Family solidarity ancient China

Familysolidarity ancient China


Thebook “Han Wu Di and Ancient China” looks at different practicesand thoughts in ancient China from a historical perspective. Theauthor, MiriamGreenblatt, being an accomplished historian who has authored a seriesof books and papers on ancient China has the qualifications to createa credible source. In one section of her book (pp. 37-39), shediscusses the Confucian view of family solidarity in China and itsrole in making the empire governable.

Familysolidarity is greatly valued under Confucian teachings. Confuciantaught that the family was the most basic unit of society and thatfor the state to be governable, families must be at peace. He viewedthat a man was the head of a household and the children and his wifewere supposed to be led by him and be subjective to him. He comparedthis approach to the manner that the emperor ruled over the empirelike a father to his family. Therefore, for the state to remain astate, the people had to be subjective to the emperor and respecthim. The author however does not indicate the evolution of thisConfucian doctrine or what existed before it came about.

Familyrelations were largely patriarchal and patrilineal. As a patrilinealsociety, family members relied on their ancestry from their fatherand the father of their father (grandfather) and so on. In fact, theauthor reports that the Chinese wrote their family name firstfollowed by their family name. This tended to show that the familycame first before the individual. This is very true to ancientChinese and even modern day Chinese people. All activities that a manengaged in at that time was supposed to be for the good of the familyand not his selfish interests. Interestingly, he was not required toconsult with other family members.

Theancient Chinese families also showed great reverence to thepatriarchal leaders. In most cases, a family comprised of threegenerations though this was most common in the affluent families. Thefamily comprised of a man and his wife and children, the man’sparents and brothers and their wives. Authority was gained by agewith younger brothers being subjects of their elder brothers.Therefore, the patriarchal leader that offered leadership to thehousehold was the oldest male. Children were expected to be obedientto their parents obeying commands without questioning them. They werealso expected to show deep respect to them by standing upright infront of them and not engage in unpleasant manners such as pickingnose in front of them. A second way that the patriarchy society wasmanifested was the fact that a man was allowed to divorce his wifefor a number of reasons such as adultery or barrenness but a womanwas not accorded such privileges. Nonetheless, there were rules thatlimited divorce. A man could not divorce a wife if he had amassedwealth in the course of the marriage. This would ensure that familyresources would not be dispersed as they were inherited by maledescendants. Another limitation was that if the wife had no relativesto take her, the divorce would not go through.

Theauthor does not offer personal views on the issue of family. However,I find that the source is somehow shallow. The author does notclearly indicate how the relevant were the views on family relevantto the governance of China as a state and how it influenced order inthe society. This is based on the fact that I have encountered deeperanalysis and description of the family solidarity in ancient Chinaand Confucian’s role. In fact, this family solidarity has beenmaintained by modern day Chinese who seem to have a stronger moralbearing compared to western culture. Additionally, allegiance tofamily has been a course of concern in modern day China because ofcorruption and nepotism. The use of a family name and the associationwith a family has not worked in some cases because when a patriarchalleader errs the whole family is blamed. Another common issue with hisfamily solidarity tradition pertains to ancestor worshipping who theybelieved remained alive in another life. For this reason, theyprovided the dead with food and drinks and eve clothing to use in theafterlife. Although this information is factual, it fails tohighlight the relevance of ancestors worshipping in promoting familysolidarity.

Thesource does not display any form of bias. With the author being awoman, it would be expected she might be biased towards highlightingthe demerits of a patriarchal society in China which she does not.The book clearly describes how family solidarity in a patriarchalancient China society functioned and highlights the different rolesof different members. All these functions described in the source areaccurate and factual compared to other sources. However, the authorclearly omits making reference to other sources or her source ofinformation. Although she even includes an image of an ancient bronzestatus, she does not indicate where the piece can be located in amuseums or source of image. Although counterchecking the about thestatue reveals its factual, the authors should support that claims.

Allin all, Greenblat works is helpful for introductory courses. However,for deeper analysis and research into ancient China and familyvalues, it is wanting. What I find most unsettling about the book isfailure to use references whatsoever.


Greenblatt,Miriam. HanWu Di and Ancient China.New York: Marshall Cavendish. 2005.