The Modern Chinese Family: In Light of Economic and Legal History
Most social science theory and the currently powerful Chinese ideology of modernizationism assume that, with modern development, family-based peasant farm production will disappear, to be replaced by individuated industrial workers and the three-generation family by the nuclear family. The actual record of China’s economic history, however, shows the powerful persistence of the small family farm, as well as of the three-generation family down to this day, even as China’s GDP becomes the second largest in the world. China’s legal system, similarly, encompasses a vast informal sphere, in which familial principles operate more than individualist ones. And, in between the informal-familial and the formal-individualist, there is an enormous intermediate sphere in which the two tendencies are engaged in a continual tug of war. The economic behavior of the Chinese family unit reveals great contrasts with what is assumed by conventional economics. It has a different attitude toward labor from that of both the individual worker and the capitalist firm. It also has a different structural composition, and a different attitude toward investment, children’s education, and marriage. Proper attention to how Chinese modernity differs socially, economically, and legally from the modern West points to the need for a different kind of social science; it also lends social–economic substance to claims for a modern Chinese culture different from the modern West’s.