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  • Uxorilocal Marriage Among Qing Literati
  • Weijing Lu* (bio)

The field work and documentary research conducted by anthropologists and historians in the past decades presents us with a complex picture of the practice of uxorilocal marriage in Chinese society. Scholars have noted that uxorilocal marriage, as a supplementary form to the conventional virilocal marriage, appeared under a range of social and economic circumstances. The single conventional term for uxorilocal marriage, zhui, encompassed wide variation in residence duration, surname assignment, property inheritance, and other social, economic, and ritual duties and claims. 1 At the same time, although uxorilocal marriage was widely practiced, the level of its acceptance in local communities differed, largely depending on the specific contract terms of marriage as well as the locality. With notable exceptions, 2 most accounts of uxorilocal marriage associate it with some degree of stigma. In modern day rural Guangdong, for example, James Watson observes “a close correlation between low social status and uxorilocal residence.” 3 Similarly, Patricia Ebrey’s survey of Song dynasty uxorilocal marriage concludes that the institution was “associated with women, ordinary people, local norms, and compromise, not with men, the educated, national, or absolute standards.” 4 [End Page 64]

Stigmatized or not, recourse to uxorilocal marriage has persisted through modern Chinese history. This was principally attributable to a number of fundamental functions of the practice. Uxorilocal marriage was primarily a reproduction strategy, that is, in the absence of a son, parents would call in a son-in-law to produce an heir to the patriline while providing security for their old age. The practice was also adopted for production purposes---the need for a man’s labor in performing field work if the bride’s family had no adult son. 5 In addition, a sonless father who engaged in an occupation such as medicine might call in a son-in-law to inherit his profession. 6 And, last but by no means least, uxorilocal marriage could serve as a means of social and economic advancement---parents strategically selecting sons-in-law of talent who could advance the family’s objectives.

These are the major rationales for uxorilocal marriage in Chinese society. Yet many questions remain. To what extent was uxorilocal marriage perceived as a stigmatized practice, and how closely was it associated with people of lower social status? Historians have cited numerous cases which indicate that, from the Song through Qing dynasties, social elites engaged in uxorilocal marriage to form political alliances, or to expand lineages. 7 These findings are significant, for they suggest that uxorilocal marriage was not confined to those from the low end of the social hierarchy, but rather was practiced by elite families as well, apparently without much stigma.

This paper aims to explore further the institution of uxorilocal marriage in its relation to social elites by examining cases among Qing literati families. The question of why elites had recourse to a putatively stigmatized marital institution became salient for me as I frequently encountered cases of literati uxorilocal marriage, many involving eminent figures in Qing history. For instance, Zhu Yizun (1629–1709), the distinguished scholar and poet of the early Qing, was an uxorilocal son-in-law. Weng Shuyuan (1633–1695), a grand secretary in the reign of Kangxi, was not only an uxorilocal son-in-law himself, but also brought in a son-in-law for his daughter. Chen Zi, the son of the great [End Page 65] artist Chen Hongshou (1598–1652) and a celebrated artist himself, was an uxorilocal son-in-law. Fang Bao (1668–1749), the founder of the “Tongcheng School,” had an uxorilocally-married father. One of his sisters, a sister’s daughter, a granddaughter of his brother, and a daughter of his father’s sister all married uxorilocally. 8

Wang Zhong (1745–1794), the most arrogant scholar of his age, also had a father who married uxorilocally. Qian Daxin (1728–1804), whom Dai Zhen considered to have talent second only to his own, was uxorilocally married to the sister of Wang Mingsheng (1722–1797), another accomplished scholar of the time. Hong Liangji (1746–1809), who was well-known to his contemporaries not only as a scholar but also for his zeal in...

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