the lineage directly whereas the half of the Jiu couples who had a boy their line would remain part of the clan. Wouldn’t that concentrate the effect over time? My head is currently full of paint fumes so i can’t work it out.

    .
    “so maybe it’s all an urban clans vs. rural clans struggle”

    Yes meta political warfare, like the european aristos wanting to break up the peasant clans while keeping their own aristo clans and the church trying to break up both.

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  13. In Imperial times, a consort clan was a clan with special status due to its connection with an Emperor. Throughout Chinese history consort clans have exercised great power at various times. There have been several usurptions of power by consort clans, the most notable being the Han Dynasty ‘s Empress Dowager Lü ( Chinese : 呂太后; pinyin : Lǚ Tàihòu), the Tang Dynasty ‘s Empress Wu ( simplified Chinese : 武则天; traditional Chinese : 武則天; pinyin : Wǔ Zétiān), and the Qing Dynasty ‘s Empress Dowager Cixi ( Chinese : 慈禧太后; pinyin : Cíxǐ tàihòu). The Han Dynasty usurper Wang Mang was a relative of the Grand Empress Dowager Wang .

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  14. @g.w. – “What i meant was the surname system means all the males with a certain surname carry on being strongly related even with a one-child policy as they’ll still share the same ancestors along the male line…. If it was a strict policy and gender was 50/50 then each Jiu couple that had a girl would drop out of the lineage directly whereas the half of the Jiu couples who had a boy their line would remain part of the clan. Wouldn’t that concentrate the effect over time?”

    ah, yes! i see what you’re saying. not sure if it would concentrate the effect over time or not. it would certainly shrink the size of the clan, but whether or not the remaining jius would be more related to each other … no, i don’t think so, ’cause they’d still be taking in brides from an outside clan. i think. i could be wrong ’cause i’m not firing on all cylinders today, either. (~_^)

    @g.w. – “Yes meta political warfare, like the european aristos wanting to break up the peasant clans while keeping their own aristo clans and the church trying to break up both.”

    yes!! i totally want to discuss this. it really has been — since the middle ages — a handful of small, aristocratic/royal clans trying to keep it all in their families whilst they (literally!) lorded it over everyone else. they were the ones who could afford to pay the dispensation fees, of course.

    ausenda makes a big deal about how it was the princes along with the church who pushed early on for the cousin marriage ban — of course ’cause it got rid of the clans who were such a nuisance:

    “In conclusion, the strenuous effort [by the Church] to penetrate the countryside entailed a long-drawn battle against traditional religion, whose vehicle was the kin group, and substituting the authority of the elders of the kin group with that of a religious elder, the presbyteros. At the same time the king’s rule was undermined by revolts on the part of the most powerful kin groups, clans or sections, whose conspiracies and murders menaced the power of the state. Thus Church and State became allies in trying to do aways with the political power of extended kin groups utilizing all manners of impositions. One of the most effective among them was to destroy their cohesiveness by prohibition of close kin marriage.“

    i wonder how much the roman catholic church really worked against the aristocrats, though. a lot of younger sons from the aristocracy were in the church — bishops and the like. it would’ve been in their familes’ interests to allow cousin marriages in the aristocracy. i wonder what the numbers look like? were dispensations granted to v.i.p.s more frequently? were the dispensation fees at all prohibitive for princes and the like?

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  15. hbd chick – “the crucial thing is that the chinese were inbreeding for millennia and so there was plenty of time for evolution to work in such a way that the chinese would have lots of “gene for familial altruism” (whatever they are).”

    I thought the idea of inclusive fitness was that you naturally favored your close relatives. We all feel that impulse, don’t we? Does it require a special gene(s) or just the ability to recognize your kin? Or is that a distinction without a difference?

    That Time magazine piece on cousin marriage, btw, was stunning. I wonder what the statistics are?

    Finally, even if the one-child policy is not strictly enforced, what are the effects on extended families when fertility rates fall below replacement level? They would become smaller, no? How much smaller? Can you plot the average number of first and second cousins against fertility rate?

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  16. women’s liberation

    Not sure why you think this is good unless you really love Africanization.

    The very idea of women vs men as an “interest group” is strange. Social and political scientists need to achieve consilience with sociobiology.

    When we see “economic progress” coupled with “the increasing status of women” it’s simply the emergence or increase of de-facto polygyny in an urbanized setting. Increasing polygyny isn’t an increase in status for women. It is an Africanization of civilization. However, one might say that the status of harem women in Africa is higher than corporate (or factory) concubines in an urbanized settings since African concubines usually have direct access to food by way of their involvement in agriculture. Most don’t have to go get a paycheck from their harem master every other week in order to have food and shelter, and are less likely to find themselves homeless and hungry when they reach middle age and are “downsized” out of their subsistence.

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  17. “i wonder how much the roman catholic church really worked against the aristocrats, though. a lot of younger sons from the aristocracy were in the church — bishops and the like.”

    Yes. I ‘d guess a bit of both with an internal battle over it e.g. (possibly) the shift to (i forget the number) 6th cousin ban was it? and the shift back later to 2nd (or 3rd, i forget the actual numbers).

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  18. las artes , re: consort clans — I happened to be reading a history of China recently and the author mentioned that the consort clan idea — one clan getting its brides traditionally from another particular clan — was a feature of the pastoral societies in Mongolia and other northern areas, not of the Han Chinese proper. Of course the peoples off the steppe conquered the Han on several occasions.

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  19. @luke – “I thought the idea of inclusive fitness was that you naturally favored your close relatives.”

    no. er, well you might do once “genes for altruistic behaviors” have already been selected for.

    what hamilton was trying to explain with his theory of inclusive fitness was how, say, “genes for altruism” (altruism having a very specific definition in biology, btw) could have arisen and spread in a population.

    since hamilton first published his papers back in the 1960s, most researchers have focused mainly on altruism. what i find interesting is that hamilton phrased it as “innate social aptitudes of man,” not just altruism, so all sorts of social behaviors (nepotism, corruption) that benefit kin/other individuals who share the same genes ought to obey inclusive fitness rules as well. or they might do, anyway.

    what i’ve been wondering about here on the blog is what different forms of altruistic (in the lay sense) and other innate social behaviors might be selected for in populations with different mating patterns. wade and breden showed that, at least theoretically, inbreeding can accelerate the selection for altruism genes in a population (given other necessary selection pressures). so, what about long-term inbreeding in human populations, then? can that serve to accelerate the selection of certain “innate social aptitudes” as well? slightly different kinds and/or to different degrees in different populations?

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  20. Sorry to be a spoil sport hbd chick but won’t the whole urbanization process render the clan structure a redundant anachronism quite quickly?

    Clans in China are a curious historical phenomenon, especially for a civilization which has been host throughout so much of its history to a strong centralized state and has possessed an exceptional and unabating sense of cohesion since the third century BC. Clans also strike me as being oddly inimical to the sense of nationhood and set of civic values fostered by the civil service examination system, which was open to all irrespective of ethnic background and served to weld the entirety of a far-flung agrarian empire into a cohesive whole.

    Worth mentioning is the fact that clans in pre-modern China possessed a high level of legal autonomy – the central state was quite willing to confer large and powerful rural clans with the status of semi-independent jurisdictions.

    That being said, I think your argument is grossly over-stated and can spot a number of glib errors in the sources you cite.

    As someone who has worked and traveled extensively in rural China, I can tell you that much of what you’ve quoted is wild-eyed exaggeration. Rural protests are certainly a widespread phenomenon, but I have never read anything or seen or heard anything first hand which would indicate that these problems are significant of a resurgence in clan activities or clan solidarity.

    But when Americans and Chinese talk about ‘democracy’, they are not necessarily referring to the same animal. Democracy as it is known in the West is the product of Roman Law, the Magna Carta, the Boston Tea Party, the Fall of the Bastille, the Industrial Revolution, and the intellectual contributions of many great thinkers, such as Rousseau, Locke and Jefferson. The Chinese are coming from an entirely different tradition.

    As someone conversant with Chinese, I can tell you that this is demonstrably in error. When a Chinese person makes reference to ‘min zhu zhu yi’, they are referring specifically to democracy as fostered and practised in the West and nothing else.

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  21. Completely off topic, but as an old lit major let me say the amount literary talent in China is simply amazing. For instance Zhang Jie and Zhang Xianliang are two of the greatest writers in the second half of the twentieth century, both virtually unknown in the West. As it turns out The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution truly was a cultural revolution — just not the one Mao imagined. ;) China’s tragedy was not greater but the literature of the Holocaust and the Gulag Archipelago are as nothing by comparison.

    For more on Zhang Jie see here.

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  22. @ron woo – “As someone who has worked and traveled extensively in rural China….”

    first of all, thanks very much for your input! i very much appreciate it when someone from a society i’m posting about — or someone who has been there (wherever “there” happens to be) — shares their knowledge/opinion/impression/whatever. it is very useful! so, thanks to you — and all the other commenters out there who have shared what they know! (^_^)

    @ron woo – “Sorry to be a spoil sport hbd chick but won’t the whole urbanization process render the clan structure a redundant anachronism quite quickly?”

    maybe. but it may not change the innate sentiments of the population very quickly ’cause that requires a little time (for evolution by natural selection to work, that is). if, let’s just say, the chinese population has clannish sentiments — innate drives that urge them to favor their own more than unrelated individuals — then just moving to the cities is not going to do away with those drives. not overnight anyway. the clans might be broken (although i can’t see why clans shouldn’t work equally as well in urban settings as in rural), but the innate drives will still be there.

    @ron woo – “Clans also strike me as being oddly inimical to the sense of nationhood and set of civic values fostered by the civil service examination system, which was open to all irrespective of ethnic background and served to weld the entirety of a far-flung agrarian empire into a cohesive whole.”

    ah, but the clans used the civil service exam system for their own ends! if one member of the extended family was clever enough to have a shot at passing the exam, then the whole, extended family would aid him in obtaining that goal — in order that he could repay them with favors once he was in a bureaucratic position. (amirite, luke?)

    @ron woo – “…a number of glib errors in the sources you cite.”

    well, all three are academic sources, although i’ll be the first to acknowledge that academics can get things wrong. the first two involved surveys on the ground in china — the authors of Rural China spent ten years conducting surveys in seven townships in china, and the author of Local Government and Politics in China, who is chinese himself, also conducted surveys and other primary research. geoffrey murray, the author of China: The Next Superpower has lived/worked in Beijing since 1990, so he must know something about the place!

    also, i don’t know if you checked my previous post, but i have five research articles there by chinese academics related to the rise of clans in contemporary china. (i haven’t read any of them since they’re all published in chinese journals — and for all i know in chinese which i don’t know at all.)

    i think the reason behind all this research into clans today in china is happening, in part, because chinese officials recognize that it’s happening and it is a problem. or at least that’s how they view it.

    btw, i don’t know where you’ve traveled in china, but my general impression is that, both historically and currently, clans have been stronger the further south you go in china, so if you’ve mostly been up north somewhere, perhaps you just didn’t encounter the phenomenon.

    also btw, i came across these three books upon doing a google books search for “china+clans” (or something like that) with a mind to read up on the history of clans in china. i was quite surprised to find these books about modern day china. initially anyway. (^_^)

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  23. @radagast – “Off topic, but fuel for a future post”

    yes, thanks! (^_^) i saw it the other day and LOTS of good stuff in there — most of which went right over my head. (~_^) but, yeah — definitely fuel for a future post!

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  24. Ron Woo

    “Sorry to be a spoil sport”

    I think the main point is collecting more data to show the common patterns of behavior.

    .
    “won’t the whole urbanization process render the clan structure a redundant anachronism quite quickly?”

    The urbanization process *in the towns* renders the clan structure redundant *in the towns*.

    .
    “Clans in China are a curious historical phenomenon, especially for a civilization which has been host throughout so much of its history to a strong centralized state and has possessed an exceptional and unabating sense of cohesion since the third century BC. Clans also strike me as being oddly inimical to the sense of nationhood and set of civic values fostered by the civil service examination system, which was open to all irrespective of ethnic background and served to weld the entirety of a far-flung agrarian empire into a cohesive whole.”

    I’d say China has been the subject of a partial urbanization process for a very long time for the reasons you describe with the product of that process – the population in the towns and their local hinterland – having the national sense of cohesion you mention. I wonder about the “entirety” bit though. I think the populations further away from the urban centres may have remained with a mostly clan, valley or regional sense of identity.

    The big difference with the modern and recent form of urbanization and the kind that China has had for a long time may be the final relative proportions of the urban vs rural population i.e. instead of for example 20% urbanized and 80% ruralized (higher than most parts of the world for most of history but lower than industrialized countries) it might quite quickly become 80% and 20% or similar.

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  25. “no. er, well you might do once “genes for altruistic behaviors” have already been selected for.”

    Alas, this is when I fear my age is catching up with me. My understanding is (was) that it makes sense from a gene-centric point of view for an individual to sacrifice their well being for others if those others share enough genes in common (are close enough relatives), including the gene(s) which make them want to do this in the first place. In the case of humans, who share a vast paleolithic past, mightn’t the gene(s) favoring this behavior have gone to fixity for the species a long time ago? What I’m questioning is whether there are differences in the propensity to nepotism (say) among various population groups which cannot be accounted for by cultural differences (including marriage customs)?

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  26. Maybe a good crude test of my question above would be whether there are differences in parental investment across populations? Obviously the answer is yes, so maybe those altruistic genes haven’t gone to fixity. Don’t mind my babbling.

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  27. I question Ron Woo’s statement that China has “possessed an exceptional and unabating sense of cohesion since the third century BC.” I get just the opposite impression from my readings of Chinese history: that the unity has been imposed by force from above, reinforced by a Confucian culture that indeed united a tiny literary elite drawn from all parts of the empire, by essentially buying them off with stupendous privileges.

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  28. I also question Ron Woo’s reference to China’s “sense of nationhood and set of civic values fostered by the civil service examination system.” It seems to me that while the Chinese have shown themselves capable to extreme storms of idealism (as under Mao) that these episodes have been brief and were under girded by totalitarian enforcement mechanisms. The lack of a widespread sense of civic responsibility is the most striking thing about the Chinese in the past (not that it was so strong in the West before modern times). Xenophobia I put in the class of storms — always the danger of a hurricane, especially now.

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  29. Can’t nationalism be understood as a substitute for the loss of a sense of community as happened in the transition from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft (sp?) during the industrial revolution? When people lose a sense of local belongingness they substitute a fictitious sense of national belongingness. To be distinguished from an individual’s commitment to the ideals of a republic (which is what I am besotted in).

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  30. – Ron Woo – “When a Chinese person makes reference to ‘min zhu zhu yi’, they are referring specifically to democracy as fostered and practiced in the West and nothing else.”

    Like that Goddess of Democracy in Tienanmen Square which just happened to look like the Statue of Liberty?

    I think Ron Woo underestimates the universal appeal of Western ideas. My own opinion is that there is nothing “western” about them.

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  31. “Can’t nationalism be understood as a substitute for the loss of a sense of community”

    I think you could make a case that the loss of close-knit community creates a need for something to fill the gap and nationalism could be one of those things.

    However as modern nationalism developed in northern europe it makes more sense to me to see it as a consequence of outbreeding as outbreeding within an endogamous limit like a nation – where nations are effectively constructed over time by physical geography which is another way of saying they are constructed by marriage inclines – makes the individual members of that nation *more* related to other individual members than populations who inbreed within a local clan or regional tribe. Nationalism therefore would be the inevitable product of wider relatedness.

    I think that model has partially existed among the elites in China, if not the peasantry, for a very long time through the effects of their civil service exam. I think this created the same outbreeding effect but only among the elite thereby creating a nationalist elite over the top of a localist peasantry and regionalist provincial elite (aka warlords). I wouldn’t be surprised if Chinese history could largely be explained as a conflict between those three groups. (I think this process was mimiced in places like India through the outbreeding effect *on the administrative caste* of the colonial civil service.) That ancient model is now being extended throughout a much larger proportion of the population through the outbreeding effect of the much greater urbanization levels caused by industrialization.

    If so then the sequence that happened with northern europeans is happening in reverse. Northern Europeans went through a process that eventually resulted in a relatively very successful model. As others adopt the model simply because of its relative success the model itself begins to create conditions that modify the population to suit the model – over time. Those nations which were partially pre-adapted at the elite level find that transition easier.

    This process isn’t neccessarily wholly a good thing as it might imply a lot of the countries currently going through this process are going to go through a perhaps excessively intense nationalistic phase.

    Reply

  32. An interesting comment on China and “the West” I found on the web (for Woo):

    “I don’t expect modern Chinese society to be Confucian. What bugs me, however, is when sanctimonious Party ideologues argue that ‘Westernization’ is anathema to Chinese culture and unsuited to Chinese realities, when, in fact, the Party embraces those aspects of ‘Westernization’ that serve its power interests (global capitalist trade and finance; Westphalian notions of sovereignty; Monroe Doctrine-like claims to the South China Sea; deals with Hollywood producers; Olympic victories) and reject those that would challenge its political hegemony (‘Western’ multi-party democracy). The worries about ‘Westernization’, on the part of CCP elites, is not about cultural authenticity, it’s about a narrower concern with maintaining the political power of a one-party state, which itself is a rather ‘Western’ idea.”

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  33. Here is another interesting comment about China off the web:

    “Gu Kailai Proffers a Confucian Defense

    The scandalous story of Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Chongqing boss Bo Xilai, is back in the news, with the formal announcement of charges being filed against her for intentional murder a British man. I don’t want to get swept up in the hoopla surrounding this rather sordid affair, but one aspect of it stands out for me: she is indirectly invoking Confucian principles in the first reports of her planned defense.

    Here’s a story from The Telegraph in London:

    …the statement added that as a result of the row, Mrs Gu had begun to fear for her son’s safety.

    “Investigation results show that BoGu Kailai, one of the defendants, and her son surnamed Bo had conflicts with the British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests,” the short dispatch said.

    “Worrying about Neil Heywood’s threat to her son’s personal security, Bogu Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death,” it added.

    The idea that protecting a family member might be grounds for ignoring the law is time-honored in the Confucian tradition. The locus classicus of this concept is Analects 13.18:

    Speaking to Confucius, the Duke of She said: “In my village there was a man called Body Upright. When his father stole a sheep, he testified against him.”

    “In my village,” said Confucius, “to be upright was something else altogether. Fathers harbored sons, and sons harbored fathers – and between them, they were upright.”

    葉公語孔子曰:「吾黨有直躬者,其父攘羊,而子證之。」孔子曰:「吾黨之直者異於是。父為子隱,子為父隱,直在其中矣。」

    If the law threatens family solidarity, then the latter should be defended against the former. “

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  34. @luke – “‘Worrying about Neil Heywood’s threat to her son’s personal security, Bogu Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death,’ it added.”

    yeah, i’ve been following the case/trial a bit. it sure sounds like they’re pleading self-defense (if that’s how you describe these proceedings in a chinese courtroom). and that the defense — or someone — thinks that pre-meditated murder is an ok form of self- or family-defense. is that really what’s going on?

    and how could she — well, the two of them — be so calm in court? i would be a total wreck! is she just a total psychopath? is she doped up? WHAT is the story?

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  35. @luke – “‘If the law threatens family solidarity, then the latter should be defended against the former.'”

    well, confucius was all about the family, wasn’t he? cool quote! thnx!

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  36. @luke – “My understanding is (was) that it makes sense from a gene-centric point of view for an individual to sacrifice their well being for others if those others share enough genes in common (are close enough relatives), including the gene(s) which make them want to do this in the first place.”

    a better way of phrasing that is: “it makes sense from a gene-centric point of view for an individual to sacrifice their well being for others if those others share enough of the gene(s) which make them want to do this in the first place in common (are close enough relatives).”

    if everyone in your family shares, for some strange reason, the same gene that produces a mole on the top of your nose, let’s say, that is not going to get anyone in the family to be willing to sacrifice their well being for the other members on its own. even if the entire family shared 99.99999999999999999999999999% of their genes in common, if they didn’t have any altruism gene(s), they’re not going to be altruistic to one another (or anyone else).

    the theory of inclusive fitness really only explains that — how altruism genes (and/or genes for the “innate social aptitudes of man”) came to be selected for. that we can detect kin ’cause they look like us is sorta secondary.

    @luke – “In the case of humans, who share a vast paleolithic past, mightn’t the gene(s) favoring this behavior have gone to fixity for the species a long time ago? What I’m questioning is whether there are differences in the propensity to nepotism (say) among various population groups which cannot be accounted for by cultural differences (including marriage customs)?”

    well, some fundamental altruism genes we must share with chipmunks! and all sorts of other creatures (especially mammals, but hey! — also plants!).

    what i’ve been (vaguely) trying to do is to look at this from a 10,000 Year Explosion point of view. wade and breden have outlined a theoretical possibility that inbreeding can boost the selection for altruism genes under certain circumstances. well, with the apparent millennia of different types and different degrees of inbreeding going on in different human populations since some point after the agricultural revolution, why couldn’t/shouldn’t that have affected the frequencies — maybe even the types — of genes for altruistic behaviors and/or other innate social aptitudes in different populations?

    i’m just (trying to!) copy the cochran/harpending way of thinking about these things (in my own ignorant fashion). take the ashkenazi jewish iq example. particular selection pressures on this (*ahem*) inbreeding/endogamous group lead to the selection for certain genes which increased brain power — but in their wake there are some nasty, recessive genetic conditions.

    what happens, let’s say, with inbreeding arab tribes — inbreeding for millennia very closely — and always at war with the neighboring tribes. what sort of innate social aptitudes might be selected for under those conditions? high aggression perhaps? if so, could that be why the arabs have a much higher frequency of the recessive condition, congenital adrenal hyperplasia — a condition in which the carriers of just one gene have higher androgen levels (androgen being connected with aggression levels)?

    i dunno. it’s just a thought. but these are the sorts of behaviors and “genes for altruism” i’m thinking about.

    Reply

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