Asia Society presents; 26
The Asia Society prison. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. We know that modernization at least in the Western sense in the industrial sense came later to the east. But the fact that it's come it must have had some effect which perhaps we don't know very much about. We know that the traditional life of the Chinese family is something special. Now has industrialisation made a big change in this kind of life and the people psychologically or maybe it is improve them. At least these are questions we like to consider and that we can consider them very well indeed with our guest because he has spent time and study on just this matter.
He is a Professor Cohen. Dr Cohen is assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology and East Institute of Columbia University. He spent about two years between 963 and 65 on Taiwan. As an American he has not been to mainland China but a great deal about what's going on there. And so that would be the first question I'd like to ask you Professor Cohen. Where do you get your knowledge about. Well that is about mainland China. The resources are in several categories. On the one hand there are the official publications and I think from mainland China newspapers journals reports and these are of varying utility but they do provide information over they must be handled with caution. The same applies to the reports of many Europeans Westerners
Japanese and others who unlike Americans are able to visit mainland China and come back with information more specifically in the field of anthropology. We have had until recently several interesting field studies studies of specific villages which have been carried out by American Westerners. Furthermore we now have many scholars in the United States who are each in his own way sympathizing material available. So that from my point of view the resources are both primary in terms of what the Chinese put out and in terms of what foreigners going to China find and secondary representing monograph which already are in part a digestion of available material so that we actually have a good deal to work with. As things stand now at the East Asian Institute at Columbia University. Are
there men there who have been to mainland China in recent months. I mean are you in a position to talk with such people. We do have visitors coming through who have been to China. We had several speakers who came out rather recently these are Westerners who saw the most recent cultural revolution in operation. I have not to my knowledge we we have not had a person who very recently have come out and who have stayed with us for a long period of time. But there are many many points of contact. And as I say first hand reports from persons recently out of China are available to us. Well although there are two Chinas now Taiwan and Mainland China there they have a common heritage certainly a common origin. Would you say that the family life is similar on both in both places at least it began in a similar way. Well to answer the question I must in the most briefest
way indicate some of the changes that have occurred on both. In both areas. First of all the Chinese on PI one have been cut off from the mainland politically since 1895 and they did not go through the kinds of revolutionary experiences that the Mainland Chinese went through. On the other hand they went through their own kind of a rather revolutionary set of events namely 50 years of Japanese occupation. As things stand now it is safe to say that family life is changing on both areas. However in Taiwan it is also safe to say that the family. Has more leeway in terms of the traditional organization of family life the traditional organization of the family as an economic unit that seems to be the case in the mainland one the other hand. There are
other kinds of social units on the mainland which may indeed be traditional forms which are still flourishing and which indeed still undertake many vital economic tasks. So to restrict the issue to the family one must say that on the mainland the family the traditional family structure seems to be changing much more dramatically than on Taiwan but on the other hand there is first of all in this precisely in this area that a family organization the greatest dearth of data with respect to the mainland. Secondly the family was only one kind of social group which performs vital functions of production labor coordination within traditional times and if we view the entire range of such groupings then we must say that they survive to varying extents. Both in the mainland and on Taiwan and again within varying degrees they are still carrying out some of
the functions which were theirs in traditional times during the Imperial dynasties. Can I think something our audience and certainly I would like to know. Is there such a thing as a description of a traditional Chinese family. Before we talk about how it changed what was it. Well rather description of a traditional Chinese family one must say there has been a volume of this literature on the Chinese family much of disputation as to what it was or what its form was what its varieties were. The gist of it all I suppose is that the Chinese family was almost like an organism which could develop through time. If you go from a simple form to a complex form and depending upon when the observer would view this family he might see a very different thing. Again the way Chinese families developed was
through the addition of women through marriage and the formation of small families within a larger family framework the family would come to an and by partition one of the various sons in the family would demand their shares of the family estate and from a large complex family unit unit we would in effect devolve into several simple forms and then the process would start again. Now some families under certain conditions would stay together for a longer period than would others. Hence one big problem in regard to the interpretation of the Chinese family the ideal was the large family but often enough the ideal was not attained or if it was attained with a pain only for a short period of time. So in general one night one might say that the Chinese family with its patrilineal emphasis with women marrying in and men staying put as it were that the women would either marry you know or marry out. Family would lose daughters and gain
daughters in law of this family. By and large did exist throughout the Chinese subcontinent and on the island of Taiwan. They were interesting variation but most of the variations as far as I am concerned at least can be subsumed under the process of families enduring together staying together for longer or shorter periods of time. But I wasn't thinking so much about the organisation however. You know it's quite interesting as you explain it but rather family values which seem to be traditionally Chinese I have several good Chinese friends and from what they told me the emphasis on the veneration for age old people not burdens apparently didn't used to be that they were highly regarded and welcomed. Now was that a traditional Chinese family value. Well you use the word value and ideals if I'm not mistaken I think that's a very important matter in anthropology these days.
We find a very important distinguish from what people say and what they do. Now the veneration for the aged. The entire notion of ancestor worship of responsibility for maintaining parents was indeed present however. The issue is what was the function of this set of notions in terms of the overall organization of Chinese families. This is this value again was situation oriented. When a Chinese family divided it is safe to say that the emphasis on Confucian ideals was not nearly as great as during those periods when it had not yet begun to disintegrate and disintegration of the Chinese family was built into all Chinese families. So we might put it this way when a Chinese family was strong in its developing phase you would find the emphasis on the kinds of values you just mentioned. When a Chinese
family was on the verge of the integration other kinds of values would come to the fore. And I'm implying here that the. By and large the value system as it were was more or less dependent on structural change rather than the reverse. Another thing you hear and fact I've read in a study you made is result of your stay in Taiwan. That it was a goal of a Chinese father to have his sons and varying professions so that one might be a merchant and one might be a physician so that everybody did something different putting them all together you had a pretty good foundation. Now is that would you say a custom throughout China and Taiwan did to this day from what you know. Surely it may be a preference or a strategy on the Mainland China today as well as in Taiwan however I think it's safe to say that given the
overall situation in mainland China a father does not probably have as much latitude in planning the various careers of his sons as is the case in contemporary Taiwan where indeed what I refer to in the article as a process of economic diversification as a process of specialization of roles among sons in the does have much more latitude. It can be carried out. In part but it must be kept in mind again that this was an ideal strategy which if it was successful of course meant that the family would stay together and indeed would flourish. But in both China and both mainland China and Taiwan in traditional times especially this was a strategy as it were which the vast majority of the population could not carry out because they were too poor or there wasn't sufficient economic diversification in terms of economic opportunities available within the nation as a whole
Taiwan. I try to point out in the article you referred to the impact of technological modernization has in effect made it easier for families to find new kinds of economic activities and therefore to specialize away from agriculture while maintaining an agricultural Foundation at the same time the exact the exact configuration of such strategies in contemporary mainland China remains an open question. To what extent are individuals able to keep their family together and employ such techniques. It's something which I cannot answer. Obviously it's something we all like to find out. But since the family in Taiwan has more to say about itself than the family in China I think it's almost obvious wouldn't you say so Dr. Khan. That father doesn't have much opportunity to tell one son to do this from one time to do that. They go to the universities I guess if they're qualified and then the government tells them what role to play. I
should think that that's the way it works. That's in part the situation. But one one does see the recurrent theme in mainland China. People at times voicing objection to the fact that individuals they are leaving their production units and working outside. And this attempt to individuated economic activities as it were I would suggest may indicate that rather than true individuation you still have family units operating perhaps in a coordinated fashion. The impact of college education upon such a set of relationships of course have to be viewed in two respects. Number one the vast majority of persons in Taiwan do not receive college educations insofar as you bring in college education as an influence it must be said whatever the influence may be. It certainly does not.
Extend to most of the population. And number two to get a son to go to college and then to see what opportunities are available on that basis. It is indeed or can be taken as a rather subtle change of what indeed was part of the traditional mode of operation. In traditional times for one to become an official to get a government agreed to pass the civil service examination was considered a tremendous accomplishment. As far the family as a whole was concerned and would be a great aid to that family. In contemporary Taiwan the student who does make it make a good show of it through university and gets a nice position in society be in Taiwan or abroad will promptly start remitting money back home so he isn't fulfilling his. Family sign passed very nicely. I guess the mainland situation here is a bit cloudy. I'm not implying that it may not be occurring in one guise or another but simply that at the family level
especially the data isn't as informative as it might be. Well before we get to the main question which is how has modernisation affected the family be it in mainland China or Taiwan. What about the status of women. Women at one point couldn't inherit any money from their fathers is not true. It was a way their claims to being heirs. Is that something that still exists to a great extent or do you think that's one of the things that's changed. Well of course in mainland China I guess you don't inherit anything you're not supposed to have any capital or any property to speak of except perhaps the house you own where you live I don't even know about that. I think that is probably correct to a large extent inheritance per se isn't relevant issue in the mainland. But if you talk about the inherent rights of women especially within a rural context. This really can't be discussed separately from the Organisation of labor within a rural context.
A woman by not inheriting a portion of the family estate of course is being absorbed by another family estate. The woman did have a right to expect from her family a good wedding. Now obviously there are a thousand and one exceptions to this. A family was poor they didn't and in the final analysis the woman was more expendable than the man. But in general the maintenance of small scale agricultural units agricultural production units was what lead to Chinese peasant family was meant that in some fashion or another an ongoing permanent association between men and land had to be reconciled with the fact that brothers don't marry sisters. That not everyone can stay put and in one society after another the solution to this is meant that the men stay home and the women marry out. Associated with this of course is the fact that women cannot inherit the land that they leave because the ones with her and with her at the land are the ones
who are going to be working it. But the woman does get the right of a dowry and she does in a family which is not at the at the depths of poverty usually have private property holding rights as an individual which is something again found in China and other societies where as the men did not the men have had property rights only insofar as they had shares of a collective family estate. But the woman threw her dowry had had the right to spend money on her own accord and this is something which most Chinese say will admit but only in a rather embarrassed fashion to one of the the seamier or the more secret sides of Chinese social organization. But the fact is that the whole issue of women's rights has been greatly clouded I suspect. By the kinds of intellectual currents loose in the early 20th century in China as far as a contemporary situation is
concerned I do not think that the women's position. If you come down to it has really altered that drastically from the way it was in traditional power times there are now greater opportunities of education. But in both Taiwan and the mainland the woman is as much a part of the organization of production as she was in the past and in the past and at present of course she plays a very crucial role in this respect. Production you mean not only producing children but working on the line. Oh yes and not only producing children but agricultural production is because as you said before the land the men who work the land the people who work the land you have to be the sons. But women spend a great deal of time working on the line as well as working in the home. Still that did not qualify them to inherit the mine. It did not call for them to inherit the land from their fathers but mind you when a woman
married out. Into a never home when her husband heard of the land. It's really difficult to make a distinction of the husband having the land and not the woman hiring their cause they worked as a unit through the duration of their lives. And again the point you made earlier about having obligations to support their parents. This applied precisely to women as well as to men. So that again except for those at the at the poorest level and they were and they were Goodness knows enough of them. The Chinese woman was as well cared for as was the Chinese man through her life and through her old age. Indeed once the Chinese woman became a mother in her own right contributed sons of the family her status in the family. Rose greatly and the old woman with the widow who runs the farm is
was a common feature in the Chinese countryside and she was the head so that in the final analysis I think the fact that women didn't have direct inheritance rights as individuals really doesn't imply that the relationship between women and land the relation between women and property was that much different from the relation between man and land relationship between man and property. Well to me as a woman that reassuring. Now in a short time we have left what would you say is the main change that's taken place in the family because of the industrialization which has naturally hit both Taiwan and Mainland China. The main impact of industrialization at the level of the family I would say is that they are now more opportunities. For the family to be divested of its function as a coordinated production unit since individuals tend to become separate wage earners. Is there a lessening of family bonds a kind of alienation which
afflicts the West too much that fathers and sons don't have much in common anymore that children don't have to pay attention to their parents or take care of them. I mean has there been a kind of separation one from the other. I do not think this applies for the majority of people in the mainland or Taiwan. Again precisely because the majority of people in the mainland especially are still engaged in agricultural production where cooperation at the family level is essential. The impact of industrialization is still only a partial one. The issue as to whether there is alienation or not is still a very debatable one. But I thank you very much Professor Cohen for giving us your views on this. Many of us are extremely curious about what has happened to the traditional Chinese family which I think many of us have a great admiration at least for how it used to be. Our guest has been a professor Myron Cohen Professor Cohen is assistant
professor Department of Anthropology and East Asian Institute of Columbia University. Before I close I'd like to tell you that if you would like the Asia Society calendar this thing many events and books of interest to those of you who care about what is going on in Asia that calendar is available without charge if you will write to me just send me your name an address you will receive the calendar free. And this is Lee Graham saying goodbye and hoping that you will feel as we all do these days that East is east and west is west. We do think the time has come for the twain to meet. But concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7.
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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