The kinship system practiced in China is categorized as a Sudanese kinship system (also known as descriptive system) applied in defining families. This kind of kinship system is the most complex kinship system as there is a clear distinct title for each member of the kin depending on gender, age, generation and lineage.
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According to the Chinese culture, both the male and female family members have clear distinguished roles. They tend to give priority to male members as they enjoy the position of prestige and power while the women’s positions seems much bleaker and she may only have a position in the society if she is able to bare a male child (Wolf 1994, 227).
Margery Wolf in her study found out in every about 93 women, only 4% to 5% of them would prefer staying with their daughters but only if they failed to produce male children as staying with your daughter meant loosing the ‘face’ in the society which had the perception that depending on a daughter was a shameful practice.
According to Wolf (1994, 226), “in the Chinese kinship system a woman’s real family includes her uterine family that includes the woman’s mother and her mother’s children.”
Wolf in her book tries to explain the benefits of having uterine families in Chinese kinship system stating that both the uterine family of a woman’s maternal parent and her individual uterine relations is created through delivery of children becomes crucial factors that contribute to a woman’s’ contentment in her life. Chinese culture is a male dominated kin of culture hence women have no definitive positions in the family.
Facts show that the female children in China were being deserted by their parents while others were being sold off due to the customary norms of the Chinese people who favored baby boys as opposed to girls and in addition they had been constrained to have small sized families by the government in an attempt to reduce the fast growing population.
This attempt of controlling the population had negative effects to many thousands of female babies being born. Information shows that female children were being carried away from their biological families by the city administrators at a cost of about $3,200 as their adoption charge which has motivated many city administrators who carry out the adoption processes.
The author continues to explain that the uterine family system was not an official name in the Chinese patriarchal family but tries to explain the benefits of having the women bond with their children because through the bond formed with their children, they were able to achieve their various material and cultural goals. The configuration set by this unnamed activity created a platform for Wolf to argue that uterine family was part of the kinship system in China.
A woman is termed as a temporary member of the family and is not considered to hold any position in her father’s family. As soon as she is married, the ties between her and her father’s family are termed as severed (Michelle 1974, 33). The father of the girl does not appreciate her daughter’s presence because she cannot continue with his line of descent, unlike the men, the women do not have a continuous linage descent because the uterine family dies along with the women and it keeps on changing with time (Wolf 230).
A woman’s descent is regarded to change over time when she gets married as whom she regards as her family changes as her own children grow up and as her mother in law continues to marry more wives thus as she grows older, the woman is said to have some status especially if she bares male children.
These shows that women in the Chinese society were subordinated by the patriarchal authority, women accepted the male terms of them being economically useless, ritually insignificant and of less importance to the society. But Wolf (253) emphasizes on the importance of the uterine family as she characterizes women’s lives in the family.
Her works simply try to focus on how women were able to come up with strategies that would help them empower themselves even though they faced perceive poverty and entrenched masculine authority noting the fact that they are the same women who undermined their own contribution to the society because of the societies belief as well as being devalued by others.
Since women have very little if any influence over their husbands, especially because she is a mothers’ in law son, the women experience a rocky relationship between her and the husband’s family.
For this reason, the creation of a uterine family could be the best option for a woman to manipulate her presence and position in the family. It might be the only way a woman would earn her happiness. “The uterine family is the first place she is known to acquire permanent loyalties and have obligations which in turn give her a meaning for living” (Wolf 154).
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In addition, these women had heir own reasons as to why they become so attached to their uterine families that consisted of their children and more so, the sons. The ethnic groups in China show that sons were regarded as very important in terms of acquisition of status by the women and by having some influence over their sons, the women would find a way of increasing their bargaining position within the patrilineal household.
The Chinese culture values the family ‘face’ and everyone in the family as being obliged to ensure that the families reputation is always kept clean and of high standards. In a situation where a woman is subjected to mistreatment, she would complain and use her ties with other women as she had no other way of ensuring an effective change.
At least by complaining, word will spread quickly outside her home and this gossip of mistreatment will lessen the condition because the family does not want to loose ‘face’ out of shameful acts like mistreating a woman. Sometimes the women end up complaining amongst themselves or not complain at all because of the fear of ruining the families ‘face’ or bringing shame to the family. But when it comes to matters that are thought to embarrass a family, the women are known to take cautious measures.
According to Wolf she describes a successful woman as one who is able to depend on herself individually but she still is able to appear as if she gets support from her father and husband or son stating that a woman’s influence over her family will never be stable (Robert et al. 2004, 76).
Uterine family is significant for both genders in the society. Women benefit from it because it forms a support system for them while the men benefit from it from the fact that the uterine family forms the backdrop against which their patrilineage is recognized and raised.
Although this is the case, Wolf noticed that there was some elementary counterforce to the patriarchal domination in that mothers who depended on their sons and were aware of the strong bonds between them and their sons would use these bonds as a weapon against their husbands because the father is viewed as a friend according to the Chinese culture.
The Chinese culture suppresses the women, although the Chinese government is trying to ensure that the population of the country drops by introducing the one child family policy, this policy is believed to affect and cause negative effects upon these women whereby, a woman who is seen as not to have an authentic family until the time she delivers children hence she will always have an urge in getting off springs because she finds the essence of living once she has children.
Most of the women feel obligated to have male children during birth so that one can have status in the society while they despise the girl child because of traditions.
Michelle, Z. et al., 1974. Woman, culture, and society Anthropology: Women’s studies. California, CA: Stanford University Press.
Robert, P. et al., 2004. Kinship and family: an anthropological reader
Blackwell anthologies in social and cultural anthropology. San Francisco, CA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Wolf, M. et al., 1994. Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan: Excerpts. Comparative Sociology of the Family. Helga Jacobson. Burnaby, BC: Open Learning Agency.